Amu Goodman, the host of Democracy Now@ will bring her Standing Up to the Madness book tour to Middletown, Conn., in support of WESU 88.1 FM, Weslayen University's alternative radio station created in 1939. WESU is online at www.wesufm.org
The event will take place at Weslayan's Memorial Chapel, 221 High Street, Middletown, Conn. on Saturday, April 4 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Tickets are $4 for students, and $10 for the general public.
Tickets are be purchased at the Wesleyan Box Office online at www.wesleyan.edu/boxoffice or by calling 860-685-3355.
High donors who contribute $100 will meet Amy Goodman at a pre-show reception from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., receive a copy of the book, and enjoy reserved searing for the main event. To arrange a this special reservation, please call 860-685-7707
For more informaiton about Democracy Now visit www.democracynow.org
This entry was posted on Mar 27, 2009 at 11:09:00 am and is filed under General News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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Obama ordered a review of Afghan and
Taliban policy after taking office
Barack Obama has unveiled his administration's new strategy in Afghanistan, including the deployment of an additional 4,000 US troops to train Afghan forces, following a review of policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The new strategy includes proposals to counter a persistent Taliban and al-Qaeda campaign that spans the two countries' shared border, and additional development aid for both nations.
Obama, who ordered the review of Afghanistan and Pakistan shortly after taking office in January, said a new strategy was essential because intelligence indicated al-Qaeda was "actively planning attacks" on the US from Pakistan.
"This is not simply an American problem, it's an international security problem of the highest order," he said on Friday.
Obama also hinted that the US may be willing to talk to some members of the Taliban, saying there would be "no peace without reconciliation among former enemies".
"In Iraq, we had success in reaching out to former adversaries to isolate and target al-Qaeda," he said.
"We must pursue a similar process in Afghanistan, while understanding that it is a very different country."
Obama proposed an additional $1.5n in funding for infrastructure development in Pakistan, in addition to setting a goal of building an Afghan army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000 by 2011.
There would also be a "substantial increase" in the number of civilians deployed on the ground in Afghanistan for development Obama said, and the US government would also seek "a new compact" with the Afghan government to halt corruption.
Al Jazeera's Rob Reynolds in Washington says the new strategy combines military action with civilian development, a more comprehensive approach than simply putting "more boots on the ground".
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, had earlier described the latest deployment as "an integrated military-civilian strategy".
"We are convinced that the most critical underpinning of any success we hope to achieve, along with the people and government of Afghanistan, will be looking at where civilian trainers, aid workers, technical assistance of all kinds can be best utilised," she said during a visit to Mexico on Thursday.
US officials have said success in Afghanistan is impossible without tackling Taliban enclaves in Pakistan, whose government is beset by political turmoil.
The problems in Afghanistan were highlighted by its intelligence chief, who accused Pakistan's spy agency ISI of helping Taliban fighters carry out attacks in his country.
Amrullah Saleh told parliament on Wednesday that ISI provides support to the Taliban leadership council in the Pakistani city of Quetta headed by the group's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Saleh said the council sends fighters into Afghanistan to attack Afghan and international forces.
The New York Times also reported on Thursday that Pakistani spy operatives provide money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance to Taliban commanders, with evidence of the ties coming from electronic surveillance and trusted informants.
The report cited American, Pakistani and other security officials who spoke anonymously because they were discussing confidential intelligence information.
A senior officer in the Pakistani spy agency, however, denied the allegations.
The UN is also due to hold a conference on Afghanistan in The Hague, the Netherlands, next week, attended by delegates from more than 80 countries.
The gathering was suggested by the US and will also be attended by representatives from Iran, which has said it sees a regional solution to the conflict as vital to securing a lasting peace.
The additional US deployment comes against a backdrop of mounting violence in Afghanistan, with 11 Taliban fighters killed following a raid by international forces and Afghan soldiers in the south which turned into a gun battle on Thursday night, US forces said.
The raid had targeted an important Taliban fighter in a village in Helmand province, the US military said in a statement. The forces came under fire from fighters inside a compound as they advanced and returned fire.
Earlier in the day in the same province, nine Afghan policemen were killed by suspected Taliban fighters, interior ministry sources said.
This entry was posted on Mar 27, 2009 at 10:17:41 am and is filed under American Empire. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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Sudanese officials say hundreds were killed early this year when bombs hit smuggling convoys moving migrants headed for Israel and Europe as well as arms possibly meant for Gaza.
March 27, 2009
By Richard Boudreaux and Edmund Sanders
Reporting from Khartoum, Sudan, and Jerusalem — A Sudanese official said Thursday that hundreds of people were killed early this year when foreign warplanes bombed three convoys smuggling African migrants through Sudan along with weapons that apparently were destined for the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted at his air force's possible involvement in the attacks. They came after Israel ended a 22-day assault on Gaza without fully achieving one of its aims: to choke off Hamas' weapons supply.
Israeli officials have said that the militant Islamic group is seeking more powerful weapons than the crude Kassam rockets and Grad missiles it fires at Israeli towns.
An Israeli role in the bombings, if confirmed, would underscore the Jewish state's determination to strike far beyond its borders to protect its security. It also would be seen as a warning to Hamas' most powerful patron, Iran, which Israel alleges is developing a nuclear weapon.
The bombings brought a new layer of tragedy to Sudan, a country in the grip of an armed insurgency. The victims were migrants from Sudan, Ethiopia and other African countries seeking a better life in Israel or Europe, and young men and boys working as porters and drivers for the smugglers.
Fatih Mahmoud Awad, a spokesman for Sudan's Transport Ministry, said as many as 800 people died in the attacks in January and early February. He said each convoy had more than a dozen vehicles.
The Associated Press quoted a Sudanese Foreign Ministry official, Ali Youssef, as saying there were conflicting reports of the number of casualties.
Transport Minister Mubarak Mabrook Saleem discussed the attacks at a news conference this week in Khartoum.
The attacks were not reported in the country's newspapers, suggesting that the government was embarrassed to acknowledge that its sovereignty and air space could be violated so easily.
Saleem told the Associated Press that he believed the planes were American, but other officials said they were not identifiable.
The U.S. military Thursday denied having made any recent airstrikes on Sudan.
CBS News reported Wednesday that Israel carried out the bombing in January. The network said Israel had learned of plans to move weapons north through Sudan to Egypt, then across the Sinai and through tunnels into Gaza.
Salah Bardawil, a senior Hamas official, denied that the vehicles hit were bearing weapons for Gaza.
Thirty-nine people in the 17-truck convoy were killed, CBS said. Awad, the Transport Ministry spokesman, put the death toll at 14. Reuters news agency said two warplanes hit the convoy in a desert region northwest of Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast.
Awad said 17 people were killed three weeks later in a second strike. The third attack caused many of the smuggled weapons to explode and was by far the deadliest, he said.
The weapons were "modern and expensive-looking," he said, and "were headed for Gaza probably."
Israel's military refused to confirm or deny a role in any of the bombings.
But Olmert, speaking at an academic conference, said:
"We operate everywhere we can hit terror infrastructure -- in close places and in places farther away. Wherever we can hit terror infrastructure, we hit them and we hit them in a way that increases deterrence."
Olmert, who is scheduled to step down as prime minister next week, made the remark during a speech summing up his accomplishments. He said Israel had acted beyond its borders in "a series of incidents," a reference widely understood to include the bombing of an alleged Syrian nuclear facility in 2007 and the assassination of a top Hezbollah warlord in the Syrian capital last year.
Experts said Israeli warplanes had the range to fly the 1,680-mile round trip to Sudan.
Before ending the Gaza assault Jan. 18, Israel secured pledges from the United States and other Western nations to share intelligence on arms smuggling into Gaza and cooperate in blocking it.
Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, a former Israeli army chief of staff, said Israel would have needed such help to locate smuggling convoys in Sudan.
Israeli officials say some Gaza-bound weapons move by sea from Iran to Yemen and others are purchased in Sudan's flourishing arms market.
Both routes converge over land through Sudan into Egypt and are used for smuggling migrants as well as weapons.
Reva Bhalla, a Washington-based analyst with the private intelligence firm Stratfor, said Iran pays for the weapons and often sends agents of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia, to buy them in Sudan and to hire the smugglers.
Sudanese official Awad blamed the government for neglecting eastern Sudan, driving youths into the smuggling trade. Those killed "were boys, many 12 or 13 years old, looking to earn some money," he said.
After the attacks, relatives and tribesmen began searching for loved ones, he said.
"We missed our people and started investigating. We eventually found the wreckage."
This entry was posted on Mar 27, 2009 at 10:10:46 am and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment, Human Rights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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Israeli defence officials have been accused of "grave ethical failures'" in testing an experimental anthrax vaccine on hundreds of Israeli soldiers by a panel of experts.
Several of the 716 soldiers who took part in the experiment in the late 1990s have complained of headaches, dizziness, skin, respiratory and digestive problems that they say are related to the vaccine.
The panel of medical and legal experts said in a report obtained by the Associated Press news agency on Thursday that the soldiers were not properly informed of the possible risks.
Anthrax is a deadly bacterial disease and its spores can be used in germ warfare to infect victims.
The US has long required that its troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea be vaccinated against anthrax.
Tumours and infections
Some of the Israeli soldiers have reportedly developed tumours and suffered infections after being used in tests by the Israeli military to develop an anthrax vaccine.
The Israeli military, or IDF, said in a response to the report on Friday, that the experiment was of "strategic importance to Israel's security''.
According to the IDF, only 11 soldiers have sought help for side-effects and they have all received the appropriate treatment.
Volunteers were given "a detailed explanation about the vaccine, associated research and possible side effects'', the defence ministry said.
The vaccine programme had been ordered from 1998 to 2006 amid fears of an anthrax attack by Saddam Hussein, the then Iraqi president, and because foreign-made vaccines were not available.
In its conclusions, the panel said it "was not convinced'' that decision makers properly evaluated the vaccine.
It also called into question the motives of some of the scientists involved in developing the vaccine because of their previous links to anthrax research.
"We found no clear justification for the experiment,'' the panel wrote, calling the test "seriously flawed".
"The purpose of the experiment was to examine the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for use among Israel's general population. But the experiment was
conducted on young, healthy soldiers, and it is not clear how its results could reflect on the population as a whole,'' it said.
"The possible risks and side-effects of the experiment weren't explored in depth'' and were concealed from the soldiers who took part, it concluded.
Soldiers were not monitored thoroughly during and after the experiment for any possible side effects, it said.
Dorit Tahan, 29, who volunteered for the experiment, said the report verifies what soldiers have long claimed.
"There was no medical supervision after the soldiers finished the shots. No one took care of the soldiers after the experiment,'' Tahan, who attributes her skin problems to the vaccine, said.
The Israeli military appointed the panel in 2007 after media reported on the soldiers' complaints.
It interviewed 83 soldiers and received testimony from 60 others who spoke to Physicians for Human Rights, the statement said.
It is not clear how many soldiers are suffering from side-effects.
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This entry was posted on Mar 27, 2009 at 09:44:15 am and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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By David Ignatius
Thursday, March 26, 2009
For many years, the United States has had a policy against spending aid money to fund Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which successive administrations have regarded as an obstacle to peace. Yet private organizations in the United States continue to raise tax-exempt contributions for the very activities that the government opposes.
There's nothing illegal about the charitable contributions to pro-settlement organizations, which are documented in filings with the Internal Revenue Service. They're similar to tax-exempt donations made to thousands of foreign organizations around the world through groups that are often described as "American friends of" the recipient.
But critics of Israeli settlements question why American taxpayers are supporting indirectly, through the exempt contributions, a process that the government condemns. A search of IRS records identified 28 U.S. charitable groups that made a total of $33.4 million in tax-exempt contributions to settlements and related organizations between 2004 and 2007.
"This is an issue that has not gotten the attention it deserves," said Ori Nir, a spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, a lobbying group that opposes settlements. "I don't know how many people, including in the U.S. government, realize the extent of private American funding to settlements. . . . Every dollar that goes to settlements makes Middle East peace that much harder to reach."
The Obama administration had an early confrontation over settlements when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Israel this month. She criticized Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in a largely Arab area of Jerusalem known as Silwan, just below the walls of the Old City. "Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful," she said. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat responded that Clinton was mistaken and that the Palestinian houses had been built illegally.
One of the Israeli organizations that has led the way in developing this area of East Jerusalem is called Ir David, or City of David. Like other pro-settlement groups, it has an active fundraising effort in the United States. According to Form 990s filed with the IRS, Friends of Ir David raised $8.7 million in 2004, $1.2 million in 2005 and $2.7 million in 2006.
The group's primary tax-exempt purpose, according to the IRS filings, is: "To create a charitable fund to provide financial aid & other reasonable assistance to benefit the Jewish people of the Old City of Jerusalem. To teach about the history and archeology of the biblical city of Jerusalem. To offer aid & assistance for education, housing & the rehabilitation of distressed properties."
A senior Jordanian official argued in an interview this week that Israeli pro-settlement groups such as Ir David are seeking to transform the demographic character of East Jerusalem so that a two-state solution with Jerusalem shared by Israeli and Palestinian governments will be impossible.
Hebron is another controversial area where settlements have received substantial tax-exempt gifts from America. According to IRS records, the Hebron Fund donated $860,637 in 2005 and $967,954 in 2006 for "social and educational well-being"; the fund's online mission statement makes clear this is for Israeli settlers inside the city. The Hebron settlement of Kiryat Arba received $730,000 in 2006 from a group called American Friends of Yeshiva High School of Kiryat Arba.
Often the U.S. charities will specify that their gifts are going to charities in Israel, even though the recipients are in the West Bank, which the United States regards as occupied territory. American Friends of the College of Judea and Samaria, for example, said its donations were "to provide for the expansion and furtherance of the needs of educational institutions in Israel," even though the college is in the settlement of Ariel. Similarly, other filings speak of gifts to "Elon Moreh, Israel," "Gush Etzion, Israel," "Karnei Shomron, Israel," "Efrat, Israel," and "Bat Ayin, Israel," even though those settlements are all in the West Bank.
A 2005 report by the Congressional Research Service stated: "The United States stipulates that U.S. aid funds cannot be used in the occupied territories." The issue came to a head during a 1992 dispute over the use of U.S. loan guarantees. A Jan. 25, 1992, story in the New York Times said that Secretary of State James A. Baker had cautioned Israel's ambassador "that the administration was not going to underwrite Israeli policies that fundamentally contradict its own principles and long-stated policies."
U.S.-Israeli friction over settlements is likely to increase as Israel forms a new conservative government under Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu. Indeed, the man he has selected as Israel's next foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, lives in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, just east of Bethlehem.
This entry was posted on Mar 27, 2009 at 07:29:04 am and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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Thursday, March 26, 2009
JERUSALEM: The Israeli military on Thursday disputed Palestinian claims that most of the people killed in the recent Gaza Strip war were civilians, claiming the "vast majority" of the dead were Hamas militants.
Israel says the three-week offensive was aimed solely at Hamas militants, while Palestinians say hundreds of people were killed by an overwhelming show of force that showed little regard for civilians.
Maj. Avital Leibovich, an army spokeswoman, said Thursday that the military had completed an investigation and determined that a total of 1,166 Palestinians were killed in the operation. It found that 709 were Hamas militants, while 295 were civilians, including 89 minors and 49 women. It was unclear whether another 162 men who died were militants or civilians.
