The Israel-Palestine Conflict

Freakish Friedman

By Glenn Greenwald


The New York Times war cheerleader urges that Hamas be “educated” by “inflicting heavy pain on the Gaza population”.

Jan. 14, 2009 |

(Updated belowUpdate IIUpdate IIIUpdate IV)

Tom Friedman, one of the nation’s leading propagandists for the Iraq War and a vigorous supporter of all of Israel’s wars, has a column today in The New York Times explaining and praising the Israeli attack on Gaza.  For the sake of robust and diverse debate (for which our Liberal Media is so well known), Friedman’s column today appears alongside an Op-Ed from The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, one of the nation’s leading (and most deceitful) propagandists for the Iraq War and a vigorous supporter of all of Israel’s wars, who explains that Hamas is incorrigibly hateful and radical and cannot be negotiated with.  One can hardly imagine a more compelling exhibit demonstrating the complete lack of accountability in the “journalism” profession — at least for those who are loyal establishment spokespeople who reflexively cheer on wars — than a leading Op-Ed page presenting these two war advocates, of all people, as experts, of all things, on the joys and glories of the latest Middle East war.

In any event, Friedman’s column today is uncharacteristically and refreshingly honest.  He explains that the 2006 Israeli invasion and bombing of Lebanon was, contrary to conventional wisdom, a great success.  To make this case, Friedman acknowledges that the deaths of innocent Lebanese civilians was not an unfortunate and undesirable by-product of that war, but rather, was a vital aspect of the Israeli strategy — the centerpiece, actually, of teaching Lebanese civilians a lesson they would not soon forget:

Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future.

Israel’s military was not focused on the morning after the war in Lebanon — when Hezbollah declared victory and the Israeli press declared defeat. It was focused on the morning after the morning after, when all the real business happens in the Middle East. That’s when Lebanese civilians, in anguish, said to Hezbollah: “What were you thinking? Look what destruction you have visited on your own community! For what? For whom?”

Friedman says that he is “unsure” whether the current Israeli attack on Gaza is similiarly designed to teach Palestinians the same lesson by inflicting “heavy pain” on civilians, but he hopes it is:

In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims.

The war strategy which Friedman is heralding — what he explicitly describes with euphemism-free candor as “exacting enough pain on civilians” in order to teach them a lesson — is about as definitive of a war crime as it gets.  It also happens to be the classic, textbook definition of “terrorism.”  Here is how the U.S. Department of State defined ”terrorism” in its 2001 publication, Patterns of Global Terrorism:

No one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance. For the purposes of this report, however, we have chosen the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d). That statute contains the following definitions:

The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant (1) targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. . . .

(1) For purposes of this definition, the term “noncombatant” is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed and/or not on duty.

Other than the fact that Friedman is advocating these actions for an actual state rather than a “subnational group,” can anyone identify any differences between (a) what Friedman approvingly claims was done to the Lebanese and what he advocates be done to Palestinians and (b) what the State Department formally defines as “terrorism”?  I doubt anyone can.  Isn’t Friedman’s “logic” exactly the rationale used by Al Qaeda:  we’re going to inflict “civilian pain” on Americans so that they stop supporting their government’s domination of our land and so their government thinks twice about bombing more Muslim countries?  It’s also exactly the same “logic” that fuels the rockets from Hezbollah and Hamas into Israel.

It should be emphasized that the mere fact that Tom Friedman claims that this is Israel’s motivation isn’t proof that it is.  The sociopathic lust of a single war cheerleader can’t fairly be projected onto those who are actually prosecuting the war.  But one can’t help noticing that this “teach-them-a-lesson” justification for civilian deaths in Gaza appears with some frequency among its advocates, at least among a certain strain of super-warrior, Israel-centric Americans — e.g.:  Marty “do not fuck with the Jews” Peretz and Michael “to wipe out a man’s entire family, it’s hard to imagine that doesn’t give his colleagues at least a moment’s pause” Goldfarb — who love to cheer on Middle East wars from a safe and sheltered distance. 

Some opponents of the Israeli war actually agree with Friedman about the likely goals of the attack on Gaza.  Writing last week in The New York Times, Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi noted:

This war on the people of Gaza isn’t really about rockets. Nor is it about “restoring Israel’s deterrence,” as the Israeli press might have you believe. Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.”

This AP article yesterday described how “terrified residents ran for cover Tuesday in a densely populated neighborhood of Gaza City as Israeli troops backed by tanks thrust deeper into the city.”  It reported that “an Israeli warplane fired a missile at the former Gaza city hall, used as a court building in recent years . . . . The 1910 structure was destroyed and many stores in the market around it were badly damaged.”  And it quoted an Israeli military officer as follows:  ”Soldiers shoot at anything suspicious, use lots of firepower, and blast holes through walls to move around.”

The efficacy of Friedman’s desired strategy of inflicting pain on Palestinian civilians in order to change their thinking and behavior is unclear.  The lack of clarity is due principally to the fact that Israel is still blocking journalists from entering Gaza.  But this Sunday’s New York Times article — reporting on unconfirmed claims that Israel was using white phosphorus on the civilian population (a claim the IDF expressly refused to deny) – contains this anecdotal evidence that The Friedman Strategy is actually quite counter-productive:

Still, white phosphorus can cause injury, and a growing number of Gazans report being hurt by it, including in Beit Lahiya, Khan Yunis, and in eastern and southwestern Gaza City. When exposed to air, it ignites, experts say, and if packed into an artillery shell, it can rain down flaming chemicals that cling to anything they touch.

Luay Suboh, 10, from Beit Lahiya, lost his eyesight and some skin on his face Saturday when, his mother said, a fiery substance clung to him as he darted home from a shelter where his family was staying to pick up clothes.

The substance smelled like burned trash, said Ms. Jaawanah, the mother who fled her home in Zeitoun, who had experienced it too. She had no affection for Hamas, but her sufferings were changing that. “Do you think I’m against them firing rockets now?” she asked, referring to Hamas. “No. I was against it before. Not anymore.”

