Imposed Hunger in Gaza, The Army in Indonesia

Questions of Logic and Activism

The UN World Food Program estimates that, in the wake of Israel’s cutoffs,”Food imports into the Gaza Strip are only enough to meet 41 percent of demand,” (paraphrase by the UN-sponsored news agency, IRIN. IRIN, Jerusalem, “Only 41 percent of Gaza’s food import needs being met,” 6 December 2007), ie. Gazan food intake has been cut by a shock 59 percent.

Even a small cut in food consumption can stunt or kill already hungry people, particularly infants in the brain-development stage.

The UN sponsored IRIN news service reports that “Israeli travel and trade restrictions have led to a decline in purchasing power in Gaza. A recent WFP survey found that of the 62 percent of people who said they had reduced their expenditure in recent months, 97 percent reported a decrease in spending on clothing and 93 percent on food.”

IRIN cites the case of Naheda Ghabaien, “a mother of five in the Beach refugee camp in central Gaza” whose husband “used to work three or four days a week bringing home about US$10 a day” but now, post sanctions, “only works a few days a month.”

At least the Ghabaien family is getting some aid, unlike so many other nutritionally threatened people around the world. Every twelve weeks, another UN agency (UNRWA) gives them “amounts of rice, flour, oil and sugar that can last for four to six weeks. The family rarely eats meat anymore, relying mostly on vegetables.”

“‘When the agency food runs out,'” IRIN quotes Naheda Ghabaien as saying, “we buy the food we need on credit from the grocer. When my husband works, most of his daily earnings go to settling the debt.”

The news agency notes that “(a)id workers say these sorts of coping mechanisms are reaching their limits” and cannot keep yielding food for Gaza’s straitened people much longer.

Israel’s government says that its sanctions are legal — ie. are not a disproportionate reprisal, which is a war crime — so it is logically saying that these food and other cutoffs are not worse than the Gazan rocketing of Israel.

So, if that is the case, Israel should be willing to agree to a simple switch: Gaza gets the power and right to effectively cut off 59% of Israel’s food (as well as being able to shut its electricity, fuel, communications, medical supplies, travel rights, airspace etc.), and Israel gets the right to rocket Gaza as Gaza has rocketed Israel, ie. in a manner that has killed Israeli civilians at the rate of roughly one every four months.

Would the Israeli government agree to this bargain that is strictly based on its own legal logic?

Of course not. They’d be foolish if they did. They already bomb and shell Gaza, and other places, at will, killing Palestinan and Arab civilians at roughly the rate of ten for each Israeli civilian (for statistics within the Occupied Territories, see the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem,, and if anyone were to cut more than half of Israel’s food, as Israel is now doing to Gaza, that place would immediately be leveled by Israel, and/or the United States.

As in so many other cases, power, not a power-wielder’s own legal logic, prevails.

In Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country ostensibly critical of Israel — but whose killer armed forces have discreetly taken Israeli aid — the President, Gen. Susilo, is in the process of appointing his country’s army commander as the overall armed forces chief, even though it is not the army’s turn in the supposed rotation.

Reuters, Jakarta (November 28, 2007) calls it “a move some observers say will ensure [Susilo] the support of the powerful military in the run-up to 2009 elections” (also see AFP, Jakarta, December 6, 2007, which draws the same conclusion) which is required since, as political Jakarta knows, no one wins and governs without the army.

The twist is that, a few years ago, when Indonesia started putting in non-army men (ie. air force and navy men) as armed forces commanders, this was hailed as progress and reform by the regime’s academic and political apologists.

Their somewhat self-incriminating argument was that since most civilian killings were done by the army (which is true), things would be better with the navy (that helped abduct many tens of thousands in post-’99-vote Timor, and this year did a massacre in Java [see posting of November 13, 2007, “Vomiting to Death on a Plane. Arsenic Democracy.”]) or the air force (that bombed Timor and Aceh) in charge.

If they believed their own logic they should now say that this appointment of an army man is a regression, a conclusion unlikely to be drawn, since the US Congress is just now deciding just how many millions they are going to give these very armed forces.

In fact, the State Department this week was putting out urgent queries around Washington that make it sound as if they are planning to openly aid Kopassus, the most notoriously sadistic army unit, and, historically, the most heavily US-trained one.

(Gen. Prabowo, the most notorious of all Kopassus commanders — and that is saying a lot — did his training at Fort Benning and Fort Bragg, among other places, and, his murderous record notwithstanding, was once cited in a US Embassy memo as an example of the success of US training, specifically the IMET [International Military Education and Training] program. Prabowo once complained to an American that all this had been a mixed blessing for him since, he said, some other Indonesian generals made fun of him because he spoke English so well; he said they called him “The American”).

The phone number of the US Congress is 202-224-3121, the members of the deciding Conference Committee are listed below, and the East Timor & Indonesia Action Network, ETAN ( has documented background information and action suggestions, as a starting point.