The figures clashed with numbers released last week by the Palestine Center for Human Rights, which said 1,417 people were killed, including more than 900 civilians. Its toll included the names and ages of all of the dead.
The Israeli military said it also had a list of names, but the army did not provide it to reporters.
The Palestinian center Thursday called the Israeli report "a deliberately manipulative attempt to distort the reality of the offensive and to disguise Israel's illegal actions." It said, for instance, that Israel wrongly classified 255 "noncombatant" police officers killed at the outset of the war as militants.
The heavy civilian death toll caused an international outcry and fueled calls from human rights groups for a war crimes investigation against Israel.
An Israeli military school's publication last week of soldiers' accounts of wanton destruction and slack rules of engagement that may have caused unnecessary civilian deaths, has added to the uproar.
The military's report was unlikely to resolve the debate over the death toll, although Leibovich said the army's information was "checked, crisscrossed and double-checked with the different intelligence bodies in Israel."
When asked to explain the discrepancy, she said "you have to ask your Palestinian sources" and acknowledged it was not a precise science.
"We are receiving different information from different sources, the majority of which is not based on hard evidence," she said. "I can tell you for a fact that our information is checked according to different intelligence organizations and Palestinian authorities and these are the right figures."
Israel waged the war in Gaza in an attempt to weaken Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group, and halt persistent rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli border towns.
Israel blames Hamas for the heavy civilian casualties, saying the group launches attacks from schools and residential areas and uses civilians as "human shields" to deter Israeli attacks.
President Barack Obama's administration has promised to become "vigorously engaged" in the search to end the Israeli-Arab conflict and has pledged $900 million to help rebuild homes and infrastructure destroyed in the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who harshly criticized his predecessor's' peace efforts and said the Palestinians were not ready for independence said Thursday he does not expect to face pressure from Obama due to the "deep and strong" ties between Israel and the United States.
Netanyahu is expected to present his center-right coalition to parliament next week.
After signing a coalition pact with the centrist Labor Party Wednesday Netanyahu appeared to soften his previous stance, pledging that his government would be a "partner for peace with the Palestinians,"
At a White House press conference the day before, Obama described the current deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians as unsustainable.
"It is critical for us to advance a two-state solution," he added.
Asked by a reporter Thursday about Palestinian statehood, Netanyahu fielded the question by referring to the coalition agreement with Labor under which the new government would resume peace talks and commit itself to existing peace accords.
It was not clear if that included the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Both sides recommitted to the road map at a 2007 peace conference hosted by the United States.
This entry was posted on Mar 26, 2009 at 03:59:40 pm and is filed under Human Rights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
Any thing that the palestinians say is a lie. Anything that Hamas or Fatah say is a lie. These people are nothing but habitual liars and can't be trusted. The Israelis know this, thus their posturing. You'd be hard pressed to find a good honest palestinian.
There must be some.
The Israeli propaganda machine is alive and well. Facing mounting world criticism over its dealy attack and unforgivebale slaughter of fourteen hundred plus Gazans, Israel will do everything it can to contradict the Palestinian reports, the UN reports and numerous other reports on the casualties in Gaza. Enough of the lies! Israel should admit that mistakes were made and that civilians were murdered by Isreali military forces.
Netanyahu's assertion that "he does not expect to face pressure from Obama due to the "deep and strong" ties between Israel and the United States" is completley absurd. The USA, under the Obama government, stands for justice and freedom for all and a new way of thinking. Idealogies that do not fit in with Netanyahu's political party or with Israel proper.
Once the truth is revealed, the future will decide who supports Israel and who does not. Do not count your eggs to fast Netanyahu!
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Palestinian children from the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank pose for a photo after playing for Holocaust survivors at a center in Holon near Tel Aviv, Wednesday, March 25, 2009. The Palestinian youths stood facing the elderly Holocaust survivors Wednesday. Then they began to sing. The choir burst into songs for peace, bringing surprised smiles from the audience. But the event had an even more surprising twist: Most of the Holocaust survivors did not know the youths were Palestinians from the West Bank, a rare sight in Israel these days. And the youths had no idea they were performing for survivors of the Nazi genocide or even what the Holocaust was. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)
Holocaust survivors listen as Palestinian children from the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank play at a center in Holon near Tel Aviv, Wednesday, March 25, 2009. The Palestinian youths stood facing the elderly Holocaust survivors Wednesday. Then they began to sing. The choir burst into songs for peace, bringing surprised smiles from the audience. But the event had an even more surprising twist: Most of the Holocaust survivors did not know the youths were Palestinians from the West Bank, a rare sight in Israel these days. And the youths had no idea they were performing for survivors of the Nazi genocide or even what the Holocaust was. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)
By DIAA HADID
The Palestinian youths from the tough West Bank refugee camp stood facing the elderly Holocaust survivors Wednesday, appearing somewhat defiant in a teenage sort of way. Then they began to sing.
The choir burst into songs for peace, bringing surprised smiles from the audience. But the event had another twist: Most of the Holocaust survivors did not know the youths were Palestinians from the West Bank, a rare sight in Israel these days. And the youths had no idea they were performing for people who lived through Nazi genocide — or even what the Holocaust was.
"I feel sympathy for them," Ali Zeid, an 18-year-old keyboard player who said he was shocked by what he learned about the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed 6 million Jews in their campaign to wipe out European Jewry.
"Only people who have been through suffering understand each other," said Zeid, who said his grandparents were Palestinian refugees forced to flee the northern city of Haifa during the war that followed Israel's creation in 1948.
The 13 musicians, aged 11 to 18, belong to "Strings of Freedom," a modest orchestra from the hardscrabble Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, the scene of a deadly 2002 battle between Palestinian militants and Israeli soldiers.
The event, held at the Holocaust Survivors Center in this tree-lined central Israeli town, was part of "Good Deeds Day," an annual event run by an organization connected to billionaire Shari Arison, Israel's richest woman.
The two-hour meeting starkly highlighted how distant Palestinians and Israelis have become after more than eight years of bloody Palestinian militant attacks and deadly Israeli military reprisals.
Most of the Palestinian youths had not seen an Israeli civilian before — only gun-toting soldiers in military uniforms manning checkpoints, conducting arrest raids of wanted Palestinians or during army operations.
"They don't look like us," said Ahed Salameh, 12, who wore a black head scarf woven with silver.
Most of the elderly Israelis wore pants and T-shirts, with women sporting a smear of lipstick.
"Old people look different where we come from," Salameh said.
She said she was shocked to hear about the Nazi genocide against Jews. Ignorance and even denial of the Holocaust is widespread in Palestinian society.
Amnon Beeri of the Abraham Fund, which supports coexistence between Jews and Arabs, said most of the region's residents have "no real idea about the other."
The youths said their feisty conductor, Wafa Younis, 50, tried to explain to them who the elderly people were, but chaos on the bus prevented them from listening.
The elderly audience said they assumed Arab children were from a nearby village — not from the refugee camp where 23 Israeli soldiers were killed, alongside 53 Palestinian militants and civilians, in several days of battle in April 2002.
Some 30 elderly survivors gathered in the center's hall as teenage boys and girls filed in 30 minutes late — delayed at an Israeli military checkpoint outside their town, they later explained.
Some of the young women wore Muslim head scarves — but also sunglasses and school ties.
As a host announced in Hebrew that the youths were from the Jenin refugee camp, there were gasps and muttering from the crowd. "Jenin?" one woman asked in jaw-dropped surprise.
Younis, from the Arab village of Ara in Israel, then explained in fluent Hebrew that the youths would sing for peace, prompting the audience to burst into applause.
"Inshallah," said Sarah Glickman, 68, using the Arabic term for "God willing."
The encounter began with an Arabic song, "We sing for peace," and was followed by two musical pieces with violins and Arabic drums, as well as an impromptu song in Hebrew by two in the audience.
Glickman, whose family moved to the newly created Jewish state in 1949 after fleeing to Siberia to escape the Nazis, said she had no illusions the encounter would make the children understand the Holocaust. But she said it might make a "small difference."
"They think we are strangers, because we came from abroad," Glickman said. "I agree: It's their land, also. But there was no other option for us after the Holocaust."
Later, she tapped her feet in tune as the teenagers played a catchy Mideast drum beat. After the event, some of the elderly Israelis chatted with students and took pictures together.
The encounter was not absent of politics. Younis dedicated a song to an Israeli soldier held captive by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip — and also criticized Israel's occupation of the West Bank.
But she said the main mission of the orchestra, formed seven years ago to help Palestinian children overcome war trauma, was to bring people together.
"I'm here to raise spirits," Younis said. "These are poor, old people."
This entry was posted on Mar 26, 2009 at 02:38:08 pm and is filed under PALESTINE, PEACE. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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By Arshad Zaman
THIS article poses two questions: on the day after US/Nato forces invade and occupy some of Balochistan and Waziristan, what will we say we should have done, and why aren’t we doing it now? Is this far-fetched?
The facts suggest otherwise. Like the US invasion of Iraq, plans for covert operations and military strikes against Pakistan have not only circulated for long among influential US groups, they are visibly under implementation. Again, like Bush, the Obama presidency has provided the opportunity to implement these plans.
Obama has been elected on a Democratic Party platform that holds that ‘The greatest threat to the security of the Afghan people — and the American people — lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train, plot attacks and strike into Afghanistan and move back across the border. We cannot tolerate a sanctuary for Al Qaeda.” It defines Pakistan as ‘a nuclear-armed nation at the nexus of terror, extremism and … instability’ and goes on to promise that ‘we will lead a global effort … to secure all nuclear weapons material at vulnerable sites within four years’.
There cannot be a clearer statement of US intentions. Nor are the outlines of likely US actions entirely unknown. The logic of the US action will be provided by Kampuchea; the tactics by Kosovo on our western borders and Palestine on our eastern borders. Naturally, historical analogies are far from exact, but they do merit study.
Even though the contextual background of the US bombing of Kampuchea departs from the situation in Pakistan on many points, what is common to the two is that US troops are bogged down in adjacent Afghanistan, the Americans believe that their ‘enemy’ is able to find ‘sanctuaries’ and ‘safe havens’ in Pakistan, and they have been conducting covert bombing operations in Pakistan for some time, which have progressively intensified.
We should not be misled by diplomatic pleasantries. In April 1969, Richard Nixon assured Prince Sihanouk that the US respected ‘the sovereignty, neutrality and territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Cambodia …’ Over the next 14 months the US dropped 2,750,000 tons of bombs on Kampuchea, more than the total dropped by the Allies in the Second World War. In 1970, Prince Sihanouk was deposed by his pro-American prime minister, Lon Nol. The country’s borders were closed, and the US and the Republic of Vietnam Army (ARVN) launched incursions into Kampuchea to attack the People’s Army of Vietnam and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (VPA/NLF) bases.
The coup against Sihanouk and the US bombing destabilised Kampuchea and increased support for the Khmer Rouge. The parallels to recent developments in Pakistan are obvious.
Unlike Vietnam and Kampuchea around 1960, however, the Americans do not intend to withdraw from Afghanistan. Instead, in pursuit of a ‘surge’ strategy, some 17,000 US troops are expected to arrive in Afghanistan in the coming months; and the US appears to be digging in for a long stay. This creates enormous supply problems to which solutions, significantly, are being put together without dependence on Pakistan.
On March 17, 2009, Gen Duncan McNab testified before the armed services committee that the US military is reconsidering the long-term viability of the Khyber Pass supply route, through which 140 containers pass every day. Earlier this month therefore the US inaugurated the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) a rail-truck transit corridor passing through Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, with a capacity of 100 containers of non-lethal supplies per day.
To consolidate the NDN, officials from US, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey met in Baku on March 9-10, 2009 to establish a supply spur in the Caucasus. Even so, the closure of the Manas airbase outside Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan in February has been a severe blow to US supply capabilities from the north.
A solution to these problems can be found by creating an independent corridor to the Arabian Sea in Balochistan. This corridor, together with the occupation of Afghanistan, would also ensure US access to Central Asian crude oil, the raison d’etre of the so-called war on terror.
The groundwork for this scenario has already been laid by influential US groups in the military and intelligence community: comparing Pakistan to Yugoslavia, predicting civil war and advocating break-up supported by a map in the 2006 US Armed Forces Journal. These proposals would be endorsed by US Vice President Joe Biden, who supports the division of Iraq along ethnic lines. The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), trained and financed by US and British intelligence services (among others), is said to be Washington’s chosen model to be replicated in Balochistan.
On the eastern front the Indians have been pressing the Americans to accept their right to unilateral military strikes inside Pakistan in self-defence, as they accept Israel’s rights in Palestinian territories; and as the Americans have claimed for themselves throughout the world. For well over a decade now, Israel has been teaching the Indians what they have learned in their repression of the Palestinians. In the wake of the Mumbai incident, Indian planes crossed over into Pakistani air space.
According to press reports, US Admiral Mullen sought formal approval for Indians to execute ‘surgical strikes’ inside Pakistan, like the US does, but Pakistan refused. Clearly, this is not the last we have heard of this and India will continue to pursue its policy of keeping Pakistan under the maximal sustainable military, diplomatic and economic pressure.
To conclude, then, there are good reasons to believe that a US-Israel-India axis is in pursuit of a coordinated plan to balkanise militarily consequential Muslim states (next Pakistan, then Iran — the order reversed by Musharraf’s weak military policies); ‘secure’ Pakistan’s nuclear weapons; support Baloch irredentism not only to open a corridor both for logistic support of its troops in Afghanistan and for export of Central Asian crude oil, but also to weaken Iran and Pakistan in the long-term; coerce the Pakistan Army into a civil war (advocating suppression of the Taliban by force in Pakistan, while admitting the failure of exactly this policy in Afghanistan); and further consolidate its hold over civilian leadership by creating the kind of financial dependency that would allow it to control ‘democratic’ elections, and to annul their results if they were unfavourable (as Israel did with Hamas).
Reportedly, Obama is expected to consider and approve options soon, and increased US military activity should take place once the snow melts. One hopes that a small group of patriotic officers in Pakistan are also asking themselves what can be done, and why aren’t we doing it now.
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Residue of allergy, cholesterol, other meds were in fish near 5 major cities
Fish caught near wastewater treatment plants serving five major U.S. cities had residues of pharmaceuticals in them, including medicines used to treat high cholesterol, allergies, high blood pressure, bipolar disorder and depression, researchers reported Wednesday.
Findings from this first nationwide study of human drugs in fish tissue have prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to significantly expand similar ongoing research to more than 150 different locations.
"The average person hopefully will see this type of a study and see the importance of us thinking about water that we use every day, where does it come from, where does it go to? We need to understand this is a limited resource and we need to learn a lot more about our impacts on it," said study co-author Bryan Brooks, a Baylor University researcher and professor who has published more than a dozen studies related to pharmaceuticals in the environment.
A person would have to eat hundreds of thousands of fish dinners to get even a single therapeutic dose, Brooks said. But researchers including Brooks have found that even extremely diluted concentrations of pharmaceutical residues can harm fish, frogs and other aquatic species because of their constant exposure to contaminated water.
Brooks and his colleague Kevin Chambliss tested fish caught in rivers where wastewater treatment plants release treated sewage in Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix, Philadelphia and Orlando, Fla. For comparison, they also tested fish from New Mexico's pristine Gila River Wilderness Area, an area isolated from human sources of pollution.