It’s far easier to imagine a population subjected to this treatment becoming increasingly radicalized and belligerent rather than submissive and compliant, as Friedman intends.  But while the efficacy of The Friedman Strategy is unclear, the fact that it is a perfect distillation of a “war crime” and “terrorism” is not unclear at all.

One might ordinarily find it surprising that our elite opinion-makers are so openly and explicitly advocating war crimes and terrorism (“inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large” and “‘educate’ Hamas by inflicting heavy pain on the Gaza population”).  But when one considers that most of this, in the U.S., is coming from the very people who applied the same “suck-on-this” reasoning to justify the destruction of Iraq, and even more so, when one considers that our highest political officials are now so openlyeven proudlyacknowledging their own war crimes, while our political and media elites desperately (and almost unanimously) engage in every possible maneuver to protect them from any consequences from that, Friedman’s explicit advocacy of these sorts of things is a perfectly natural thing to see.

UPDATE:   In comments, casual_observer — with ample citations — objects to my characterization of white phosphorus reports in Gaza as “unconfirmed,” and argues that while the substance does have permissible and legitimate uses under the laws of war, this particular usage in urban areas can be used to sow terror in the civilian population — i.e., is an ideal instrument for advancing The Friedman Strategy. 

Quite relatedly, Iraq War veteran Brandon Friedman chronicles the truly disturbed warrior fantasies that are becoming increasingly common (and increasingly disturbed) on the war-cheerleading Right.  The relationship between that pathology and people like Friedman is too obvious to require any elaboration.

UPDATE II:   In response to multiple comments protesting that Israel does not seek to kill civilians, permit me to make clear, again, that the criticism here is directed towards Tom Friedman’s claims about what Israel’s motives are and should be in bombing and invading Lebanon and Gaza.  I’m not assuming that those are actually Israel’s motives and stressed that point as clearly as the English language permits:

It should be emphasized that the mere fact that Tom Friedman claims that this is Israel’s motivation isn’t proof that it is. The sociopathic lust of a single war cheerleader can’t fairly be projected onto those who are actually prosecuting the war.

The other point worth noting is that for an American citizen to criticize Israel’s wars without criticizing every similar or worse act of aggression is not to “hold Israel to a higher or different standard.”  The U.S. Government funds Israel’s actions, specifically provides the arms for their various bombing campaigns and invasions, and continuously uses its U.N. veto power to protect what Israel does.  American citizens therefore bear a responsibility for Israel’s actions that is not the case for actions which the U.S. Government does not fund and otherwise enable.  

This objection (“why are you complaining about Israel but not the rebels in Sri Lanka?”) rests on the same fallacy as the accusation that American citizens are being “anti-American” when they criticize the actions of their own government more than the actions of other governments (“Why are you complaining that Bush waterboards when North Korea starves its citizens to death and Iran stones gay people?”).  Citizens bear a particular responsibility to object to unjust actions which their own Government engages in or enables.  It shouldn’t be the case — but it is — that Americans fund, arm and enable Israel’s wars.  Those are American weapons which, at least in part, are being used to destroy Gaza, and Americans therefore bear a special responsibility for condemning Israel’s unjust actions to a far greater extent than the actions of any other country except for the U.S.

One final note:  the fact that all sorts of prior wars, including ones waged by Western powers, contain events that could comfortably fit the definition of “terrorism” isn’t a refutation of the point I’m making.  If anything, it bolsters the point.  “Terrorism” is probably the single most elastic and easily manipulated term in our political lexicon.  Who the perpetrators and victims are of “terrorism” is almost always a function of who is wielding the term rather than some objective assessment.  Aimlessly shooting rockets towards civilians (as Hamas and Hezbollah do) and dropping bombs from 35,000 feet that you know will slaughter many civilians while viewing that slaughter as a strategic benefit (as Friedman advocates) are acts that have far more in common with each other than differences.

UPDATE III:   The New York Times today reports (h/t Andrew Sullivan):  

Nine Israeli human rights groups called on Wednesday for an investigation into whether Israeli officials had committed war crimes in Gaza since tens of thousands of civilians there have nowhere to flee, the health system has collapsed, many are without electricity and running water, and some are beyond the reach of rescue teams. . . .

The group included the Israel section of Amnesty International, B’Tselem, Gisha and Physicians for Human Rights — Israel.

It really ought to be too obvious to require pointing out:  to oppose the Israeli war in Gaza and to be horrified by what they are doing to Palestinian civilians no more makes someone “anti-Israel” or “pro-Hamas” than opposing and condemning the Iraq War and being horrified by what we did to that country makes someone “anti-American” or “pro-Saddam.”

On a different note, another new poll — this one from Pew — shows Americans, and especially Democrats, deeply divided on what U.S. policy towards Israel should be in this case.  While a plurality of Americans sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians and blame Hamas more than Israel for the outbreak of violence, Democrats overwhelmingly disapprove of the Israeli action in Gaza (29-45%), and a majority of Democrats believe either (a) “the U.S. should say or do nothing” (40%) or (b) “the U.S. should criticize Israel” (12%).  Only 34% of Democrats believe that the U.S. “should publicly support Israel” (34%).  Despite that, their representatives in Congress voted almost unanimously to adopt a one-sided Resolution publicly declaring America’s support for Israel’s attack on Gaza.

UPDATE IV:  Daniel Larison, as usual, is well worth reading today on this topic.

Meanwhile, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting  — in an item entitled ”Terrorism on the New York Times Op-Ed Page” — examines Friedman’s history of making similar statements, and raises this question:  is it even possible to imagine an Op-Ed or column being published by a major newspaper that enthusiastically trumpeted all of the great strategic benefits that would accrue to Muslims from the violent deaths of large numbers of Israeli civilians, the way Friedman today did with regard to the deaths of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians?


Vive los Latinos!

By AP

LA PAZ, Bolivia – President Evo Morales announced Wednesday he was breaking relations with Israel over its invasion of the Gaza Strip and said he will ask the International Criminal Court to bring genocide charges against top Israeli officials.