Activism actually beat the US Executive (under presidents Bush I and Clinton) and, through military aid cutoffs forced via Congress, helped to bring down Suharto and free occupied Timor.

(Suharto’s old security chief, Adm. Sudomo once told me that Suharto fell because they failed to open fire early and thoroughly on the Jakarta student demonstrators, because they feared further US aid cutoffs, as were imposed after the ’91 Dili, Timor massacre. As I left his vast cement-bunker house, adorned with pictures of him and the US golfer, Arnold Palmer, I realized that he probably hadn’t paid attention to who he was telling this story to, since on the way out he gave me a book that condemned me for my actions at Dili, and after.)

Those activist victories were possible in part because Indonesia was not a Washington priority. It was handled mainly by middle-level bureaucrats. The big boys were busy with other killer forces. Likewise, our entire fierce nine-year Congressional aid-cut struggle was ignored by the US corporate media, which was in a way frustrating, but in another way perhaps good, since that may have delayed the counter-mobilization by Jakarta, US corporations, and the US diplomatic/ military/ intelligence establishment that didn’t get serious until 1994 with the launching of the US-Indonesia Society lobby group (in which Gen. Prabowo had a hand), and other initiatives.

Israel/ Palestine is an entirely different matter, top of the government, media, and counter-mobilization lists. Efforts to change that policy cannot hope to steal a march under the political radar. But the distinguished — and therefore, often vilified — scholar of the matter, Norman G. Finkelstein (highly praised by the most serious figures, eg. Raul Hilberg, Avi Shlaim, while, at the same time, lied about by others) believes that a slow shift in US opinion is underway, starting, interestingly, among younger US Jews.

Power is one thing. Fact and logic are another. They should not be confused.

The sooner people at our end, the trigger-end, honestly open their eyes and simply see, the sooner people at the exit-end — where the bullets and food-cuts come out — will stop having their own eyes forcibly and permanently closed by death.

* * * * *

Members of the US House – Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations Conference Committee currently deciding on major parts of US military aid to Indonesia:

House Democrats:

Nita M. Lowey (NY), Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chair [a critic of the Indonesian military, but has been under strong pressure from the Executive Branch and from her subcommittee’s ranking Republican, Frank Wolf (VA); as with Sen. Leahy (VT), how strong a stand she takes will be crucial]
Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (IL)
Adam Schiff (CA)
Steve Israel (NY)
Ben Chandler (KY)
Steven R. Rothman (NJ)
Barbara Lee (CA)
Betty McCollum (MN)
Dave Obey (WI), Ex Officio, Appropriations Committee Chair [former strong critic of the Indonesian military, less involved in recent years]

House Republicans:

Frank R. Wolf (VA), Ranking Member [generally interested in human rights, but formerly a critic of the Indonesian military, and now a key supporter of them]
Joe Knollenberg (MI)
Mark Steven Kirk (IL) [former State Department official who professes interest in human rights]
Ander Crenshaw (FL)
Dave Weldon (FL)
Jerry Lewis (CA), Ex Officio, Appropriations Committee Ranking Member

Senate Democrats:

Robert Byrd (WVA), Appropriations Committee Chair
Patrick Leahy (VT), Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chair [most important critic of the Indonesian military, but much depends on how strong a stand he takes]
Daniel Inouye (HI) [single most important backer of the Indonesian military]
Tom Harkin (IA)
Barbara Mikulski (MD)
Richard Durbin (IL)
Tim Johnson (SD)
Mary Landrieu (LA)
Jack Reed (RI)

Senate Republicans:

Thad Cochran (MS), Appropriations Committee Ranking Member
Judd Gregg (NH), Foreign Operations Subcommittee Ranking Member
Mitch McConnell (KY), [longtime supporter of the Indonesian military]
Arlen Specter (PA)
Robert Bennett (UT)
Christopher Bond (MO),[current lead Republican backer of the Indonesian military, and the Indonesian presidential intelligence agency, BIN]
Sam Brownback (KS), [a Republican often receptive on human rights issues]
Lamar Alexander (TN)

All can be reached through the US Congressional Switchboard: 202-224-3121

Allan Nairn is an award-winning U.S. investigative journalist whose writings have focused on US foreign policy in such countries as Indonesia, East Timor, Guatemala, El Salvador and Haiti. Vist his blog.Allan Nairn is an award-winning U.S. investigative journalist whose writings have focused on US foreign policy in such countries as Indonesia, East Timor, Guatemala, El Salvador and Haiti. Vist his blog. Read other articles by Allan, or visit Allan's website.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. gerald spezio said on December 11th, 2007 at 11:51am #

    I don’t know what Nairn is trying to communicate.

    I have no idea what he wants the reader to do.

  2. David Price said on December 16th, 2007 at 4:30pm #

    Wouldn’t it be simpler for the Gazans to stop their attacks?

    And, now that they admit to holding Shalit, how about a simple exchange of prisoners – they can have 1 prisoner in return for Shalit – and in the same condition.