March 10: A shocking Associated Press investigation finds various pharmaceuticals in the drinking supplies of at least 41 million Americans. NBC's Tom Costello reports.
Earlier research has confirmed that fish absorb medicines because the rivers they live in are contaminated with traces of drugs that are not removed in sewage treatment plants. Much of the contamination comes from the unmetabolized residues of pharmaceuticals that people have taken and excreted; unused medications dumped down the drain also contribute to the problem.
The researchers, whose work was funded by a $150,000 EPA grant, tested fish for 24 different pharmaceuticals, as well as 12 chemicals found in personal care products.
Traces of meds found at all sites tested
They found trace concentrations of seven drugs and two soap scent chemicals in fish at all five of the urban river sites. The amounts varied, but some of the fish had combinations of many of the compounds in their livers.
The researchers didn't detect anything in the reference fish caught in rural New Mexico.
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Criticism by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League has drawn attention to the Oliphant cartoon and resulted in the cartoon being reprinted all over the world -- including here.
By Jeremy Gantz
The latest cartoon by the most widely syndicated political cartoonist in the world has raised the ire of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which is dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism.
The ADL's director called the syndicated cartoon, published Wednesday and reprinted below, "hideously anti-Semitic."
"Pat Oliphant's outlandish and offensive use of the Star of David in combination with Nazi-like imagery is hideously anti-Semitic," Abraham Foxman said in a statement released Wednesday. "It employs Nazi imagery by portraying Israel as a jack-booted, goose-stepping headless apparition. The implication is of an Israeli policy without a head or a heart."
As of late Wednesday, Oliphant had not responded publicly to the ADL's criticism of the cartoon.
Israel in late December launched a three-week offensive in Gaza which left over 1,300 Palestinians dead and countless of homes destroyed. The offensive was a retaliation for Palestine rocket attacks on Israeli territory. Rocket attacks from Gaza and Israeli military responses have occurred sporadically since the end of the offensive.
On Monday, a United Nations expert called called for a probe to assess if the Israeli forces could differentiate between civilian and military targets in Gaza. A U.S. State Department spokesman called that official's views "biased."
The cartoon by the Pulitzer-prize winning Australian native was published by the Washington Post, Slate, and Yahoo! News, among other publications and websites.
Oliphant, who has published 20 books collecting his drawings, is no stranger to controversy, having once said that political correctness "drives me crazy." His cartoons upset the Asian American Journalists Association in 2001 and American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in 2005.
But while Oliphant's work has made him enemies, it has also won him accolades: He has won the National Cartoonist Society Editorial Cartoon Award, along with a Pulitzer.
Oliphant's cartoon comes barely one month after a New York Post cartoon depicting a dead chimp triggered protests. Protesters believed the chimp represented President Barack Obama and demanded the newspaper be shut down. Post Publisher Rupert Murdoch later apologized for the cartoon.
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By Christoph Schult in Jerusalem
To the chagrin of Arabs, Americans and Europeans, Avigdor Lieberman wants to be Israel's next foreign minister. To allay their concerns, he is doing his best to shed his reputation as a virulent racist.
Things get tight as the members of parliament meet at their headquarters on the western outskirts of Jerusalem. The conference room, about the size of an ordinary living room, is really too small to accommodate the party's new abundance of power. The Israel Our Home party (Yisrael Beiteinu), with its 15 seats, is now the third-largest faction in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and will join the new government. Eventually everyone in the room takes a seat at a small, horseshoe-shaped table.
Avigdor Lieberman, 50, squeezes his bulky frame into a chair at the head of the table, facing a tray of sticky chocolate croissants and soft drinks. "We have achieved a lot," he says, in his Russian-accented Hebrew, pronouncing his O's as A's and rolling his R's. A yellowed map of the faded Soviet Union hangs on the wall.
Lieberman founded and shaped his party. For him, an immigrant from the former Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, a new era is about to begin. He intends to be Israel's new foreign minister. It will be a historic moment, and he can hardly wait. "The faster a government is formed, the better for the country," he tells the media patriotically.
The man who is set to become Israel's chief diplomat is known for many things, but not his talent for diplomacy. Words like compromise or consideration have been absent from his vocabulary so far. When then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed releasing 350 Palestinian prisoners in 2003, Lieberman uttered one of his notorious sentences: "It would be better to drown these prisoners in the Dead Sea."
His words have the force of cluster bombs. He spares no one. He once proposed executing Arab members of the Knesset with ties to Hamas to Hezbollah as "Nazi collaborators." Later he suggested that Israel should proceed in the Gaza Strip the way Russia did in Chechnya -- without consideration for losses or civilians. This remark gained him a reputation as a virulent racist.
If Lieberman had his way, perhaps Tehran would have been obliterated, as a punishment for Iran's refusal to shut down its nuclear program. Years ago he threatened Egypt -- Israel's key ally in the Arab world -- with the bombardment of the Aswan Dam unless the regime withdrew support for then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat. He also had one of his typical remarks at the ready for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. It was about time the president paid a visit to Jerusalem, Lieberman said, "and if he doesn't want to come, he can go to hell."
Cairo has made clear that the foreign minister-designate remains persona non grata in Egypt, and that he won't be received unless he issues an apology first. To protest the Lieberman choice, the Egyptian ambassador in Tel Aviv may not attend a celebration in Jerusalem this week to mark the 30th anniversary of the Egyptian-Israeli peace deal.
Benjamin Netanyahu helped Lieberman's early career in politics.
For many Arab governments the thought of Lieberman as foreign minister is tantamount to a declaration of war. In the United States, where President Barack Obama wants to pursue an "aggressive" policy of peace in the Middle East, the declared foe of the negotiation process may face a cool reception. The European Union will probably not behave any differently. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana calls Lieberman "a man with whom I have been at odds for my entire life."
Benjamin Netanyahu, who will soon become Israel's prime minister for the second time, would have preferred to avoid such problems. He wanted to place the warhorse into a lower-profile position, such as finance minister. But Lieberman is set on being foreign minister. Netanyahu managed to forge a government on Tuesday with Ehud Barak's Labor Party -- but not without first closing coalition deals with two of Israel's right-wing parties, including Lieberman's.
It's an irony of history that Lieberman can now dictate terms to the man who paved his way in politics. Lieberman started his career in the right-wing Likud Party as an activist for the party's student wing. Netanyahu appointed him party secretary in 1993, and in 1996 Lieberman ran Netanyahu's first successful campaign for prime minister. He was then named Director-General of the Prime Minister's Office. But he left Likud in 1999 to found a competing, nationalist party, "Israel Beitenu," or Israel Our Home -- which immediately secured four seats in the Knesset.
Since then, Lieberman has been part of almost every administration, but he has always found an excuse to leave the government and join the opposition. As transportation minister under Ariel Sharon, he resigned to protest Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The next prime minister, Ehud Olmert, invented a new post for him, the Ministry of Strategic Planning, but Lieberman resigned because of the peace talks in Annapolis, one of the many unsuccessful attempts to bring permanent peace to the Israelis and Palestinians.
Lieberman dressed up each of his resignations as the result of his unwillingness to compromise -- out of pure conviction, of course -- but in fact he wanted to shine a favorable light on his party before the next election, a strategy that almost always succeeded.
But now he will be Israel's next foreign minister -- an unbelievable step up the ladder, even by Israeli standards. Never before has an immigrant from the former Soviet Union made it so far.
'Vladimir the Thug'
Lieberman was 20 when he arrived in Israel in 1978. At first he made ends meet by working as a baggage handler for the national airline, El Al, then -- famously -- as a nightclub bouncer. He is said to have literally hunted down Arabs in his student days, a rumor he denies. According to official records, however, he was charged with having hit a boy in the face who had beaten up his son. Lieberman confessed to the crime in a court two years later and was fined and ordered to pay compensation. The satirical television show "Hartzufim," the Israeli version of the British satirical puppet show "Spitting Image," named a doll after him: Vladimir the Thug.
The name fits. Lieberman wants to turn all of Israel into a virtually exclusive club for Jews. He sees minorities as a threat, and in the election campaign he demanded that Arab Israelis should take a "loyalty test" to ensure their patriotism. He bluntly expresses ideas many Israelis may think but won't venture to say out loud.
Even Tzipi Livni, the current foreign minister, who is respectable and moderate compared with Lieberman, recently suggested that Israeli Arabs should seek their "national identity" in a Palestinian state. The tenor of her remarks was that in Israel, at any rate, they were not about to organize any Arab nationalism.
Lieberman used to align himself with advocates of a Greater Israel, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. But he's no fundamentalist Jew for whom the partition of the country would constitute a sacrilege. He lives in a settlement on the West Bank, but he would give up his house for peace, he said recently. "I support a viable Palestinian state," he claims.
Lieberman is fond of combining ideas from the right and the left. For instance, he proposes redrawing the border between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, thereby annexing groups of settlements while ceding Arab cities near the border. For this reason, even some moderate Palestinians see Lieberman as a thug who can be a pragmatist.
The former negotiator Mohammed Dahlan has called Lieberman a "key to peace," at least according to Jossi Beilin, one of the architects of the Oslo Agreement in the early 1990s. In his recent book "Innocent Abroad," Martin Indyk, one of the US negotiators at the failed Camp David talks in 2000, describes a secret channel of communication between Lieberman and an envoy of then-PLO President Yasser Arafat. According to Indyk, Lieberman agreed in principle to the Barak administration's territorial concessions.
So is Lieberman a thug with pragmatist tendencies? Such transformations can never be completely ruled out in Israel, the land of extremes. Ariel Sharon, the father of settlement construction on Palestinian soil, later withdrew Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. His successor, Ehud Olmert, wanted to "Judaize" Arab East Jerusalem. Today he advocates dividing the city.
Even Lieberman is starting to exhibit symptoms of prudence. A few weeks ago, he paid a visit to a well-known Israeli geographer, who used maps to show Lieberman how Jerusalem, the Holy City, could be divided up between the Jews and the Palestinians. "He was very interested," the geographer said after the meeting.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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The Judiciary Committee heard testimony Tuesday regarding a bill that decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana.
According to the Office of Fiscal Analysis, there were 9,928 marijuana arrests in Connecticut in 2007, which represents 7 percent of total arrests statewide. Based on prior research findings, it is estimated that approximately 33 percent of those arrests - or 3,300 - were for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana.
“Based on a proportionate analysis of resources currently allocated to handle these offenses, it is estimated that the proposal could save up to $11 million and generate $320,000 in General Fund revenue - from fines - annually,” the OFA report says.
Read the full story here Connecticut News Junkie
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Carmen Cordero, of Vincinos Unidos (Neighbors United) addresses the crowd of nearly 1,000 at the capitol Wednesday. Doug Hardy photo
By Christine Stuart | March 25, 2009
“It is time to share the wealth! Tax the rich!” Carmen Cordero of Vencinos Unidos told a cheering crowd of about 1,000 gathered outside the state Capitol Wednesday afternoon.
Cordero’s group is just one of 40 that make up the Better Choices for Connecticut coalition, which is advocating for fewer cuts to public services and an income tax increase for families making more than $200,000 a year. It also is proposing a penny increase in the sales tax, a reduction in the film industry tax credit, and higher taxes on alcohol and tobacco.
Read the full story at Connecticut News Junkie
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March 25, 2009
This 71-page report FROM Human Rights Watch provides witness accounts of the devastating effects that white phosphorus munitions had on civilians and civilian property in Gaza. Human Rights Watch researchers in Gaza immediately after hostilities ended found spent shells, canister liners, and dozens of burnt felt wedges containing white phosphorus on city streets, apartment roofs, residential courtyards, and at a United Nations school. The report also presents ballistics evidence, photographs, and satellite imagery, as well as documents from the Israeli military and government.
For the full report, a slide show and video go to http://www.hrw.org/
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White phosphorus was found to be used in residential areas during the Gaza offensive [Reuters]
A report by an international rights group has said that Israel's use of white phosphorus during its recent offensive on the Gaza Strip is evidence of war crimes.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday that the munitions were fired indiscriminately and over densely populated areas during the 23-day war, leading to many casualties.
"In Gaza, the Israeli military didn't just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops," Fred Abrahams, senior emergencies researcher at HRW and co-author of the report, said.
"It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren't in the area and safer smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died."
The report said that senior commanders must have approved what they saw as a pattern or policy in white phosphorus use.
HRW has called for Israeli senior commanders to be held to account and for an international investigation to take place, since an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) inquiry is likely to be neither "thorough" nor "impartial".
The 71-page report documents evidence of spent shells and white phosphorus found in residential areas, city streets, a hospital and a UN school.
It follows reports by Amnesty International, the international rights group, and the UN alleging the improper use of white phosphorus by Israel.
Armies typically use the munition to obscure their operations on the ground via the thick smoke created. It can also be used to set targets alight.
The munitions are legal in open areas, but illegal when used unnecessarily and in civilian areas.
Chris Cobb-Smith, a security consultant who co-authored a report with Amnesty International on the munitions' use, said that the important point was not the employment of the weapon, but where it was used.
"An important thing to remember about white phosphorus is that it is not an illegal weapons system. It is perfectly legal, but it must be used in the right way," Cobb-Smith told Al Jazeera.
"It is illegal to fire at humans. It is even illegal to fire this weapons system at enemy troops.
"It is purely an obscurant. It is purely to provide a smoke screen for soldiers on the battlefield.
"But there is absolutely no military tactical reason to use white phosphorus in a built up area. It can provide no use whatsoever.
"It was used at a time before the IDF actually commenced their ground offensive into Gaza itself. They were miles away from Gaza City when they first used this weapons system."
Israel originally denied using the munitions during its war on the Gaza Strip which began on December 27 last year, but later said it would hold an internal investigation into its improper use.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies
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Traders at the chicago mercantile Exchange
By Chris Hedges
In decaying societies, politics become theater. The elite, who have hollowed out the democratic system to serve the corporate state, rule through image and presentation. They express indignation at AIG bonuses and empathy with a working class they have spent the last few decades disenfranchising, and make promises to desperate families that they know will never be fulfilled. Once the spotlights go on they read their lines with appropriate emotion. Once the lights go off, they make sure Goldman Sachs and a host of other large corporations have the hundreds of billions of dollars in losses they incurred playing casino capitalism repaid with taxpayer money.
We live in an age of moral nihilism. We have trashed our universities, turning them into vocational factories that produce corporate drones and chase after defense-related grants and funding. The humanities, the discipline that forces us to stand back and ask the broad moral questions of meaning and purpose, that challenges the validity of structures, that trains us to be self-reflective and critical of all cultural assumptions, have withered. Our press, which should promote such intellectual and moral questioning, confuses bread and circus with news and refuses to give a voice to critics who challenge not this bonus payment or that bailout but the pernicious superstructure of the corporate state itself. We kneel before a cult of the self, elaborately constructed by the architects of our consumer society, which dismisses compassion, sacrifice for the less fortunate, and honesty. The methods used to attain what we want, we are told by reality television programs, business schools and self-help gurus, are irrelevant. Success, always defined in terms of money and power, is its own justification. The capacity for manipulation is what is most highly prized. And our moral collapse is as terrifying, and as dangerous, as our economic collapse.
Theodor Adorno in 1967 wrote an essay called “Education After Auschwitz.” He argued that the moral corruption that made the Holocaust possible remained “largely unchanged.” He wrote that “the mechanisms that render people capable of such deeds” must be made visible. Schools had to teach more than skills. They had to teach values. If they did not, another Auschwitz was always possible.