Morales’ ally Hugo Chavez of Venezuela broke ties with Israel last week.

Morales told the country’s diplomatic corps that the Israeli attack “seriously threatened world peace” and he called for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Cabinet to face criminal charges.

Morales chided the United Nations’ “Insecurity Council” for its “lukewarm” response to the crisis and said the U.N. General Assembly should condemn the invasion.

He also said Israeli President Shimon Peres should be stripped of his Nobel Peace Prize for failing to stop the invasion.

Israel launched the onslaught in Gaza on Dec. 27, seeking to force the ruling Hamas militant group to stop rocket attacks on southern Israel. The offensive has killed more than 940 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, according to Palestinian officials.

Morales and Chavez have worked to cultivate ties to Iran, which supports Hamas. Morales met Tuesday with visiting Iranian officials, who gave him a letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad thanking Morales for his previously voicing supporting for the Palestinians.


Just the facts, please.

By Max Kantar

Israel’s operative military policy in the Gaza Strip has been fairly consistent with its stated definition of what it considers to be legitimate military targets, which in practice has amounted to mass killings of innocent Palestinian civilians.

Based on the overwhelming evidence available, one conclusion can be drawn regarding the nature of the US-backed Israeli attacks on Gaza: a genuine massacre of ordinary, unarmed people has been taking place for over two weeks.

Here is just a small part of the documentary evidence to prove it.

Targeting Civilian Police Stations and Officers

In the opening days of Israel’s aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip, its main targets were police stations and officers. For civilian police officers to be considered legitimate military targets, they must be directly engaged in hostilities, in this case, towards Israel. No evidence has been presented by Israel, or anyone else, that even reasonably suggests that the police officers in Gaza fall into this category. Therefore, the police officers that were targeted and murdered by Israel were clearly civilians: not lawful military targets.

“The First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions establishes two conditions that must be met for an object to be considered a legitimate military target: it must effectively contribute to military action and its total destruction or partial neutralization offers a clear military advantage.” — B’tselem, Dec. 31, 2008 [1]

“Police were not combatants and could not represent legitimate targets unless actively engaged in hostilities…it was Israel’s burden of proof to show [that] the police they targeted were, indeed, Hamas militants.” — Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch (Middle East & North Africa Division), January 7, 2009 [2]

“Police members who do not take part in any hostilities are not considered legitimate military targets under international humanitarian law and must not be deliberately targeted.” — Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, December 28, 2008 [3]

“Police stations, police officers and law enforcement officials are classified under the international law as civilians, and targeting them as such while they were not engaged in military action constitutes a violation of the international law.” — Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, December 27, 2008. [4]

“[The Israeli Air Force] bombed the main police building in Gaza and killed, according to reports, forty-two Palestinians who were in a training course and were standing in formation at the time of the bombing. Participants in the course study first-aid, handling of public disturbances, human rights, public-safety exercises, and so forth.” — B’tselem, December 31, 2008 [5]

“[During the week of December 24-31, 2008] 165 civil police officers were killed on the first day of the IOF offensive, when they were not engaged in any hostilities.” — The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, December 31, 2008 [6]

Targeting Civilians and Civilian Objects

Every relevant human rights group and international body has documented and denounced Israel’s military practice of “targeting civilians” and “civilian objects” in the Gaza Strip. As a result, human rights groups and medical officials in Gaza have reported that the vast majority of the (currently) 900 Palestinian causalities have been unarmed civilians.

The IDF, by its own admission, is unilaterally redefining who is a “civilian” and what is a “legitimate military target” to suit Israel’s political aims. While justifying Israeli attacks on civil and public institutions in Gaza, the IDF has claimed that “anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target,” thereby opening up nearly everyone and everything for Israeli attacks. This new doctrine flatly contradicts international law which states that:

“All parties engaged in combat must distinguish between civilian objects and military targets, and are forbidden to intentionally attack civilians and civilian objects.” [7]

To further comprehend Israel’s definitions of “legitimate targets,” it is instructive to apply the same standards to Hamas, which would then give Hamas a green light to bomb public Israeli synagogues, Jewish elementary schools, the Knesset, hospitals, homes, and so forth.

Furthermore, while it is certain that the IDF “targets civilians,” it is of no legal value for Israel to claim that, in the midst of attacking a military target, innocent civilians were not intended to be killed. According to the ruling of The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia:

“Attacks which strike civilians or civilian objects and military objectives without distinction, may qualify as direct attacks against civilians…This prohibition reflects a well-established rule of customary law applicable in all armed conflicts.” [8]

Whether Israel is specifically targeting innocent civilians or not, if its attacks result in “indiscriminate” killing of civilians, then Israel’s attacks qualify as “direct attacks against civilians,” if we accept the ruling of the highest criminal court in the world.

“[Israel's] air strikes were aimed at civilian areas in one of the most crowded stretches of land in the world, certainly the most densely populated area of the Middle East.” — UN Human Rights Representative, Professor Richard Falk, December 27, 2008 [9]

“Since the beginning of the military operation in the Gaza Strip, on 27 December 2008, the army has bombed dozens of houses, public buildings, and other structures throughout the Gaza Strip…[An] example [of IDF civilian targeting] is yesterday’s bombing of the government offices. These offices included the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Labor, Construction and Housing.” — B’tselem, December 31, 2009 [10]

“Investigations conducted by the [Palestinian Centre for Human Rights] indicate that [the IDF] have continued to bombard Palestinian houses and civilian facilities persistently day and night, while the Palestinian civilian population suffer a humanitarian crisis as they lack electricity, water and food supplies….The high number of civilian victims and the extensive destruction to public and private property are clear evidence that [the IDF], instructed by the Israeli political and military establishments, intend to cause maximum deaths and casualties among Palestinian civilians and maximum destruction to their property.” — The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, January 10, 2009 [11]

“After 12 days of “combat,” the Israeli Defense Forces reported that more than 1,000 targets were shelled or bombed…Seventeen mosques, the American International School, many private homes and much of the basic infrastructure of the small but heavily populated area have been destroyed. This includes the systems that provide water, electricity and sanitation. Heavy civilian casualties are being reported by courageous medical volunteers from many nations…” — Jimmy Carter, January 8, 2009 [12]