“All political instruction finally should be centered upon the idea that Auschwitz should never happen again,” he wrote. “This would be possible only when it devotes itself openly, without fear of offending any authorities, to this most important of problems. To do this, education must transform itself into sociology, that is, it must teach about the societal play of forces that operates beneath the surface of political forms.”
Our elites are imploding. Their fraud and corruption are slowly being exposed as the disparity between their words and our reality becomes wider and more apparent. The rage that is bubbling up across the country will have to be countered by the elite with less subtle forms of control. But unless we grasp the “societal play of forces that operates beneath the surface of political forms” we will be cursed with a more ruthless form of corporate power, one that does away with artifice and the seduction of a consumer society and instead wields power through naked repression.
I had lunch a few days ago in Toronto with Henry Giroux, professor of English and cultural studies at McMaster University in Canada and who for many years was the Waterbury Chair Professor at Penn State. Giroux, who has been one of the most prescient and vocal critics of the corporate state and the systematic destruction of American education, was driven to the margins of academia because he kept asking the uncomfortable questions Adorno knew should be asked by university professors. He left the United States in 2004 for Canada.
“The emergence of what Eisenhower had called the military-industrial-academic complex had secured a grip on higher education that may have exceeded even what he had anticipated and most feared,” Giroux, who wrote “The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex,” told me. “Universities, in general, especially following the events of 9/11, were under assault by Christian nationalists, reactionary neoconservatives and market fundamentalists for allegedly representing the weak link in the war on terrorism. Right-wing students were encouraged to spy on the classes of progressive professors, the corporate grip on the university was tightening as made clear not only in the emergence of business models of governance, but also in the money being pumped into research and programs that blatantly favored corporate interests. And at Penn State, where I was located at the time, the university had joined itself at the hip with corporate and military power. Put differently, corporate and Pentagon money was now funding research projects and increasingly knowledge was being militarized in the service of developing weapons of destruction, surveillance and death. Couple this assault with the fact that faculty were becoming irrelevant as an oppositional force. Many disappeared into discourses that threatened no one, some simply were too scared to raise critical issues in their classrooms for fear of being fired, and many simply no longer had the conviction to uphold the university as a democratic public sphere.”
Frank Donoghue, the author of “The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities,” details how liberal arts education has been dismantled. Any form of learning that is not strictly vocational has at best been marginalized and in many schools has been abolished. Students are steered away from asking the broad, disturbing questions that challenge the assumptions of the power elite or an economic system that serves the corporate state. This has led many bright graduates into the arms of corporate entities they do not examine morally or ethically. They accept the assumptions of corporate culture because they have never been taught to think.
Only 8 percent of U.S. college graduates now receive degrees in the humanities, about 110,000 students. Between 1970 and 2001, bachelor’s degrees in English declined from 7.6 percent to 4 percent, as did degrees in foreign languages (2.4 percent to 1 percent), mathematics (3 percent to 1 percent), social science and history (18.4 percent to 10 percent). Bachelor’s degrees in business, which promise the accumulation of wealth, have skyrocketed. Business majors since 1970-1971 have risen from 13.6 percent of the graduation population to 21.7 percent. Business has now replaced education, which has fallen from 21 percent to 8.2 percent, as the most popular major.
The values that sustain an open society have been crushed. A university, as John Ralston Saul writes, now “actively seeks students who suffer from the appropriate imbalance and then sets out to exaggerate it. Imagination, creativity, moral balance, knowledge, common sense, a social view—all these things wither. Competitiveness, having an ever-ready answer, a talent for manipulating situations—all these things are encouraged to grow. As a result amorality also grows; as does extreme aggressivity when they are questioned by outsiders; as does a confusion between the nature of good versus having a ready answer to all questions. Above all, what is encouraged is the growth of an undisciplined form of self-interest, in which winning is what counts.”
This moral nihilism would have terrified Adorno. He knew that radical evil was possible only with the collaboration of a timid, cowed and confused population, a system of propaganda and a press that offered little more than spectacle and entertainment and an educational system that did not transmit transcendent values or nurture the capacity for individual conscience. He feared a culture that banished the anxieties and complexities of moral choice and embraced a childish hyper-masculinity, one championed by ruthless capitalists (think of the brutal backstabbing and deception cheered by TV shows like “Survivor”) and Hollywood action heroes like the governor of California.
“This educational ideal of hardness, in which many may believe without reflecting about it, is utterly wrong,” Adorno wrote. “The idea that virility consists in the maximum degree of endurance long ago became a screen-image for masochism that, as psychology has demonstrated, aligns itself all too easily with sadism.”
Sadism is as much a part of popular culture as it is of corporate culture. It dominates pornography, runs like an electric current through reality television and trash-talk programs and is at the core of the compliant, corporate collective. Corporatism is about crushing the capacity for moral choice. And it has its logical fruition in Abu Ghraib, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our lack of compassion for the homeless, our poor, the mentally ill, the unemployed and the sick.
“The political and economic forces fuelling such crimes against humanity—whether they are unlawful wars, systemic torture, practiced indifference to chronic starvation and disease or genocidal acts—are always mediated by educational forces,” Giroux said. “Resistance to such acts cannot take place without a degree of knowledge and self-reflection. We have to name these acts and transform moral outrage into concrete attempts to prevent such human violations from taking place in the first place.”
The single most important quality needed to resist evil is moral autonomy. Moral autonomy, as Immanuel Kant wrote, is possible only through reflection, self-determination and the courage not to cooperate.
Moral autonomy is what the corporate state, with all its attacks on liberal institutions and “leftist” professors, has really set out to destroy. The corporate state holds up as our ideal what Adorno called “the manipulative character.” The manipulative character has superb organizational skills and the inability to have authentic human experiences. He or she is an emotional cripple and driven by an overvalued realism. The manipulative character is a systems manager. He or she exclusively trained to sustain the corporate structure, which is why our elites are wasting mind-blowing amounts of our money on corporations like Goldman Sachs and AIG. “He makes a cult of action, activity, of so-called efficiency as such which reappears in the advertising image of the active person,” Adorno wrote of this personality type. These manipulative characters, people like Lawrence Summers, Henry Paulson, Robert Rubin, Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, AIG’s Edward Liddy and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, along with most of our ruling class, have used corporate money and power to determine the narrow parameters of the debate in our classrooms, on the airwaves and in the halls of Congress while they looted the country.
“It is especially difficult to fight against it,” warned Adorno, “because those manipulative people, who actually are incapable of true experience, for that very reason manifest an unresponsiveness that associates them with certain mentally ill or psychotic characters, namely schizoids.”
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'The bomb was hidden in a small roadside shed between two checkpoints.'
Fatah’s Abass Zaki blamed Israel for the killing and warned it would have serious repercussions in Lebanon and the Palestinian camps. "Those behind the killing are working in one way or another for Israel," he told the press.
By Franklin Lamb – Sidon, Lebanon
Yesterday afternoon, Kamal Medhat, 58, known in Lebanon's Palestinian Camps affectionately as 'Kamal Naji', a senior member of the Palestinian Fatah movement was killed exiting Mieh Meih Camp by a 25-30 kilogram bomb. The bomb was hidden in a small roadside shed between two checkpoints, one manned by the Lebanese army and the other at the Kifah el Musallah Camp security check point. According to Fatah intelligence sources, a man on a tall building near the Camp entrance watched Medhat's car approach and detonated it as he passed at almost exactly 2 pm.
The bombing appears to have been an assassination hit aimed at the Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon, Abass Zaki. Also killed were Akram Daher, Director of the PLO's youth organization in Lebanon, and Medhat’s bodyguards, Khaled Daher and Mohammed Shehadeh. Three Palestinians in a second car were seriously injured and are being treated in hospital.
Fatah sources claim the real target was Abass Zaki, the PLO Diplomatic Representative to Lebanon. Zaki had left Mieh Mieh, a camp of about 5,000 refugees, about 7 minutes earlier in a nearly identical window-darkened black car to that of his deputy, Kamal Medhat. Medhat had paused in exiting the Camp to further express his condolences at a funeral held for his friend and Chairman of the Mieh Mieh Camp Popular Committee, Raef Naufal who was killed while trying to calm down a two-family feud between the Faraj and Kaouch families two days earlier.
The much respected Medhat, who joined Fatah from his village near Gaza when he was sixteen years old, was a loyalist to, and confidant of Yasser Arafat and Abu Jihad. He rose within the PLO’s ranks and earned a PhD in International relations and military science in the USSR. Recently Medhat played a key role in tamping down violence and tension among various groups in Ein el Helwe and in fostering dialogue among Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian community. Among his PLO portfolios was former Head of Intelligence in Lebanon. PLO Embassy staff noted that Medhat had recently expressed to colleagues his suspicions that he was being targeted for assassination and that he advised his superiors in Ramallah of his concerns.
Their response, if any, was not known to the Embassy staff, but according to Fatah sources close to Zaki, the Mokhabarat Jeish Lebnene (Lebanese army intelligence) has been warning both Medhat and Zaki not to move around the Camps and to restrict their movements outside their secured offices.
Zaki, mild mannered, reserved, and a bit formal and distant on first meeting, appears to be increasingly well liked in the Palestinian and Lebanese community. He is available to his people and at virtually every Palestinian event I have attended the past 30 months, Zaki was there—from distributing laptops to Palestinian youngsters on the 26th anniversary of the Sabra-Shatila Massacre last September 16 in Shatila Camp, or various rallies in support of Gaza. He rarely missed Palestinian holidays or commemorative events at UNESCO Palace or other venues and sometimes joined with Hamas leader Osama Hamdan, in preaching Palestinian unity.
Whoever tried to kill him knew that there was a very good chance that Zaka would, in Arab tradition, visit Mieh Mieh yesterday for the funeral of his friend and colleague, Raef Naufal.
There is common agreement in Lebanon’s Palestinian community Tuesday morning that the motive for the assassination attempt was to torpedo the growing intra-Palestinian unity moves in Lebanon and in order to undermine Lebanon’s recent stability. Zaki and his colleagues have been working hard for Fatah-Hamas unity in Lebanon.
Fatah’s Zaki blamed Israel for the killing and warned it would have serious repercussions in Lebanon and the Palestinian camps. "Those behind the killing are working in one way or another for Israel," he told the press.
Osama Hamdan, the popular representative of Hamas in Lebanon, condemned the killing, saying it was aimed at creating discord in Palestinian camps. Hezbollah said the attack bore "the fingerprints of the Zionists and was aimed at sowing discord."
No one has claimed responsibility and no one likely will. The most frequently mentioned suspects this morning include Israel, Syria, Egypt and the US.
One suspect mentioned is a “third party Palestinian faction” led by Mohammad Dahlan in Ramallah working on behalf of Israel and the US and wanting to prevent Palestinian unity to confront Israel.
Some have mentioned an Egyptian involvement arguing that Mubarak does not want the Cairo talks to succeed because he fears Hamas with have the upper hand in becoming the new Palestinian leadership.
A Lebanese army source noted that the 30 kilo bomb used (one body was thrown 200 meters from one of the two destroyed vehicles and Medhat’s car was literally blown up the hill into an olive grove) was similar to the m.o. used in the Tripoli attacks on the Army in 2007. Fatah el Islam is the primary suspect in that attack.
The fact of the two-day, Beirut-hosted Arab Interior Ministers’ Meeting which ended yesterday at the Phoenicia Hotel and which was focusing on “Combating Internal Terrorism” may have been the recipient of a message from Al Qaeda or another group has been speculated upon.
Kassem, a very knowledgeable Fatah official in Shatila Camp and longtime friend, reported a fairly common deep suspicion that Syria was somehow behind the killing.
Kassem, it must be said, is no admirer of the Syrian Assad regime. At the beginning of the Syrian instigated Camp Wars in the mid-1980’s, when the Amal militia cut electricity, Kassem was hauling an electrical generator from Shatila Camp to Akka Hospital on Kuwait Embassy road and was stopped by a Syrian Army patrol and accused of supporting Yassir Arafat from whom the Syrian were trying to wrest control of the PLO. Tortured repeatedly, and imprisoned for four years, Kassem sees Syrian involvement yesterday at Mieh Mieh:
“Maybe they used Fatah el Islam in Meih Meih of Jund el Sham or others. But they don’t need those fools. Syria has the same intelligence capability as before their army left in 2005. For sure they have never stopped trying to split and control the PLO for their own benefit and not for ours."
At this point, Kassem’s politically astute teenage daughter Zeina mercifully intervenes:
“I am not so convinced it was the Syrians, Bapa (father). The Israelis still have plenty of agents in the camps. We all know that for sure. Remember the recent Israeli spies caught? I thought that one man was one for a long time. There are even Israeli spies inside Hezbollah like their trusted vehicle-supplier man in Nabetiyeh arrested a couple of weeks ago. I think it’s not the Syrians but the Israelis.”
Like just about everything that happens in Lebanon these days, yesterday’s assassination is analyzed locally through the prism of who stands to gain by this crime in the fast approaching June 7 election. The Pro US-Saudi March 14 ‘majority team’ or the pro-Syrian-Iran March 8th Opposition lead by Hezbollah?
Meanwhile the Lebanese authorities promise an immediate, thorough investigation to find those responsible for the murders at Mieh Mieh. The good people of Lebanon, as is their fate, will patiently wait for the Investigation Report, just as they still wait for the reports of the Lebanese investigations into the most recent 46 political assassinations in Lebanon over the past decade, more than half of those killed being body guards of the intended victims.
- Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: email@example.com.
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Diplomacy, high-level lobbying boost U.S. pistachio sales to Israel
By Michael Doyle
An adroit lobbying campaign has cracked open the bountiful Israeli market for U.S.-grown pistachios.
It took many years, false starts and dead ends, all in the shadow of the fraught relationship between the United States and Iran. Diplomats and politicians got involved, at the highest levels. The solution itself is a bit of bank shot. And yet, it's already paying off as pistachio shipments from California's San Joaquin Valley climb.
"This has been for us an issue that's been very frustrating, to say the least," Richard Matoian, executive director of the Fresno, Calif.-based Western Pistachio Association, said Friday.
The historic problem, U.S. growers say, has been that low-cost Iranian pistachios were imported into Israel via Turkey. That stings, because Israel potentially is a lucrative market. The county leads the world in per-capita pistachio consumption.
In theory, Israel maintains a trade embargo on Iran. In practice, U.S. growers say, they have repeatedly found evidence of Iranian pistachios finding their way into Israel. Since 1997, when then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright weighed in, U.S. officials have periodically pressed Israel to stop the Iranian shipments.
Earlier this year, the maneuvering culminated in Israel raising its tariff on non-U.S. pistachios to 23 percent. That tariff, plus an added weight-based duty, effectively rendered the tariff-free U.S. pistachios a better buy than the foreign competition.
Matoian estimated that U.S. pistachio exports to Israel could now increase to as much as $20 million a year, compared to the $300,000 worth exported last year.
"We appreciate the warm relations we have with the United States," Yakov Poles, agricultural attache for the Israeli Embassy, said. "Since this issue was raised by pistachio growers in California, we took it very seriously."
Some well-placed friends helped, too.
In April, for instance, a State Department telegram directed U.S. Ambassador Richard H. Jones to convey to Israeli officials that "reports of Iranian pistachios entering Israel are attracting increased attention in the U.S. Congress and media, and are a source of embarrassment to our governments."