“There has been extensive destruction and many deaths reported in the Zeitun neighbourhood, south of Gaza city by IDF attacks…In one of the gravest incidents since the beginning of operations…on 4 January Israeli foot-soldiers evacuated approximately 110 Palestinians into a single-residence house in Zeitun (half of whom were children), warning them to stay indoors. Twenty-four hours later, Israeli forces shelled the home repeatedly, killing approximately thirty. Those who survived and were able, walked two kilometres to Salah Ed Din road before being transported to the hospital in civilian vehicles. Three children, the youngest of whom was five months old, died upon arrival at the hospital.” — UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, January 8, 2009 [13]

“Israel has directly targeted and completely or partially destroyed 13 mosques, two schools, one university, numerous government buildings, including different ministries and 40 civil police compounds, a medical storage centre, three money exchange facilities and three chicken farms, all of which Israel alleges were used by Hamas for military purposes. Israel’s air strikes and ground incursions have to date resulted in the total destruction of at least 300 houses and damage to 3,800 more.” — Al Haq, January 7, 2009 [14]

“A characteristic example of an attack on a civilian object is the 6 January 2009 aerial bombardment on the Asma’ Bint Baker school, a facility of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). Four days prior to the attack, UNRWA officials provided GPS coordinates to Israeli authorities of 23 UNRWA installations that were to be used as shelters for fleeing civilians. The location of the Asma’ Bint Baker School was one of the 23 coordinates provided. Three civilians were killed in the attack on the school.” — Al Haq, January 7, 2009 [15]

“In the deadliest single attack on Gaza civilians since the war began, Israel fired three mortar shells at the United Nations’ al-Fahoura school in the Jabalya refugee camp. The school was filled with civilians who had been forced from their homes by the Israeli invasion, and the attack killed at least 46. The United Nations reports that at least 55 other civilians were wounded in the attack.

“The United Nations says the building was clearly marked with UN flags and that they were in contact with the Israeli military when the war began to inform them of the location of the school precisely to prevent it being targeted.

“Indeed, the Israeli military does not seem to deny that they deliberately targeted a building they knew to be filled with hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians. Instead they claim that Hamas militants were using the school as a base of operations.” –Antiwar.com, January 6, 2009 [16]

“Just a little bit more than an hour ago, the Israelis bombed the central food market in Gaza City and we had a mass influx of about 50 injured and between 10 and 15 killed…At the same time they bombed an apartment house with children playing on the roof and we had a lot of children also.”

“It’s like hell here now and it’s been bombing all night…there are injuries that you just don’t want to see in this world…the only crime they have done is been civilians — Palestinians living in Gaza. The relief now is not more doctors and more drugs; the relief now is to stop the bombing immediately…I’ve seen one military person among…the hundreds we have seen and treated…This is an all out war against the civilian Palestinian population in Gaza and we can prove that with the numbers.” — Mads Gilbert, January 5, 2009 [17]

“Police stations located in densely populated neighborhoods were attacked, destroying them and causing severe damage to tens of schools and homes and killing dozens of civilians, including children and old people.

“Air strikes have continued through the night, targeting houses and other civilian premises, including water-wells, workshops, mosques and communications facilities. A guard of a water well and three employees of the Palestinian Telecommunications Company were killed in North Gaza. Another two men were killed in a strike that targeted the al-Borno Mosque near al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. The hospital was damaged in the same strike. Moreover, IOF targeted prisons, including Gaza’s main prison facility of al-Saraya at noon today. Initial reports indicate that many policemen and prisoners were killed and injured in this attack.

“Additionally, dozens of homes were destroyed, along with tens of UNRWA and government schools and clinics. Local government offices and private vehicles were also destroyed. Al Mezan’s initial monitoring indicates that…of those [people that have been killed by Israel's strikes] the vast majority are non-combatants and civilians; including 20 children, nine women and 60 civilians. The majority of the rest of the casualties are members of the civilian police who were inside their stations or undertaking training.” –Al Mezan Center for Human Rights Press Release, December 28, 2008 [18]

Dead and Injured Civilians: Numbers and Percentages

Within the first four days of the Israeli onslaught the UN placed the Palestinian civilian casualty rate at 25% while noting that “the number may well be far higher.” [19] This number cannot be taken very seriously because it admittedly did not include adult male civilian casualties. Now three weeks into the massacre, the UN has reported that at least 33% of Gaza’s dead and wounded are children alone, hence drastically abandoning its earlier estimates.

As noted below, UN officials have recently noted that at least half of those killed by the IDF in Gaza are civilians, although it appears that this estimate still does not include 165 civilian police officers, which would’ve, as of January 9, placed the civilian casualty rate at about 72%.

Furthermore, countless testimonies, medical reports, and human rights documentary reports coming out of Gaza continue to show that the large majority of the dead and wounded have been Palestinian civilians. The documentary sources that show civilian casualty rates hovering around 70-80% differ from those claiming around 50% largely because of the failure to classify civil police officers as civilians in the latter sources. Additional disparities may also potentially be explained by less precise documenting of adult male civilian causalities.