The congressional and media attention, in turn, arose partly through the work of the Western Pistachio Association's D.C. lobbying firm, Schramm, Williams & Associates. The pistachio trade organization paid the firm about $50,000 last year, lobbying records show.
The connections thickened in October, when Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., hosted a fundraising event in Clovis, Calif. His guest was Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif. Berman chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on which Costa sits, and he is sympathetic to Israeli concerns.
This was opportunity knocking, for the pistachio growers. The Western Pistachio Association Political Action Committee, which shares D.C. office space with the Schramm, Williams & Associates lobbying firm, made a $2,300 contribution to Costa that day. Matoian and two members of his board of directors, Michael Woolf and Jim Zion, attended the Costa fundraiser, with an eye toward meeting Berman.
"We were able to pull him aside for about 10 minutes," Matoian said.
A second meeting followed, by teleconference, with Berman pledging to bring the pistachio issue up with top Israeli officials. The involvement of the foreign affairs chairman was key, Matoian said.
Matoian acknowledged that Israel's raising of all pistachio tariffs to solve a problem attributed strictly to Iranian imports was an "indirect" solution. Diplomatically, though, it may have proven easier than explicitly confronting anything involving Iran.
"The congressman is happy," said Costa's press secretary, Bret Rumbeck. "This is good for our growers, and it's good for the Valley."
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Parents demand inquiry into how son was critically injured by tear gas canister
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Peace demonstrators carrying a placard in Jerusalem
Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights lawyer, who has filed a formal demand for an official investigation, said that of some 120 criminal investigations brought against security force members since the beginning of the intifada, there had only been one conviction – against the Arab-Israeli soldier who shot British peace activist Tom Hurndall dead in Gaza.
By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
The parents of an American peace activist publicly appealed yesterday for a full investigation into how their son was shot in the head with a high velocity tear gas canister by Israeli security forces.
Tristan Anderson, 38, remains in critical condition after three brain operations at Tel Hashomer hospital in Israel, as a result of the shooting which came at the end of a regular joint Arab-Jewish demonstration against the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank village of Ni'lin.
Activists say the canister round – with a range of more than 400 metres – was fired directly at Mr Anderson from about 60 metres as he was standing with three or four other activists in the centre of the village. They say he was well away from the barrier where the main protest had taken place earlier on 13 March.
Mr. Anderson suffered a multiple fracture to his skull, severe injury to the frontal lobe of his brain, and a collapsed eye socket
The peace activists insist that neither Mr Anderson, nor his immediate companions, were throwing stones or posing any threat to the forces.
Mr Anderson's mother. Nancy, who flew from California with her husband Michael to be at her son's bedside, said yesterday that to fire at peace protesters was "really horrifying".
She said that tear gas canisters are designed to be fired in an arc to disperse demonstrators, but that the canister had been "shot right at his head".
"We want the Israeli government to publicly take full responsibility for the shooting of our son," she said.
"I don't carry any negative feelings towards the soldier who shot our son. All I feel is love for Tristan and fear for his recovery."
Mrs Anderson praised the "excellent" care by medics at Tel Hashomer.
Mr Anderson, who had a seasonal job in Oakland California working for a trade union setting up conventions, was in Israel for the first time.
He was with his Jewish girlfriend on a three-month trip, after which he intended to join his parents on a holiday in Europe. He had taken part in peace demonstrations in Iraq before the US invasion in 2003, and in El Salvador and Guatemala.
"He came to understand for himself what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was about," said Michael Anderson, his father. "It is ironic that the country in which he was shot is a democracy where it is supposed to be a duty for everyone to follow their conscience.
"We want to know what happened and we want justice for our son."
Jonathan Pollack, an activist with the Israeli "Anarchists against the Wall" organisation said the incident had taken place about one kilometre from the barrier after demonstrators had started to disperse. While stones had been thrown earlier during the protest, Mr Pollack, who first met Mr Anderson at a demonstration in Prague during the World Bank-IMF conference in 2000, said: "I have known Tristan for nine years and I know he was not throwing stones at that point or any other point."
The activists say the gas canister, of a kind brought into service only four months ago, was labelled in Hebrew "40mm bullet special/long range."
Four Palestinian residents of Ni'lin – including a 10-year-old boy – were killed during demonstrations last year against the barrier, which will divide villagers from 400 acres of their farmland, when it is complete.
Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights lawyer, who has filed a formal demand for an official investigation, said that of some 120 criminal investigations brought against security force members since the beginning of the intifada, there had only been one conviction – against the Arab-Israeli soldier who shot British peace activist Tom Hurndall dead in Gaza.
Nobody was brought to trial in two other cases involving the deaths of foreign nationals. They were Rachel Corrie, who like Mr Hurndall was an International Solidarity Movement volunteer. The Israeli military has not accepted responsibility for her death. In the case of British film-maker James Miller, Israeli authorities made a substantial cash payment to his family this year, which came nearly six years after his death.
The Israeli military said that on the day Mr Anderson was shot, some 400 rioters, “some masked”, had thrown “a massive number of rocks” at their forces. They said protesters had thrown firebombs, and directed burning tyres towards the forces, and that 73 personnel were injured in 2008 at or near Ni’lin. A spokesman said: “The violent acts of the protesters force Israeli police officers and soldiers to use internationally acceptable riot dispersal means.”
Searchable at http://www.independent.co.uk
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Terry Holdbrooks stood watch over prisoners at Gitmo. What he saw made him adopt their faith.
By Dan Ephron
Newsweek, Mar 30, 2009
Army specialist Terry Holdbrooks had been a guard at Guantánamo for about six months the night he had his life-altering conversation with detainee 590, a Moroccan also known as "the General." This was early 2004, about halfway through Holdbrooks's stint at Guantánamo with the 463rd Military Police Company. Until then, he'd spent most of his day shifts just doing his duty. He'd escort prisoners to interrogations or walk up and down the cellblock making sure they weren't passing notes. But the midnight shifts were slow. "The only thing you really had to do was mop the center floor," he says. So Holdbrooks began spending part of the night sitting cross-legged on the ground, talking to detainees through the metal mesh of their cell doors.
He developed a strong relationship with the General, whose real name is Ahmed Errachidi. Their late-night conversations led Holdbrooks to be more skeptical about the prison, he says, and made him think harder about his own life. Soon, Holdbrooks was ordering books on Arabic and Islam. During an evening talk with Errachidi in early 2004, the conversation turned to the shahada, the one-line statement of faith that marks the single requirement for converting to Islam ("There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet"). Holdbrooks pushed a pen and an index card through the mesh, and asked Errachidi to write out the shahada in English and transliterated Arabic. He then uttered the words aloud and, there on the floor of Guantánamo's Camp Delta, became a Muslim.
When historians look back on Guantánamo, the harsh treatment of detainees and the trampling of due process will likely dominate the narrative. Holdbrooks, who left the military in 2005, saw his share. In interviews over recent weeks, he and another former guard told NEWSWEEK about degrading and sometimes sadistic acts against prisoners committed by soldiers, medics and interrogators who wanted revenge for the 9/11 attacks on America. But as the fog of secrecy slowly lifts from Guantánamo, other scenes are starting to emerge as well, including surprising interactions between guards and detainees on subjects like politics, religion and even music. The exchanges reveal curiosity on both sides—sometimes even empathy. "The detainees used to have conversations with the guards who showed some common respect toward them," says Errachidi, who spent five years in Guantánamo and was released in 2007. "We talked about everything, normal things, and things [we had] in common," he wrote to NEWSWEEK in an e-mail from his home in Morocco.
Holdbrooks's level of identification with the other side was exceptional. No other guard has volunteered that he embraced Islam at the prison (though Errachidi says others expressed interest). His experience runs counter to academic studies, which show that guards and inmates at ordinary prisons tend to develop mutual hostility. But then, Holdbrooks is a contrarian by nature. He can also be conspiratorial. When his company visited the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York, Holdbrooks remembers thinking there had to be a broader explanation, and that the Bush administration must have colluded somehow in the plot.
But his misgivings about Guantánamo—including doubts that the detainees were the "worst of the worst"—were shared by other guards as early as 2002. A few such guards are coming forward for the first time. Specialist Brandon Neely, who was at Guantánamo when the first detainees arrived that year, says his enthusiasm for the mission soured quickly. "There were a couple of us guards who asked ourselves why these guys are being treated so badly and if they're actually terrorists at all," he told NEWSWEEK. Neely remembers having long conversations with detainee Ruhal Ahmed, who loved Eminem and James Bond and would often rap or sing to the other prisoners. Another former guard, Christopher Arendt, went on a speaking tour with former detainees in Europe earlier this year to talk critically about the prison.
Holdbrooks says growing up hard in Phoenix—his parents were junkies and he himself was a heavy drinker before joining the military in 2002—helps explain what he calls his "anti-everything views." He has holes the size of quarters in both earlobes, stretched-out piercings that he plugs with wooden discs. At his Phoenix apartment, bedecked with horror-film memorabilia, he rolls up both sleeves to reveal wrist-to-shoulder tattoos. He describes the ink work as a narrative of his mistakes and addictions. They include religious symbols and Nazi SS bolts, track marks and, in large letters, the words BY DEMONS BE DRIVEN. He says the line, from a heavy-metal song, reminds him to be a better person.
Holdbrooks—TJ to his friends—says he joined the military to avoid winding up like his parents. He was an impulsive young man searching for stability. On his first home leave, he got engaged to a woman he'd known for just eight days and married her three months later. With little prior exposure to religion, Holdbrooks was struck at Gitmo by the devotion detainees showed to their faith. "A lot of Americans have abandoned God, but even in this place, [the detainees] were determined to pray," he says.
Holdbrooks was also taken by the prisoners' resourcefulness. He says detainees would pluck individual threads from their jumpsuits or prayer mats and spin them into long stretches of twine, which they would use to pass notes from cell to cell. He noticed that one detainee with a bad skin rash would smear peanut butter on his windowsill until the oil separated from the paste, then would use the oil on his rash.
Errachidi's detention seemed particularly suspect to Holdbrooks. The Moroccan detainee had worked as a chef in Britain for almost 18 years and spoke fluent English. He told Holdbrooks he had traveled to Pakistan on a business venture in late September 2001 to help pay for his son's surgery. When he crossed into Afghanistan, he said, he was picked up by the Northern Alliance and sold to American troops for $5,000. At Guantánamo, Errachidi was accused of attending a Qaeda training camp. But a 2007 investigation by the London Times newspaper appears to have corroborated his story; it eventually helped lead to his release.
In prison, Errachidi was an agitator. "Because I spoke English, I was always in the face of the soldiers," he wrote NEWSWEEK in an e-mail. Errachidi said an American colonel at Guantánamo gave him his nickname, and warned him that generals "get hurt" if they don't cooperate. He said his defiance cost him 23 days of abuse, including sleep deprivation, exposure to very cold temperatures and being shackled in stress positions. "I always believed the soldiers were doing illegal stuff and I was not ready to keep quiet." (Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said in response: "Detainees have often made claims of abuse that are simply not supported by the facts.") The Moroccan spent four of his five years at Gitmo in the punishment block, where detainees were denied "comfort items" like paper and prayer beads along with access to the recreation yard and the library.
Errachidi says he does not remember details of the night Holdbrooks converted. Over the years, he says, he discussed a range of religious topics with guards: "I spoke to them about subjects like Father Christmas and Ishac and Ibrahim [Isaac and Abraham] and the sacrifice. About Jesus." Holdbrooks recalls that when he announced he wanted to embrace Islam, Errachidi warned him that converting would be a serious undertaking and, at Guantánamo, a messy affair. "He wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into." Holdbrooks later told his two roommates about the conversion, and no one else.
But other guards noticed changes in him. They heard detainees calling him Mustapha, and saw that Holdbrooks was studying Arabic openly. (At his Phoenix apartment, he displays the books he had amassed. They include a leather-bound, six-volume set of Muslim sacred texts and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam.") One night his squad leader took him to a yard behind his living quarters, where five guards were waiting to stage a kind of intervention. "They started yelling at me," he recalls, "asking if I was a traitor, if I was switching sides." At one point a squad leader pulled back his fist and the two men traded blows, Holdbrooks says.
Holdbrooks spent the rest of his time at Guantánamo mainly keeping to himself, and nobody bothered him further. Another Muslim who served there around the same time had a different experience. Capt. James Yee, a Gitmo chaplain for much of 2003, was arrested in September of that year on suspicion of aiding the enemy and other crimes—charges that were eventually dropped. Yee had become a Muslim years earlier. He says the Muslims on staff at Gitmo—mainly translators—often felt beleaguered. "There was an overall atmosphere by the command to vilify Islam." (Commander Gordon's response: "We strongly disagree with the assertions made by Chaplain Yee").
At Holdbrooks's next station, in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., he says things began to unravel. The only place to kill time within miles of the base was a Wal-Mart and two strip clubs—Big Daddy's and Big Louie's. "I've never been a fan of strip clubs, so I hung out at Wal-Mart," he says. Within months, Holdbrooks was released from the military—two years before the end of his commitment. The Army gave him an honorable discharge with no explanation, but the events at Gitmo seemed to loom over the decision. The Army said it would not comment on the matter.
Back in Phoenix, Holdbrooks returned to drinking, in part to suppress what he describes as the anger that consumed him. (Neely, the other ex-guard who spoke to NEWSWEEK, said Guantánamo had made him so depressed he spent up to $60 a day on alcohol during a monthlong leave from the detention center in 2002.) Holdbrooks divorced his wife and spiraled further. Eventually his addictions landed him in the hospital. He suffered a series of seizures, as well as a fall that resulted in a bad skull fracture and the insertion of a titanium plate in his head.
Recently, Holdbrooks has been back in touch with Errachidi, who has suffered his own ordeal since leaving the detention center. Errachidi told NEWSWEEK he had trouble adjusting to his freedom, "trying to learn how to walk without shackles and trying to sleep at night with the lights off." He signed each of the dozen e-mails he sent to NEWSWEEK with the impersonal ID that his captors had given him: Ahmed 590.
Holdbrooks, now 25, says he quit drinking three months ago and began attending regular prayers at the Tempe Islamic Center, a mosque near the University of Phoenix, where he works as an enrollment counselor. The long scar on his head is now mostly hidden under the lace of his Muslim kufi cap. When the imam at Tempe introduced Holdbrooks to the congregation and explained he'd converted at Guantánamo, a few dozen worshipers rushed over to shake his hand. "I would have thought they had the most savage soldiers serving there," says the imam, Amr Elsamny, an Egyptian. "I never thought it would be someone like TJ."
With Dina Fine Maron in Washington
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U.K. backtracks on preventing war crimes charges against IDF
By Anshel Pfeffer
London will not push through changes in legislation that permits the arrest of Israel Defense Forces officers visiting Britain on war crimes, as previously promised, Jerusalem has learned.
In an unofficial message to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Britain said that as a result of the decline in Israel's public image following Operation Cast Lead the government believes it will be unable to pass the amendment to the legislation before next year's scheduled elections.
British law permits private citizens to press charges against foreigners on war crimes charges. Once an indictment has been issued suspects can be arrested if they enter Britain.In 2005 Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog flew to London for a brief visit. After being informed, while still on the plane, that police were waiting for him to disembark so that they could arrest him, Almog remained on the aircraft and returned to Israel.
An arrest warrant had been issued against him for his alleged role in the razing of Palestinian homes in Rafah during his service as GOC Southern Command.