“Gaza medical officials say at least 870 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, have been killed in the conflict that began Dec. 27 with Israeli airstrikes…Palestinian medical officials reported about 60 deaths on Sunday [January 11], including 17 who had died of wounds suffered on previous days. Most of those killed Sunday were noncombatants, medical officials said, including four members of one family killed when a tank shell hit their home near Gaza City, and a 10-year-old girl killed in a similar attack.” — MSNBC, January 11, 2009 [20]

“As night fell on Gaza on Saturday, the Israeli Army continued its illegal offensive for the fifteenth day, killing 854 Palestinians, including 230 children, 93 women, 92 elderly, 14 medics and three journalists. At least 3,681 Palestinians, 50% of them children and women, have been wounded, 500 seriously, Dr. Moawiya Hassanen of the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported.” — International Middle East Media Center, January 10, 2009. (Note that the “50%” number does not include adult male civilians) [21]

“As of Thursday, 257 children were among the approximately 760 reported dead in Gaza. There were another 1,080 children among the 3,100 injured in the conflict, according to statistics from Gaza’s health ministry. The U.N.’s top humanitarian official, John Holmes, described the numbers as “credible” and deeply disturbing. U.N officials say about half of the casualties were civilians.” — San Francisco Chronicle, January 9, 2009 [22]

“Israel['s] “Operation Cast Lead,” a large-scale aerial offensive in the Gaza Strip [has] been followed by Israeli ground troops, which invaded the Gaza Strip on the night of 3 January 2009. To date, these attacks have resulted in the death of at least 729 Palestinians, 603 of whom were civilians, including 173 children, and the further wounding of over 3,200 more.”

–Joint Open Letter to the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, signed by 19 “local, regional and international human rights organizations concerned with respect for international humanitarian law.” According to the casualty numbers provided in the letter, which was endorsed and accepted by all 19 human rights organizations, the percentage of those in Gaza who were killed by Israel that were civilians is 83% as of January 9, 2009. [23]

“Since the Israeli military operation “Cast lead” began on 27 December until 8 January (4:00PM), 758 Palestinians have been killed—approximately 42% of whom were women (60) and children (257) according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. The number of children fatalities has increased by 250% since the beginning of ground operation on 3 January.” — UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, January 8, 2009 [24]

“Within eleven days, Israeli occupying forces have killed at least 671 Palestinians, 547 of whom were civilians, including 155 children, and injured at least 3,000.” — Al Haq, Human Rights Organization, January 7, 2009. Note that according to these calculations, civilians make up nearly 82% of Palestinians killed by Israel, as of January 7th. [24]

“Palestinian health ministry officials say 595 people have been killed since the attacks began, 195 of them children.” (over 33%) — BBC, January 6, 2009. [26]

“In one of its bloodiest military operations, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) initiated a wide-scale air strike operation against the Gaza Strip. More than 900 people have been killed and injured, most of whom are non-combatants. The number of casualties…because of the timing of the strike [coincides] with the change in school shifts when tens of thousands of schoolchildren were on their way to or from school.” –Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Press Release, December 28, 2008. [27]

- Max Kantar is a freelance writer. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: maxkantar@gmail.com

Notes:

[1] “B’Tselem to Attorney General Mazuz: Concern over Israel targeting civilian objects in the Gaza Strip,” December 31, 2008.

[2] Deen, Thalif, “Aid groups dispute Israeli claims in Gaza attacks,” The Electronic Intifada, January 10, 2009.

[3] Al Mezan, Press Release December 28, 2008.

[4] Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Press Release, December 27, 2008.

[5] See note 1

[6] Palestine Centre for Human Rights, Press Release, December 31, 2008.

[7] See note 1.

[8] El-‘Ajou, Fatmeh, “Re: The Killing of Civilians in the Gaza Strip,” Adalah, January 4, 2009.

[9] Falk, Richard “Statement by professor Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories,” UN High Commissioner For Human Rights, December 27, 2008.

[10] See note 1

[11] Palestine Centre for Human Rights, Press Release, January 10, 2009.

[12] Carter, Jimmy, “An Unnecessary War,” The Washington Post, January 8, 2009.

[13] UNOCHA, “Protection of Civilians Weekly Report,” January 8, 2009.

[14] Al-Haq, “Legal Aspects of Israel’s Attacks on the Gaza Strip in ‘Operation Cast Lead,'” January 7, 2009.

[15] See note 14

[16] Ditz, Jason, “At least 46 killed as Israel attacks Gaza school,” Antiwar.com, January 6, 2009. Note: media links are provided within the text of this article for verification.

[17] Edwards, David & Webster, Stephen, “Norwegian Doctor: Israel Intentionally Targeting Civilians,” The Raw Story, January 5, 2009.

[18] Al Mezan Press Release: “Most Gaza Casualties were non-combatants, civilians,” December 28, 2008, (electronicintifada.net)

[19] “UN: 25% of those killed in Gaza civilians,” Ynet, December 31, 2008, ynetnews.com

[20] “(AP) Israel advances deep into Gaza urban areas” MSNBC, January 11, 2009.

[21] Bannoura, Saed, “As night falls on the 15th day of Israeli offensive…” International Middle East Media Center, January 10, 2009.

[22] Heilprin, John, “UN: one third of Gaza dead, injured children,” San Fransico Chronicle, January 9, 2009.

[23] “Joint Open Letter to the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention,” Al-Haq, January 9, 2009.

[24] See note 13

[25] See note 14

[26] BBC, “Strike at Gaza school kills ’40′” January 7, 2009.

[27] See note 18


On Christopher Hitchens

Editor’s note: Norman G. Finkelstein is currently writing a political memoir, which will serve as the introduction to a new edition of his book, The Rise and Fall of Palestine, to be published by New Press next year.  Below is an excerpt from the memoir on the subject of political apostasy.  The title refers to how ex-leftist Christopher Hitchens used to sign off his correspondence.



"Fraternally yours, Chris"


I’m occasionally asked whether I still consider myself a Marxist.  Even if my "faith" had lapsed, I wouldn’t advertise it, not from shame at having been wrong (although admittedly this would be a factor) but rather from fear of arousing even a faint suspicion of opportunism.  To borrow from the lingo of a former academic fad, if, in public life, the "signifier" is "I’m no longer a Marxist," then the "signified" usually is, "I’m selling out."  No doubt one can, in light of further study and life experience, come to repudiate past convictions.  One might also decide that youthful ideals, especially when the responsibilities of family kick in and the prospects for radical change dim while the certainty of one’s finitude sharpens, are too heavy a burden to bear; although it might be hoped that this accommodation, however understandable (if disappointing), were accomplished with candor and an appropriate degree of humility rather than, what’s usually the case, scorn for those who keep plugging away.  It is when the phenomenon of political apostasy is accompanied by fanfare and fireworks that it becomes truly repellent.



Depending on where along the political spectrum power is situated, apostates almost always make their corrective leap in that direction, discovering the virtues of the status quo. "The last thing you can be accused of is having turned your coat," Thomas Mann wrote a convert to National Socialism right after Hitler’s seizure of power.  "You always wore it the `right’ way around."  If apostasy weren’t conditioned by power considerations, one would anticipate roughly equal movements in both directions.  But that’s never been the case.  The would-be apostate almost always pulls towards power’s magnetic field, rarely away.    However elaborate the testimonials on how one came to "see the light," the impetus behind political apostasy is – pardon my cynicism – a fairly straightforward, uncomplicated affair: to cash in, or keep cashing in, on earthly pleasures.  Indeed, an apostate can even capitalize on the past to increase his or her current exchange value.  Professional ex-radical Todd Gitlin never fails to mention, when denouncing those to his left, that he was a former head of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).  Never mind that this was four decades ago; although president of my sixth-grade class 40 years ago, I don’t keep bringing it up.  Shouldn’t there be a statute of limitations on the exploitation of one’s political past?  In any event, it’s hard to figure why an acknowledgment of former errors should enhance one’s current credibility.  If, by a person’s own admission, he or she had got it all wrong, why should anyone pay heed to his or her new opinions?  Doesn’t it make more sense attending to those who got there sooner rather than later?  A member of the Flat-Earth Society who suddenly discovers the world is round doesn’t get to keynote an astronomers’ convention.  Indeed, the prudent inference would seem to be, once an idiot, always an idiot.  It’s child’s play to assemble a lengthy list – Roger Garaudy, Boris Yeltsin, David Horowitz, Bernard Henri-Levy… – bearing out this commonsensical wisdom.  



Yet, an apostate is usually astute enough to understand that, in order to catch the public eye and reap the attendant benefits, merely registering this or that doubt about one’s prior convictions, or nuanced disagreements with former comrades (which, after all, is how a reasoned change of heart would normally evolve), won’t suffice.  For, incremental change, or fundamental change by accretion, doesn’t get the buzz going: there must be a dramatic rupture with one’s past.  Conversion and zealotry, just like revelation and apostasy, are flip sides of the same coin, the currency of a political culture having more in common with religion than rational discourse.  A rite of passage for apostates peculiar to U.S. political culture is bashing Noam Chomsky.  It’s the political equivalent of a bar mitzvah, a ritual signaling that one has "grown up" – i.e., grown out of one’s "childish" past.  It’s hard to pick up an article or book by ex-radicals – Gitlin’s Letters to a Young Activist, Paul Berman’s Terror and Liberalism… – that doesn’t include a hysterical attack on him.  Behind this venom there’s also a transparent psychological factor at play.  Chomsky mirrors their idealistic past as well as sordid present, an obstinate reminder that they once had principles but no longer do, that they sold out but he didn’t.  Hating to be reminded, they keep trying to shatter the glass.  He’s the demon from the past that, after recantation, no amount of incantation can exorcise.  



Two altogether opposed political stances can each draw an audience’s attention.  One is to be politically consistent, but nonetheless original in one’s insights; the other, an inchoate form of apostasy, is to bank on the shock value of an occasional, wildly inconsistent outburst.  The former approach, which Chomsky exemplifies, requires hard work, whereas the latter is a lazy substitute for it.  Thus Nat Hentoff, the hip (he loves jazz) left-liberal writer, would jazz up his interminably dull Village Voice columns by suddenly coming out against abortion or endorsing Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination.  The master at this pose of maverick unpredictability used to be Christopher Hitchens.  Amidst a fairly typical leftist politics, he would suddenly ambush unsuspecting readers with his opposition to abortion, admiration of the misogynist and juvenile lyrics of Two Live Crew ("I think that’s very funny"), or support for Columbus’s extermination of Native Americans ("deserving to be celebrated with great vim and gusto").  Immediately the talk of the town became, "Did you read Hitchens this week?"  



Although a tacit assumption equates unpredictability with independence of mind, it might just as well signal lack of principle.  As if to bear out this point, Hitchens has now repackaged himself a full-fledged apostate.  For maximum pyrotechnical effect, he knew that the "awakening" had to be as abrupt as it was extreme: if yesterday he counted himself a Trotskyist and Chomsky a comrade, better now to announce that he supports Bush and counts Paul Wolfowitz a comrade.  Their fates crossed when Wolfowitz and Hitchens both immediately glimpsed in September 11 the long-awaited opportunity: for Wolfowitz, to get into Iraq, for Hitchens, to get out of the left.  While public display of angst doesn’t itself prove authenticity of feeling (sometimes it might prove the reverse), a sharp political break must, for one living a political life, be a wrenching emotional experience.  The rejection of one’s core political beliefs can’t but entail a rejection of the person holding them: if the beliefs were wrong, then one’s whole being was wrong.  Repudiating one’s comrades must also be a sorrowful burden.  It is not by chance that "fraternity" is a prized value of the left: in the course of political struggle, one forges, if not always literally, then, at any rate, spiritually, blood bonds.  Yet, the élan with which Hitchens has shed his past and, spewing venom, the brio with which he savages former comrades is a genuine wonder to behold.  No doubt he imagines it is testament to the mettle of his conviction that past loyalties don’t in the slightest constrain him; in fact, it’s testament to the absence of any conviction at all.



Hitchens collects his essays during the months preceding the U.S. attack on Iraq in The Long Short War.   He sneers that former comrades organizing the global anti-war demonstrations "do not think that Saddam Hussein is a bad guy at all" (emphasis in original),  and the many millions marching in them consist of the "blithering ex-flower child or ranting neo-Stalinist."  Similarly, he ridicules activists pooling their meager resources for refreshments at a fundraiser – they are not among the chosen at a Vanity Fair soiree – as "potluck peaceniks" and "potluckistas." Yet, he is at pains to inform readers that all his newly acquired friends are "friends for life."  As with the solicitude he keeps expressing for the rights of Arab women, it seems that Hitchens protests too much.  The famous aphorism quoted by him that nations have no permanent allies, only permanent interests, might be said to apply, mutatis mutandis, to himself as well.  Indeed, his description of a psychopath – "incapable of conceiving an interest other than his own and perhaps genuinely indifferent to the well-being of others" – comes perilously close to a self-portrait.  To discover our true human nature, Freud once wrote, just reverse society’s moral exhortations: if the Commandment says not to commit adultery, it’s because we all want to.  This simple game can be played with Hitchens as well: when he avows, "I attempt to write as if I did not care what reviewers said, what peers thought, or what prevailing opinion might be," one should read, "My every word is calculated for its public effect."