Since that incident, senior IDF officers in both active and reserve service, including former IDF chiefs of staff and cabinet ministers (Ehud Barak and Shaul Mofaz), have avoided traveling to Britain.
Britain's Labor government, first under Tony Blair and recently under Gordon Brown, had promised to pass changes in the legislation so that private citizens seeking to press war crimes charges would first have to obtain the approval of the chief prosecutor.
Israeli diplomats, meanwhile, sought support for such an amendment from Conservative MPs.
"The British did make such a promise and we continue to expect that they will find a way to fulfill it," Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said on Saturday.
The British Foreign Office said in a statement, "We recognize Israeli concerns but this is a complex legal issue."
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It is not really so important to point out that Obama's closest advisers are Jewish, such as his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, his veepee's chief of staff Ron Klain, senior advisor David Axelrod, and his domestic cabinet members Timothy Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Paul Volker, Peter Orszag, and Jason Furman and Jamie Rubin. It is more to the point to emphasize that they are Zionists one and all, including his WASP veepee Joseph Biden ("You don't have to be Jewish to be a Zionist") and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
By Eric Walberg
The remarkable hegemony of Zionists in US continues unabated, as demonstrated starkly by the withdrawal of Chas Freeman as United States President Barack Obama's nominee to chair his National Intelligence Council (NIC).
Unlike cabinet positions, the NIC chair is not subject to Senate approval, but when Freeman was subjected to a campaign of slander led by AIPAC functionary Steve Rosen, joined by a chorus of senators, Freeman withdrew, relating in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) the "libelous distortions of my record," the "efforts to smear me and destroy my credibility . . . by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country."
Jews have more of a tradition of being liberals and supporting Democrats. But nowadays, more important than shades of pink are the Zionist colors one flaunts, and no US politician, left or right, dares to buck the Zionist tide. Whether or not Freeman — or any other US public figure — is Jewish is now a moot point. So it is not really so important to point out that Obama's closest advisers are Jewish, such as his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, his veepee's chief of staff Ron Klain, senior advisor David Axelrod, and his domestic cabinet members Timothy Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Paul Volker, Peter Orszag, and Jason Furman and Jamie Rubin. It is more to the point to emphasize that they are Zionists one and all, including his WASP veepee Joseph Biden ("You don't have to be Jewish to be a Zionist") and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The waning of Jewish liberalism and the growing irrelevance of tribal affinity in American politics began with the rise of the neocons under president Ronald Reagan and is reflected in Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman's endorsement of Republican John McCain for president in 2008. That Lieberman was not expelled, and managed to retain his chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee, shows who's in control.
Zionists are the essential second leg that Obama stands on, along with his imperial support. As Democratic Caucus chairman, Emanuel helped make sure that 60 percent of Democratic congressmen and virtually all the senators will continue to support the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, with the possibility of an attack on Iran still on the table, despite that fact that 60 percent of Americans (80 percent of Democrats) are against such policies. Emanuel served in the IDF during the 1990 Gulf war, which would have resulted in his arrest and the end of his political career if he had been involved in any other country's war as a foreign soldier. His father was a member of the terrorist organization Irgun and no doubt murdered dozens of Palestinians fighting to protect their homeland. "Rahm-bo" also knocked on doors for AIPAC as a student in the 1980s in AIPAC's successful effort to unseat former Republican congressman Paul Findley just because he was for balance in US Middle East policy.
Ironically, Zionism has become a bit of a dirty word around Washington, and the Jewish press prefers to brag — in the words of former president Clinton counsel Abner Mikvner — that "Barack Obama is the first Jewish President." Whatever epithetic is used, Israeli political leaders, too, brag about their clout at the highest levels of US politics. Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert crowed about his telephone call to president George W Bush in January 2009 — interrupting him in the middle of a speech — to insist that secretary of state Condoleezza Rice vote against her own Gaza ceasefire motion in the UN Security Council. Jewish chutzpah celebrates the November 2008 US elections, where more Jews were elected than ever — 10 percent of congressmen, four times their proportion in the population. This leaves aside the fact that more than 90 percent of congressmen and senators vote for all motions concerning Israel that are approved, if not formulated, by AIPAC.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, inspired by the Zionists and their stranglehold on politics and media, have led to mounting frustration, allowing occasional, if carefully modulated criticism to trickle down into the mainstream media. Time columnist Joe Klein, who supported Bush's war against Iraq and considers himself "a strong supporter of Israel," wrote (in a lowly blog) that the "fact that a great many Jewish neoconservatives — people like Joe Lieberman and the crowd at Commentary — plumped for this war [in Iraq], and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties." Within a day, Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, accused Klein of espousing "age-old anti-Semitic canards about a Jewish conspiracy to control and manipulate government."
Other brave souls include Norm Finkelstein, author of Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, Jimmy Carter (Palestine: Peace not Apartheid), Mearsheimer and Walt (The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy). Whether or not their efforts mark the beginning of a decline in the Zionists' hegemony is yet to be seen.
That their power is still formidable was brought home by the Freeman debacle. "The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth. The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views," writes Freeman.
The Zionists made no mention of the real reason for scuttling his nomination, instead inventing the charge that he was a lobbyist for Saudi and Chinese interests. A career diplomat, he was president Richard Nixon's personal interpreter during the first meetings with Mao Tse Tung. Since 1997, he has presided over the Middle East Policy Council, a nonprofit organization that is partly funded by Saudi money. "There is a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments . . . by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government — in this case, the government of Israel . . . policies that ultimately threaten the existence of the state of Israel."
Fighting the Zionists is not easy. Jewish scholars like Finkelstein argue that Zionists generally refuse to answer the content of critiques of Israel , invariably reducing the argument to an ad hominem attack, questioning the legitimacy of the critic, as they did with Freeman. Finkelstein was personally the target of their wrath, losing his university tenure battle due to their protests that he was too impartial. Where ad hominem is not enough, they merely ignore valid criticisms and rely on control of the public discourse, including laws forbidding anti-Semitism, racism or slander, to bury the issue.
Dozens of Jewish and overtly Zionist lobby groups throughout the US monitor all school and university teaching content, regularly denouncing critics and lobbying for their dismissal. As part of the campaign to vilify Islam, David Horowitz organized "Islamofascism Awareness Week" (IFAW) on close to a hundred college campuses in October 2007. At Michigan State University, the campus chapter of Young Americans for Freedom invited a bona fide fascist — Nick Griffin, the head of the British National Party — to speak on how Europe is becoming "Eurabia". IFAW is now an annual event, with seminars on jihad and Islamic totalitarianism.
But there is a silver lining. Formerly schemes to control the discourse took place behind the scenes. Steve Rosen, who led the attack on Freeman, says, "A lobby is like a night flower. It thrives in the dark and dies in the sun." That Rosen is now indicted as a spy, that the Finkelstein, Mearsheimer and Carter books even saw the light of day, and that Freeman was able to blast the lobby so witheringly in the WSJ suggest that broader US society may be awakening to the devastation that the Zionists have wrought on America.
Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at www.geocities.com/walberg2002/
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By M. SHAHID ALAM
It has never been easy offering a critique of capitalism or markets to my undergraduate students. Most have never heard an unkind word about these bedrock institutions, which they know to be the foundations of American power and prosperity.
These are hallowed institutions. The power of private capital to produce jobs, wealth and freedom is one of the central dogmas that many Americans absorb with their mother’s milk. To hear this dogma challenged – in any context – is unsettling. I sometimes suspect that this bitter pill is harder to swallow because it emanates from someone who, so transparently, is not a native-born American.
As the weeks pass, however, my students appear to settle down. In the past, they have been reassured to learn that markets have done a good job at delivering prosperity to a few centers of global capitalism. They do work for us, even if they have not worked for most Asians, Africans and Latin Americans.
Nevertheless, the thesis that ‘free’ markets have rarely worked for economies lagging far behind the economic leaders, does not quite take root. The fault could not lie with markets. For too long, the West has believed that Asians, Africans and Latin Americans failed because they were lazy, spendthrift, venal and unimaginative.
My students – like most Americans – have been conditioned to look at capitalism from the standpoint of the winners in global capitalism. Because of the accident of birth, they have been the beneficiaries of the wealth and power that global capitalism concentrates at the nodes of the system. They cannot conceive how a system that has worked so well for them could produce misery for others in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
I have been away from my teaching duties as the United States has led the world into a deepening recession. Within a few months, the titans of Wall Street have been laid low, rescued from extinction by tax-financed bailouts. Teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, the auto giants have been placed on life-support also by taxpayers, their future still uncertain. In this maelstrom, there steps forward Bernard L. Madoff, the Einstein of Ponzi schemes, who operated his colossal con for twenty years without notice from regulators.
Millions of Americans have lost their jobs; millions are threatened with loss of their homes; millions have seen their retirement funds melt before their eyes; millions are threatened with loss of health care. As Americans on Main Street were being devastated, executives of bailed out banks continued to receive millions in bonuses. That straw now threatens to break the back of the fabled American tolerance for the foibles of the capitalist system.
Ordinarily, American democracy directs its venom against writers and activists on the left, foolish enough to want to defend the underprivileged. For a change, Americans are threatening captains of finance, venerable bankers, with dire consequences – even death threats.
I was on sabbatical when Al-Qaida brought down the Twin Towers on September 11. Then, I was relieved to be away from my students, afraid that some of them might want to lump me with those who had perpetrated these attacks.
I am on sabbatical, again, as the towers on Wall Street were being toppled by greed, recklessness and fraud; by a free-market ideology that has no regard for human life; by capitalist elites and their partners in the White House and Congress, who had turned the financial sector into a giant Ponzi scheme.
Americans have been subjected to acts of ‘terrorism’ whose final human toll will make September 11 look like a tea party. The perpetrators of this terror are all homegrown; they were trained not in the mountains of Afghanistan but at Harvard, Yale and Stanford; the bankers, executives and legislators who preyed on Americans are the crème de la crème of American society.
When I return to teach in Fall of this year, I expect to meet students chastened by their experience. Nothing undermines capitalist ideologies faster and more effectively than capitalist crises. No critique of capitalism can be more penetrating than the depredations of unemployment, immiseration, homelessness that it inflicts on its victims. So recently victimized – at the very center of global capitalism – perhaps, Americans might learn to empathize with victims elsewhere – in Africa, Asia and Latin America – who have been ravaged by this system for centuries.
Capitalist ideologues will be working overtime to deflect American anger away from the system to a few villains, to a few rotten apples. Congressional hearings will identify scapegoats; they will hang a few ‘witches.’ A few capitalist barons will be sacrificed. As public anger subsides, attempts will be made to shift the blame to feckless homebuyers and compulsive consumers. At all costs, the system must be saved. The capitalist show must go on, with as little change as possible.
Quite apart from this crisis, however, new technologies, in combination with the irreversible shift of sovereignty to some segments of the capitalist periphery, have been changing the dynamics of unequal development. The high-wage workers – the so-called middle classes in the developed countries – have been losing the protection they have long enjoyed against competition from low-wage workers in China and India.
More and more global capitalism will enrich some workers in the ‘periphery’ at the cost of workers in the ‘centers’ of capitalism. In the years ahead, the great alliance that was forged between capitalists and workers in the centers of capitalism will come under greater strain. More and more, the interests of these two classes will diverge.
Powerful corporations will still insist on openness, while growing ranks of workers will press for protectionism. This revival of class conflict in the old capitalist centers will strain existing political arrangements. After a co-optation that has lasted for more than a century, the demos will begin to threaten the corporate elites. New demands will be placed on intellectual mercenaries in the media and academia to use new, more effective tools to dumb down the demos.
As growing segments of high-wage workers in the rich countries become the new victims of capitalism, will they slowly learn to see capitalism from the standpoint of its victims? In this new emerging reality, will orthodox economics migrate from its old centers in London, Cambridge and Chicago to new centers in Bangalore and Beijing?
A curious world this will be when seen from the old centers. In truth, this will only be a long-delayed correction to two centuries of unequal development, dominated by Western centers. Sadly, the correction will not go far enough: it will leave much of the world mired in poverty and disease.
M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University. This essay is excerpted from his forthcoming book, Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism (Palgrave Macmillan: November 2009).He is author of Challenging the New Orientalism (2007). Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit his website at: http://aslama.org.
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Thousands of homes in Gaza were destroyed or damaged during the Israeli offensive
A senior UN official has suggested that Israel could be guilty of a "new crime against humanity" during its January assault on the Gaza strip.
Richard Falk, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said Israel had confined Palestinian civilians to the combat zone in Gaza, a unique move which should be outlawed.
"Such a war policy should be treated as a distinct and new crime against humanity, and should be formally recognised as such, and explicitly prohibited," Falk said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.
Palestinian civilians were prevented from leaving the Gaza Strip during the three-week bombardment by the Israeli authorities.
Falk also called for an investigation into Israel's attack on Gaza, in which more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed and homes destroyed.
Israel said it carried out the assault to stop Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel.
Falk's comments formed part of a much longer report from nine UN investigators including specialists on the right to health, food, adequate housing and education, as well as on summary executions and violence against women.
"We've found the rapporteur's views to be anything but fair. We find them to be biased. We've made that very clear" -- Robert Wood, US state department spokesman
Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN secretary-general's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, accused Israeli forces of using a child as a human shield in one incident.
Soldiers forced an 11-year-old boy to walk in front of them for several hours as they moved through the town of Tal al-Hawa on January 15, even after they had been shot at, her report said.
Aharon Leshno Yar, Israel's ambassador to the UN rights council, condemned the report, saying it "wilfully ignores and downplays the terrorist and other threats we face", and the alleged use by Palestinian fighters of human shields.
The US accused Falk of being biased.
"We've found the rapporteur's views to be anything but fair. We find them to be biased. We've made that very clear," Robert Wood, a US state department spokesman, told a media briefing on Monday.
Falk called for the probe to assess if the Israeli forces could differentiate between civilian and military targets in Gaza.
"If it is not possible to do so, then launching the attacks is inherently unlawful, and would seem to constitute a war crime of the greatest magnitude under international law," Falk said in the report.
"On the basis of the preliminary evidence available, there is reason to reach this conclusion," he added, saying that attacks occurred in densely populated areas.
Falk, who has been critical of Israel in the past, was expelled from Israel during an attempt to visit Gaza in December, after he said Israel's policies on the territory amounted to a crime against humanity.
This entry was posted on Mar 23, 2009 at 09:32:21 pm and is filed under Human Rights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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London Review of Books
Charles Freeman might have survived this onslaught (by AIPAC) had the White House stood by him. But Barack Obama’s pandering to the Israel lobby during the campaign and his silence during the Gaza War show that this is one opponent he is not willing to challenge. True to form, he remained silent and Freeman had little choice but to withdraw.
March 26, 2009
Many people in Washington were surprised when the Obama administration tapped Charles Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council, the body that oversees the production of National Intelligence Estimates: Freeman had a distinguished 30-year career as a diplomat and Defense Department official, but he has publicly criticised Israeli policy and America’s special relationship with Israel, saying, for example, in a speech in 2005, that ‘as long as the United States continues unconditionally to provide the subsidies and political protection that make the Israeli occupation and the high-handed and self-defeating policies it engenders possible, there is little, if any, reason to hope that anything resembling the former peace process can be resurrected.’ Words like these are rarely spoken in public in Washington, and anyone who does use them is almost certain not to get a high-level government position. But Admiral Dennis Blair, the new director of national intelligence, greatly admires Freeman: just the sort of person, he thought, to revitalise the intelligence community, which had been very politicised in the Bush years.