Hitchens has riotous fun heaping contempt on several of the volunteer "human shields" who left Iraq before the bombing began. They "obviously didn’t have the guts," he jeers, hunkered down in his Washington foxhole.  Bearing witness to his own bravery, Hitchens reports in March 2003 that, although even the wife of New York Times columnist Tom Friedman is having doubts about going to war, "I am fighting to keep my nerve" – truly a profile in courage, as he exiles himself in the political wilderness, alongside the Bush administration, Congress, a majority of U.S. public opinion, and his employers in the major media.  Outraged at the taunt that he who preaches war should perhaps consider fighting it, Hitchens impatiently recalls that, since September 11, "civilians at home are no safer than soldiers abroad," and that, in fact, he’s not just a but the main target: "The whole point of the present phase of conflict is that we are faced with tactics that are directed primarily at civilians….It is amazing that this essential element of the crisis should have taken so long to sink into certain skulls" (emphasis in original).   No doubt modesty and tact forbid Hitchens from drawing the obvious comparison: while cowardly American soldiers frantically covered themselves in protective gear and held their weapons at the ready, he patrolled his combat zone in Washington, D.C. unencumbered.    Lest we forget, Hitchens recalls that ours is "an all-volunteer army" where soldiers willingly exchange "fairly good pay" for "obedience" to authority: "Who would have this any other way?"  For sure, not those who will never have to "volunteer."  



It’s a standing question as to whether the power of words ultimately derives from their truth value or if a sufficiently nimble mind can endow words with comparable force regardless of whether they are bearers of truth or falsity.  For those who want to believe that the truth content of words does matter, reading the new Hitchens comes as a signal relief. Although redoubtable as a left-wing polemicist, as a right-wing one he only produces doubt, not least about his own mental poise.  Deriding Chomsky’s "very vulgar" harnessing of facts, Hitchens wants to go beyond this "empiricism of the crudest kind."  His own preferred epistemology is on full display, for all to judge, in Long Short War.  To prove that, after supporting dictatorial regimes in the Middle East for 70 years, the U.S. has abruptly reversed itself and now wants to bring democracy there, he cites "conversations I have had on this subject in Washington."  To demonstrate the "glaringly apparent" fact that Saddam "infiltrated, or suborned, or both" the U.N. inspection teams in Iraq, he adduces the "incontrovertible case" of an inspector offered a bribe by an Iraqi official: "The man in question refused the money, but perhaps not everybody did."  Citing "the brilliant film called Nada," Hitchens proposes this radical redefinition of terrorism: "the tactic of demanding the impossible, and demanding it at gunpoint." Al-Qaida is accordingly terrorist because it posits an impossible world of "clerical absolutism" but, judging by this definition, the Nazi party wasn’t terrorist because it posited a possible world without Jews.  Claiming that every country will resort to preemptive war, and that preemptive is indistinguishable from preventive war, Hitchens infers that all countries "will invariably decide that violence and first use are justified" and none can be faulted on this account – which makes you wonder why he’s so hot under the collar about Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.  



Hitchens maintains that that "there is a close…fit between the democratically minded and the pro-American" in the Middle East – like "President for Life" Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah of Jordan…; that Washington finally grasped that "there were `root causes’ behind the murder-attacks" (emphasis in original) – but didn’t Hitchens ridicule any allusion to "root causes" as totalitarian apologetics?;  that "racism" is "anti-American as nearly as possible by definition"; that "evil" can be defined as "the surplus value of the psychopath" – is there a Bartletts for worst quotations?; that the U.S.’s rejoining of U.N.E.S.C.O. during the Iraq debate proved its commitment to the U.N.; that "empirical proofs have been unearthed" showing that Iraq didn’t comply with U.N. resolutions to disarm; that since the U.N. solicits U.S. support for multilateral missions, it’s "idle chatter" to accuse the U.S. of acting unilaterally in Iraq; that the likely killing of innocent civilians in "hospitals, schools, mosques and private homes" shouldn’t deter the U.S. from attacking Iraq because it is proof of Saddam’s iniquity that he put civilians in harm’s way; that those questioning billions of dollars in postwar contracts going to Bush administration cronies must prefer them going to "some windmill-power concern run by Naomi Klein" – is this dry or desiccated wit?



On one page Hitchens states that the world fundamentally changed after September 11 because "civilians are in the front line as never before," but on another page he states that during the 1970s, "I was more than once within blast or shot range of the IRA and came to understand that the word `indiscriminate’ meant that I was as likely to be killed as any other bystander."  On one page he states that, even if the U.S. doesn’t attack or threaten to attack, "Saddam Hussein is not going to survive. His regime is on the verge of implosion" (emphasis in original), but on another page he states that "only the force of American arms, or the extremely credible threat of that force, can bring a fresh face to power."  On one page he states that the U.S. seems committed to completely overhauling Iraq’s political system, but on another page he states that replacing Saddam with "another friendly general…might be ideal from Washington’s point of view."  On one page he states that "Of course it’s about oil, stupid" (emphasis in original), but on another page he states that "it was not for the sake of oil" that the U.S. went to war.  In one paragraph he states that the U.S. must attack Iraq even if it swells the ranks of al-Qaida, but in the next paragraph he states that "the task of statecraft" is not to swell its ranks.  In one sentence he claims to be persuaded by the "materialist conception of history," but in the next sentence he states that "a theory that seems to explain everything is just as good at explaining nothing."  In the first half of one sentence he argues that, since "one cannot know the future," policy can’t be based on likely consequences, but in the second half he concludes that policy should be based on "a reasoned judgment about the evident danger."  