Predictably alarmed, the Israel lobby launched a smear campaign against Freeman, hoping that he would either quit or be fired by Obama. The opening salvo came in a blog posting by Steven Rosen, a former official of Aipac, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, now under indictment for passing secrets to Israel. Freeman’s views of the Middle East, he said, ‘are what you would expect in the Saudi Foreign Ministry, with which he maintains an extremely close relationship’. Prominent pro-Israel journalists such as Jonathan Chait and Martin Peretz of the New Republic, and Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, quickly joined the fray and Freeman was hammered in publications that consistently defend Israel, such as the National Review, the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard.
The real heat, however, came from Congress, where Aipac (which describes itself as ‘America’s Pro-Israel Lobby’) wields enormous power. All the Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee came out against Freeman, as did key Senate Democrats such as Joseph Lieberman and Charles Schumer. ‘I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him,’ Schumer said, ‘and I am glad they did the right thing.’ It was the same story in the House, where the charge was led by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Steve Israel, who pushed Blair to initiate a formal investigation of Freeman’s finances. In the end, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, declared the Freeman appointment ‘beyond the pale’. Freeman might have survived this onslaught had the White House stood by him. But Barack Obama’s pandering to the Israel lobby during the campaign and his silence during the Gaza War show that this is one opponent he is not willing to challenge. True to form, he remained silent and Freeman had little choice but to withdraw.
The lobby has since gone to great lengths to deny its role in Freeman’s resignation. The Aipac spokesman Josh Block said his organisation ‘took no position on this matter and did not lobby the Hill on it’. The Washington Post, whose editorial page is run by Fred Hiatt, a man staunchly committed to the special relationship, ran an editorial which claimed that blaming the lobby for Freeman’s resignation was something dreamed up by ‘Mr Freeman and like-minded conspiracy theorists’.
In fact, there is abundant evidence that Aipac and other hardline supporters of Israel were deeply involved in the campaign. Block admitted that he had spoken to reporters and bloggers about Freeman and provided them with information, always on the understanding that his comments would not be attributed to him or to Aipac. Jonathan Chait, who denied that Israel was at the root of the controversy before Freeman was toppled, wrote afterwards: ‘Of course I recognise that the Israel lobby is powerful and was a key element in the pushback against Freeman, and that it is not always a force for good.’ Daniel Pipes, who runs the Middle East Forum, where Steven Rosen now works, quickly sent out an email newsletter boasting about Rosen’s role in bringing Freeman down.
On 12 March, the day the Washington Post ran its editorial railing against anyone who suggested that the Israel lobby had helped topple Freeman, the paper also published a front-page story describing the central role that the lobby had played in the affair. There was also a comment piece by the veteran journalist David Broder, which opened with the words: ‘The Obama administration has just suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the lobbyists the president vowed to keep in their place.’
Freeman’s critics maintain that his views on Israel were not his only problem. He is said to have especially close – maybe even improper – ties to Saudi Arabia, where he previously served as American ambassador. The charge hasn’t stuck, however, because there is no evidence for it. Israel’s supporters also said that he had made insensitive remarks about what happened to the Chinese protesters at Tiananmen Square, but that charge, which his defenders contest, only came up because Freeman’s pro-Israel critics were looking for any argument they could muster to damage his reputation.
Why does the lobby care so much about one appointment to an important, but not top leadership position? Here’s one reason: Freeman would have been responsible for the production of National Intelligence Estimates. Israel and its American supporters were outraged when the National Intelligence Council concluded in November 2007 that Iran was not building nuclear weapons, and they have worked assiduously to undermine that report ever since. The lobby wants to make sure that the next estimate of Iran’s nuclear capabilities reaches the opposite conclusion, and that would have been much less likely to happen with Freeman in charge. Better to have someone vetted by Aipac running the show.
An even more important reason for the lobby to drive Freeman out of his job is the weakness of the case for America’s present policy towards Israel, which makes it imperative to silence or marginalise anyone who criticises the special relationship. If Freeman hadn’t been punished, others would see that one could talk critically about Israel and still have a successful career in Washington. And once you get an open and free-wheeling discussion about Israel, the special relationship will be in serious trouble.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Freeman affair was that the mainstream media paid it little attention – the New York Times, for example, did not run a single story dealing with Freeman until the day after he stepped down – while a fierce battle over the appointment took place in the blogosphere. Freeman’s opponents used the internet to their advantage; that is where Rosen launched the campaign. But something happened there that would never have happened in the mainstream media: the lobby faced real opposition. Indeed, a vigorous, well-informed and highly regarded array of bloggers defended Freeman at every turn and would probably have carried the day had Congress not tipped the scales against them. In short, the internet enabled a serious debate in the United States about an issue involving Israel. The lobby has never had much trouble keeping the New York Times and the Washington Post in line, but it has few ways to silence critics on the internet.
When pro-Israel forces clashed with a major political figure in the past, that person usually backed off. Jimmy Carter, who was smeared by the lobby after he published Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, was the first prominent American to stand his ground and fight back. The lobby has been unable to silence him, and it is not for lack of trying. Freeman is following in Carter’s footsteps, but with sharper elbows. After stepping down, he issued a blistering denunciation of ‘unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country’ whose aim is ‘to prevent any view other than its own from being aired’. ‘There is,’ he continued, ‘a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government.’
Freeman’s remarkable statement has shot all around the world and been read by countless individuals. This isn’t good for the lobby, which would have preferred to kill Freeman’s appointment without leaving any fingerprints. But Freeman will continue to speak out about Israel and the lobby, and maybe some of his natural allies inside the Beltway will eventually join him. Slowly but steadily, space is being opened up in the United States to talk honestly about Israel.
John Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.
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By Gideon Levy
What shock, what consternation. Haaretz revealed grave accounts by officers and soldiers describing the killing of innocent Palestinian civilians during the war in Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman was quick to respond that the IDF had no prior or supporting information about the events in question, the defense minister was quick to respond that "the IDF is the most moral army in the world," and the military advocate general said the IDF would investigate.
All these propagandistic and ridiculous responses are meant not only to deceive the public, but also to offer shameless lies. The IDF knew very well what its soldiers did in Gaza. It has long ceased to be the most moral army in the world. Far from it - it will not seriously investigate anything.
The testimonies from the graduates of the Oranim pre-military course were a bolt from the blue - accounts of soldiers butchering a woman and two of her children, shooting and killing an elderly Palestinian woman, how they felt when they murdered in cold blood, how they destroyed property and how there was not even fighting in this war that was not a war.
But this is neither a bolt nor blue skies. Everything has long been known by those who wanted to know, those who, for example, read Amira Hass's dispatches from Gaza in this paper. Everything started long before the assault on Gaza.
The soldiers' transgressions are an inevitable result of the orders given during this brutal operation, and they are the natural continuation of the last nine years, when soldiers killed nearly 5,000 Palestinians, at least half of them innocent civilians, nearly 1,000 of them children and teenagers.
Everything the soldiers described from Gaza, everything, occurred during these blood-soaked years as if they were routine events. It was the context, not the principle, that was different. An army whose armored corps has yet to encounter an enemy tank and whose pilots have yet to face an enemy combat jet in 36 years has been trained to think that the only function of a tank is to crush civilian cars and that a pilot's job is to bomb residential neighborhoods.
To do this without any unnecessary moral qualms we have trained our soldiers to think that the lives and property of Palestinians have no value whatsoever. It is part of a process of dehumanization that has endured for dozens of years, the fruits of the occupation.
"That's what is so nice, as it were, about Gaza: You see a person on a road ... and you can just shoot him." This "nice" thing has been around for 40 years. Another soldier talked about a thirst for blood. This thirst has been with us for years. Ask the family of Yasser Tamaizi, a 35-year-old laborer from Idna who was killed by soldiers while bound, and Mahdi Abu Ayash, a 16-year-old boy from Beit Umar who was found in a vegetative state, another victim of recent days, far from the war in Gaza.
Most of the soldiers who took part in the assault on Gaza are youths with morals. Some of them will volunteer for any mission. They will escort an old woman across the street or rescue earthquake victims. But in Gaza, when faced with the inhuman Palestinians, the package will always be suspicious, the brainwashing will be stupefying and the core principles will change. That is the only way they can kill and engage in wanton destruction without deliberating or wrestling with their consciences, not even telling their friends or girlfriends what they did.
Regarding the statement of one soldier, who said "As much as we talk about the IDF being an army of values, let's just say this is not the situation on the ground, not on the battalion level," the IDF has long ceased to be an army of "values," not on the ground, not in the battalion, not in the senior command. When an army does not investigate thousands of cases of killing over many years, the message to the soldiers is clear, and it comes from the top.
Our Teflon chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, cannot wash his hands of this affair. They are bloody. What the soldiers of the preparatory academy described were war crimes, for which they should be tried. This will not happen, save for the grotesque spectacle of "principled probes" in an army that killed 1,300 people in 25 days and left 100,000 homeless. Military police investigations will not lead to anything.
The IDF is incapable of investigating the crimes of its soldiers and commanders, and it is ridiculous to expect it to do so. These are not instances of "errant fire," but of deliberate fire resulting from an order. These are not "a few bad apples," but rather the spirit of the commander, and this spirit has been bad and corrupt for quite some time.
Change will not come without a major change in mindset. Until we recognize the Palestinians as human beings, just as we are, nothing will change. But then, the occupation would collapse, God forbid. In the meantime, prepare for the next war and the horrific testimonies about the most moral army in the world.
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By Gale Courey Toensing / Indian Country Today
Story Published: Mar 22, 2009
NEW YORK – The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation is back in court seeking restoration of its federal acknowledgment.
Attorneys for STN filed a brief in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York March 6, asking the appellate court to reverse a federal district court judge’s decision dismissing the tribe’s case against the Interior Department, and to order the interior and the BIA to restore its Final Determination acknowledging STN as a federally recognized tribe.
Alternately, the brief asks for a magistrate judge or special master to determine the tribe’s federal acknowledgement or to remand the issue to the interior for further consideration.
The BIA recognized the tribe in a Final Determination Jan. 29, 2004. Twenty months later, after a relentless and coordinated political campaign by Connecticut politicians aided by an anti-Indian sovereignty group and its powerful White House-connected lobbyist, the BIA, in an unprecedented move reversed itself in a Reconsidered Final Determination and took away both the Schaghticoke and Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation’s federal acknowledgment.
The 2nd Circuit Court appeal challenges a decision rendered last August by U.S. District Court Senior Judge Peter Dorsey that denied the tribe’s Administrative Procedures Appeal of the RFD, which was filed in January 2006. That appeal claimed the reversal resulted from unlawful political influence by powerful politicians and Barbour Griffith & Rogers, the lobbying firm now known as BGR, who together violated federal laws, agency regulations, congressional ethics rules and court orders in trampling the tribes’ due process rights. Their sole motivation was to reverse STN’s federal status in order to stop the tribe from opening a casino, the documents say.
Connecticut is home to the country’s two biggest casinos – Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, which contribute around $440 million a year to the state’s general fund. A third casino would invalidate the tribal-state contracts and stop the tribes’ essential contributions to the state budget.
Although the district court appeal stretched over almost three years, culminating in the tribe’s massive 1,300-plus page motion for summary judgment, the 86-page 2nd Circuit brief focuses narrowly on issues of law. It asks: Did the district court err in denying summary judgment for the tribe and granting summary judgment for the federal defendants and interveners on the questions of (a) whether the tribe’s due process rights to a fair administrative hearing was violated by undue political influence, and (b) whether the RFD was made by an unauthorized official?
“If we had gone into the 2nd Circuit with five, six or seven of the many issues, we would have had to explain each issue for the first time for the judges, and we have a limited number of words. So we needed to provide a very clear and concise explanation of what took place over the years and the violations we felt that Judge Dorsey had definitely overlooked, and that’s what we did,” said STN Chief Richard Velky.
“This appeal to the 2nd Circuit isn’t another petition for federal recognition; it’s an appeal of the wrongs done in Dorsey’s court. It focuses on the issue of political influence, which is the core violation of law responsible for the reversal of the tribe’s federal acknowledgment.”
The brief reviews the web of connections and communications between and among state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Congressional Delegation led by Senators Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman and former U.S. Representatives Chris Shays and Nancy Johnson. It describes their lobbying of White House officials and federal agency decision makers, including a meeting at which former Interior Secretary Gale Norton was threatened with the loss of her job unless she reversed the Schaghticoke federal acknowledgment.
The brief documents the sudden interest former Interior Deputy Secretary Steven Griles took in the Schaghticoke case in early 2005 – an unusual concern for a deputy secretary whose duties do not normally involve federal acknowledgement petitions. Griles’ role in the STN reversal has never been clearly uncovered, but he was closely connected to former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was jailed on charges of corruption and fraud. Griles also served time on charges of obstructing justice in connection with the Abramoff investigation, which uncovered e-mails describing Griles as Abramoff’s “main man” at the interior for getting decisions made that would benefit Abramoff’s Indian clients.
The brief also details three notorious congressional hearings called ostensibly to review the federal recognition process. But the hearings turned into opportunities for the Connecticut politicians to lash out at the BIA and, in an unparalleled act of collective projection, accuse its staff of corruption and political influence for acknowledging STN.
It also recounts that Dodd and Lieberman asked Interior Inspector Earl Devaney to investigate STN’s federal acknowledgement, claiming it was corrupted by political pressure from high paid lobbyists. But when Devaney found “no evidence to support the allegation that lobbyists or representatives of STN directly or indirectly influenced BIA officials to grant federal acknowledgement to STN,” the Connecticut politicians then turned their fury on Devaney, accusing him of white washing the investigation.
Judge Dorsey himself is not let off the hook in the 2nd Circuit Appeal. The brief recounts that Dorsey replied to a letter from Governor Jodi Rell assuring her that he had extended a deadline at the request of the tribe as a legal ploy.
“It reflects a caution intended to avoid a reversal by another court which might buy a due process argument,” Dorsey wrote.
Dorsey did not file the letter with the court clerk’s office or send copies to all the parties involved in the case, as required by law.
The motion also argues that former Associate Deputy James Cason, who issued the reversal, did not have the authority to make that decision because he was not properly nominated by the president and approved by the Senate as required for that level of decision making.
Washington insiders – attorneys practicing Indian law, lobbyists, even people within the Interior Department – all casually acknowledge off the record that STN’s federal acknowledgment was reversed because of political influence, “not to mention just the blatant appearance of political influence,” Velky said.
“There isn’t anyone who’s been next to this case who wouldn’t say that STN was screwed out of its federal acknowledgment. We would hope with the new Obama administration and a new secretary at interior that STN will be given another look. We would simply ask that they now conduct an investigation of what the state did to us – the same kind of investigation they did at the request of Dodd and Lieberman. This should never have had to go to court. It should have been handled in the same way it was handled when we received our positive determination.”
This entry was posted on Mar 23, 2009 at 10:59:07 am and is filed under American Indian, Indigenous Peoples, Tribes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
The STN's reversed decision needs to be investigated. In 2004 CT Senator Joe Liberman sent an angry letter to the Department of Interior questioning the "ethics" of James Cason...and then, yes ...guess who reversed the Schaghticoke decision..James Cason. What happened to his ethics Senator Liberman?
The back door meetings with the White House and the connected lobbyists, violating court orders, and the Judge himself writing CT Gov. Rell about the case.