Writing before the invasion, Hitchens argued that the U.S. must attack even if Saddam offers self-exile in order to capture and punish this heinous criminal.  Shouldn’t he urge an attack on the U.S. to capture and punish Kissinger?  And, it must attack because Saddam started colluding with al-Qaida after the horrific crimes of September 11.  Should the U.S. have been attacked for colluding with Saddam’s horrific crimes, not after but while they unfolded, before September 11?  France is the one "truly `unilateralist’ government on the Security Council," according to Hitchens, a proof being that 20 years ago it sank a Greenpeace vessel – next to which the U.S. wars in Central America apparently pale by comparison.  He assails French President Jacques Chirac, in a masterful turn of phrase, as a "balding Joan of Arc in drag," and blasts France with the full arsenal of Berlitz‘s "most commonly used French expressions."  For bowing to popular anti-war sentiment in Germany, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder stands accused of "cheaply" playing "this card," while in the near-unanimous opposition of the Turkish people to war Hitchens detects evidence of "ugly egotism and selfishness."  He says that Wolfowitz wants "democracy and emancipation" – which must be why Wolfowitz rebuked the Turkish military for not stepping in after the Turkish people vetoed participation in the war.  A "principled policy cannot be measured," Hitchens sniffs, "by the number of people who endorse it."  But for a principled democrat the number of people endorsing a policy does decide whether to implement it.  Hitchens’s notion of democracy is his "comrade," ex-Trotskyist but ever-opportunist Kanan Makiya, conjuring up a "complex and ambitious plan" to totally remake Iraq in Boston and presenting it for ratification at an émigré conference in London.  The invective he hurls at French, German and Turkish leaders for heeding the popular will shows that Hitchens hasn’t, at any rate, completely broken faith with his past: contemptuous of "transient polls of opinion," he’s still a Trotskyist at heart, guiding the benighted masses to the Promised Land, if through endless wars and safely from the rear.



Most of Long Short War is given over to parsing words.  According to Hitchens, all the key terms of the debate on Iraq were meaningless.  In his hands this is probably true.  For many years Hitchens awed readers with his formidable control over the English language.  Now his ego delights in testing whether, through sheer manipulation of words, he can pass off flatulent emissions as bouquets.   It perhaps would be funny watching fatuous readers fawn over gibberish – were not human life at stake. Hitchens can’t believe a word he’s saying.  In contrast to bursting windbags like Vaclav Havel, Hitchens is too smart to take his vaporizings seriously.  It’s almost an inside joke as he signals each ridiculous point with the assertion that it’s "obvious."  Hitchens resembles no one so much as the Polish émigré hoaxer, Jerzy Kosinski, who, shrewdly sizing up intellectual culture in America, used to give, before genuflecting Yale undergraduates, lectures on such topics as "The Art of the Self: the theory of `Le Moi Poetique’ (Binswanger)."  Translation: for this wanger it’s all about moi.  Kosinski no doubt had a good time of it until, outed as a fraud, he had enough good grace, which Hitchens plainly lacks, to commit suicide.  And for Hitchens it’s also lucrative nonsense that he’s peddling.  It’s not exactly a martyr’s fate defecting from The Nation, a frills-free liberal magazine, to Atlantic Monthly, the well-heeled house organ of Zionist crazies.  Although Kissinger affected to be a "solitary, gaunt hero," Hitchens says, in reality he was just a "corpulent opportunist."  It sounds familiar.  


Shlomo, mon ami.



Ben-Ami’s Scars of War juxtaposed with Finkelstien’s Image and Reality
(56 pages; 1.6 MB)
* Ben-Ami / Finkelstein
(HTML-text rush transcript)

Image and Reality recalls that like many other states that displaced the indigenous population one of the founding myths of Israel was that the land was empty prior to foreign settlement. For supporting evidence it quoted among others Israel Zngwill, Moshe Smilansky, David Ben-Gurion, Izhak Ben-Zvi and Abba Eban:

Here’s what Ben-Ami writes:

Image and Reality argued that the Zionist movement never accepted the partitioning of Palestine but rather intended to conquer it in “stages,” which is exactly what Israel later accused the P.L.O. of wnating to do:

Here’s what Ben-Ami writes:

Image and Reality argued that Ben-Gurion intended to expel the Arabs and that his main concern was to get the timing right for such an expulsion:

Here’s what Ben-Ami writes:

Image and Reality argued that historian Benny Morris’s thesis that the Palestinian refugee question was “born of war, not by design” was not supported by his own evidence, which rather pointed to the conclusion that the Palestinians were intentionally expelled. For supporting evidence it quoted among others David Ben-Gurion, Aharon Cohen and Ya’acov Hazan:

Here’s what Ben-Ami writes:

Image and Reality argued that the reasons Israel attacked Egypt in June 1967 were that it feared Nassar would be another Kemal Ataturk who would modernize the Arab world, and that Nassar had refused to bow to Israeli diktat:

Here’s what Ben-Ami writes:

Image and Reality argued that, although Israeli leaders would later deny it, they could have reached a separate peace with Egypt in 1971 but instead sought to retain Egyptian territory. For supporting evidence it quoted Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan:

Here’s what Ben-Ami writes:

Image and Reality argued that when Israel turned down Egypt’s peace proposals in 1971 Sadat openly declared that he would launch an attack, but Israel ignored these threats because it didn’t believe Arabs were capable of waging war. For supporting evidence it cited Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin:

Here’s what Ben-Ami writes:

Image and Reality argued that the P.L.O. compromised fundamental Palestinian rights in the 1995 Oslo Accord:

Here’s what Ben-Ami writes:

Image and Reality argued that Israel’s motive for signing the Oslo Accord was for the P.L.O. to serve as Israel’s collaborator in suppressing Palestinian resistance to the occupation. For supporting evidence it quoted Uri Savir:

Here’s what Ben-Ami writes:


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