Do what is right, investigate.
This is a story of a grave injustice.
As one who was close to the Schaghticokes campaign for Federal Recognition, I completely agree that they were done in as a result of political pressure and influence. Some of the same individuals who reversed their recognition, have been indicted for inappropriate and illegal use of their office. That alone should have led to a re-opening of their case!
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March 22, 2009
GAZA, (PIC)-- The Hamas Movement vowed Sunday to stay adherent to the Palestinian constants whose guidelines were drawn by the blood of late Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, highlighting that it would never renounce its right to resist the occupation and defend the Palestinian people until the liberation of all Palestinian lands.
In a statement issued on the fifth anniversary of martyrdom of Sheikh Yassin and a copy of which was received by the PIC, Hamas said that the assassination of its spiritual leader was a spark that ignited the spirit of resistance among the Arab and Muslim nation and moved forward the wheel of history in favor of the Palestinian people.
Hamas warned the Israeli government of persisting in judaizing occupied Jerusalem, desecrating the sanctity of Islamic holy places and evicting the Palestinian people from their lands and homes, saying that its attempt to impose a fait accompli in Jerusalem would not be met with long silence.
Hamas also held Israel fully responsible for its terrorist actions against the Palestinian prisoners in its jails and any consequent uprisings that might happen inside prisons, calling on the Israeli government to comply with the Palestinian resistance's demands regarding the prisoner swap deal.
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'A third Intifada .. could provide the platform for the Palestinians to reclaim their unity.'
By Ramzy Baroud
Though the dust has settled in Gaza, the rubble from the untold number of demolished buildings, homes and mosques is far from being cleared away. Graves continue to receive victims, young and old alike, from Israel's most recent offensive. And in the midst of this, with the hopes of some respite and recovery on the horizon, rumors of a third Intifada swell among politicians, scholars and everyday people alike.
[A] third Intifada, in the eyes of many, could accomplish one vital task. It could provide the platform for the Palestinians to reclaim their unity (despite the prevailing factionalism of today) and declare that they will struggle until the day when they finally embrace freedom. If this is all that a third Intifada accomplishes, in the eyes of many Palestinians, then it is certainly a necessary and worthy endeavor.
While the first and second Palestinian uprisings were spontaneous and natural responses to institutionalized injustice, and while they fostered a great sense of community and brotherhood among Palestinians everywhere, the many years of uprisings mark some of the most painful years in Palestinian history.
It's not easy to isolate specific dates and events that spark popular revolutions. Genuine collective rebellion cannot be rationalized through a coherent line of logic that elapses time and space; it's rather a culmination of experiences that unite the individual to the collective, their conscious and subconscious, their relationships with their immediate surroundings and with that which is not so immediate, all colliding and exploding into a fury that cannot be suppressed.
The eruption of both the first and the second Intifadas cannot be faultlessly explained by one individual, for it meant different things to different people. It was a popular and spontaneous retort to the injustice and the humiliation felt on a daily basis by Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. But also, it was a bold declaration made collectively that Palestinians will struggle until freedom is finally achieved.
There are several factors that have led many to believe that a resumption of the uprising, or a third Intifada, is simply the natural response to the current situation on the ground. Mass arrests, unjust imprisonment of people denied the right to a trial and extrajudicial executions are some of the many cruelties imposed on Palestinians that have pressed them to revolt or reignited their ongoing rebellion.
But some of the most contentious issues throughout the years have been the crimes of house demolitions, settlement construction in the Occupied Territories and the increasing number of settlers moving into those ever-growing settlements.
In a recent interview with Ma'an news agency, the Palestinian Authority's governor to Jerusalem warned that the planned demolition of 100 Palestinian homes and the displacement of nearly 1,000 people in the occupied Jerusalem area would certainly increase the growing possibility of a third Intifada. "It is now clear to the international community, and our position within the Palestinian Authority is very clear - no negotiations, no peace process with settlements," he stressed.
There is a great fear that the Israeli plan, which some have described as "slow-motion ethnic cleansing", is now augmenting into a fast-paced settlement project. These worries have been confirmed by the Israeli "Peace Now" movement, in a press release, issued on March 2.
"The Ministry of Construction and Housing is planning to construct at least 73,300 housing units in the West Bank," Peace Now reported. It further stated that the plans outlined in the Israeli Ministry of Housing report "represent only a small part of the total number of the plans existing in the settlements".
"At least 15,000 housing units have already been approved and plans for an additional 58,000 housing units are yet to be approved," said the group, which also concluded that of the units already approved by the Israeli government, nearly 9,000 have been built. "If all the plans are realized, the number of settlers in the territories will be doubled."
It follows that the construction of thousands of units will lead to permanent demographic realities in the West Bank that would strongly impede any possibility of Palestinian statehood, according to the standard "vision" of a two-state solution.
The new illegal units are built on stolen land, illegally confiscated from their rightful Palestinian owners. With such a move, Israel purposely renders the so-called two-state solution permanently incapacitated, while insisting that a one-state solution is the equivalent to the "annihilation" of the Jewish state. Israel is once again molding the very desperate environment that led to the revolts of 1987 and 2000, at the cost of thousands of lives.
So, what is a nation to do under such circumstances? Can stone throwing, general strikes and boycotting Israeli products deter such a scheme? More, what is the responsibility of the free world in this conflict? Will they sit by, as they did in the recent and tragic attacks on Gaza, and view the crimes from afar? Will they again expect Palestinians to bear down and endure such harsh and cruel realities, or will the onset of yet another popular revolution come as no surprise?
As for two generations of Palestinians who lived through the first and second Intifadas, scribing rebellious graffiti, hurling stones at occupying soldiers and refusing to buy the Israeli products that were imposed on them (while impeding the growth of Palestinian local industry) may not have unshackled a hostage nation.
Indeed, it may not in the future, but a third Intifada, in the eyes of many, could accomplish one vital task. It could provide the platform for the Palestinians to reclaim their unity (despite the prevailing factionalism of today) and declare that they will struggle until the day when they finally embrace freedom. If this is all that a third Intifada accomplishes, in the eyes of many Palestinians, then it is certainly a necessary and worthy endeavor.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers, journals and anthologies around the world. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London).
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Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
FIELD UPDATE ON GAZA FROM THE HUMANITARIAN COORDINATOR
10 – 16 March 2009
The blockade on the Gaza Strip continues in addition to rudimentary rocket fire by Palestinian militants into Israel and air strikes on Gaza by Israeli forces. The tunnels on the Egyptian-Gazan border, which have become an alternative channel for transfer of commodities banned through the officIal Gaza crossings and a source of arms smuggling according to Israeli officials, were attacked by Israeli forces, thus reducing the overall amount of goods entering Gaza.
Violent exchanges between Israeli forces and the militants inside
the Gaza Strip reportedly caused six Palestinian injuries, including one child.
The overall levels of humanitarian aid allowed into Gaza remain below what is urgently required.
Humanitarian partners in the oPt have continued focusing their advocacy on easing access of goods and personnel into Gaza. A “Framework for the Provision of Humanitarian Assistance in Gaza” document by the Humanitarian Country Team, is intended to serve as a set of “minimum standards” for access of humanitarian goods and personnel.
UNDP report “Inside Gaza - Attitudes and perceptions of the Gaza Strip residents in the aftermath of the Israeli military operations highlights the following:
• 65% of Gazans live below the income poverty line and 37% live in extreme poverty;
• 66% of the unemployed are extremely poor; an increase from 56% prior to the recent Gaza conflict;
• Over 1 million of roughly 1.4 million, or 75% of the Gazan population, feel insecure for one of three reasons: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (42%); Israeli control over borders (27%) which
prevents movement of persons and goods; and inter-Palestinian tension;
• Most households in the Gaza Strip have suffered from limited access to basics such as food, water, electricity, sanitation, and money, but their highest need now is personal security;
• Nearly 40% of the surveyed households were displaced as a result of Israeli military operations;
• 25% of the Gaza households believe that psychosocial support is the most needed assistance and 49% consider that psychosocial support is by far the most important need for children at present.
The survey for the report was conducted between 25 January and 1 February 2009, using random sampling of 1,815 households in the Gaza Strip.
Access into into the Gaza Strip / Crossings
A total of 671 truckloads of goods including 121 from humanitarian agencies (18%) were allowed entry into Gaza this week compared to 1080 last week, representing an average of 121 truckloads per open day compared to a daily average of 246 received in the third week of July 2008.
The imported commodities included: food (520 truckloads, 68%), medical supplies (16 truckloads, 2%), hygiene/cleaning supplies limited to chlorine, tissues, diapers, (84 truckloads, 11%) and non-edible consumables such as blankets, mattresses and, for the first time since 28 October 2008, clothes (33 truckloads, 4%). 14 truckloads containing education/stationery supplies and 4 truckloads with agricultural raw materials (fertilized eggs) were allowed entry.
No livestock, industrial/electrical appliances, vehicles/ transports, packaging applications or construction materials were allowed entry.
Items banned by the Israeli authorities last week included jam, biscuits and tomato paste, resulting in 498 boxes of USAID cargo and 2,488 boxes of World Vision cargo stopped from delivery to Gaza. According to COGAT, food parcels containing these foodstuffs, as well as tea, sweets and date bars, will be rejected in the future.
No petrol or diesel were allowed entry into Gaza last week via Israel. However, Palestinian Gas Stations Owners Association (GSOA) reports that the amount of fuel being transferred through the Egyptian-Gaza border tunnels has increased with nearly 50,000 litres of diesel and 30,000 litres of petrol transferred into Gaza per day. Since last week, diesel has become more available on the open market while petrol remains less available. Petrol and diesel prices have decreased (down from 8 and 5 NIS/litre to 4 and 3 NIS respectively, compared to the previous week).
675.5 tonnes of cooking gas were allowed into Gaza during this week compared to 420 tonnes • allowed in the previous week, representing 39% of the estimated weekly needs according to GSOA.
A total of 2,235.450 litres of the Power Plants’ industrial gas was allowed, representing 71% of the required weekly needs as determined
by the Power Plant authority.
Sufa crossing remained closed. However, COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) has informed OCHA that Sufa is no longer a crossing point between Gaza and Israel.
Karni crossing remained closed.
Karni grain conveyor belt was operational on 2 days. The cement lane (last open on 29 October 2008) remains completely closed.
Nahal Oz fuel pipelines were partially opened on 5 out of 6 scheduled days. COGAT informed OCHA that the working days has been reduced to five days per week (Sunday to Thursday.
Kerem Shalom crossing was partially open on all the scheduled days.
Rafah border crossing was closed for cargo on all days.
Information on the status of border crossings and numbers of trucks crossing is compiled by OCHA Gaza, based on data provided by the Gaza Ministry 1. of National Economy, UNRWA, UNSCO and Paltrade (Palestine Trade Centre) and cross-checked with data received from COGAT and covers the period 10 to 16 March.
No exports from Gaza were allowed out during the week.
Humanitarian personnel access
UN personnel movement into and within Gaza depends, among other factors, on the availability of armored vehicles, numbers of which are severely restricted. Currently, there are 17 vehicles still awaiting the Israeli authorities’ clearance for entry into Israel.
The Israeli clearance procedures for access into Gaza by INGO personnel continue to be very lengthy, hindering INGOs service and delivery capacity.
A number of INGOs operating in Gaza have been requested to register with the de facto Hamas authority in Gaza, often in addition to the registration already obtained from the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah. Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) is currently conducting a survey on NGOs access to Gaza.
The Logistics Cluster continues to advocate for increased entry of humanitarian goods into Gaza. The Logistics Cluster requested a clearance from COGAT for transportation of UNICEF stationery items, Early Childhood Development Kits and children’s toys; UK MAP medical equipment; FAO veterinary supplies and 704 packets of washing powder for World Vision.
The Cluster has presented a number of proposals to the Isreali authorities, namely: to use sea containers for the purpose of transportation of humanitarian cargo and permission for the exit/return of empty containers; to double-stack pallets on trucks and for the installation of lighting at the crossing on the Gaza side of Karem Shalom to allow operations after dark.
The Cluster also maintains a constantly updated list of delivered/held up/refused humanitarian cargo. Information collected includes quantity of items, organization, date of entry, date stopped/delivered etc. The list is available from the Logistics Cluster on request. http://www.logcluster.org/gaza09a/UNJGECC.
Procedures for Gaza children receiving medical treatment outside the Gaza Strip need urgent attention as the monitoring mechanisms, particularly for unaccompanied children, are inadequate. Another area of concern is the issue of alleged disappearances. Upon finalization of the database of war casualties, the numbers of disappeared versus killed will be clarified. In addition, the Protection Cluster has identified that lengthy delays in legal procedures concerning inheritances of people killed during the war contribute to further deterioration of the economical situation of their families.
Approximately 90% of the Gaza population suffers from intermittent power supply, with power cuts of between four and five hours daily. The Gaza Electricity Distribution Company reports an overall energy deficit of 19% in the Gaza Strip as of 15 March. On Monday 16 March, due to technical failure, the Gaza Power Plant has been forced to shut one turbine, bringing power generation to 30MWs. Gaza city and middle area are most affected, with scheduled power cuts increased to 8-12 hours/day. The broken unit is being repaired, but a source at the plant suggests that such failure could have been avoided if spare parts were available.
Following the publication of the PA’s Palestinian National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan for Gaza 2009-2010, four groups (Governance, Livelihoods, Utilities and Environment) have now been established under the umbrella of the Early Recovery Cluster. The objective is to prioritise early recovery and transitional reconstruction efforts in each area as and when access improves.
Water and Sanitation
Some 50,000 people still remain without access to water through the public network, while 100,000 others experience intermittent supply of water. ACF, CARE, Oxfam and PHG continue to deliver water by tankers to affected neighborhoods. Lack of materials and equipment for the WASH sector continue to hamper repairs and rehabilitation efforts.
During a recent sampling in January/February, data on watery diarrheal diseases among children 0-3 years old, attending UNRWA facilities, was compared to the corresponding weeks last year. An increase of 18 % in the incidence of the disease was reported, assumed to be related to war-related damage to the water supply systems. The epidemiological surveillance system in Gaza Strip resumed functionality on 20 January.
The need to provide psychosocial services for school children and teachers has led to the establishment of a subgroup, facilitated by Sharek Youth Forum and involving approximately ten organizations, including Gaza-based universities. Preparations for the training and capacity building of 354 Gaza school and NGO counselors are well underway.
Access of supplies into Gaza remains a key obstacle for a number of education interventions, ranging from school repairs and rehabilitation to provision of training material for teachers and counselors.
Food Security / Agriculture
The availability of most basic foods is at an acceptable level for both fresh and dry foods but this is highly volatile. Problems remain for selected items. Fresh chicken and meat, cleaning material and cooking gas were found to be unavailable or in short supply as of 10 March 2009.
Shortages of animal feed and gas have contributed to the increase in the price of chicken in the market from 12 to 17.25 NIS/kg.
As of 10 March, the total stock of wheat flour in Gaza mills is 10,900 mt, which is sufficient to cover the needs of the total population for approximately 24 days (i.e. until 3 April 2009).
A statement issued by the IDF Spokesperson’s Office on 11 March announced the decision to restrict fishing to three nautical miles from the coast. Since 2002, fishermen have been restricted to 6-8 nautical miles despite the 20 nautical miles agreed by the Israeli Government under the Oslo Accords and 12 miles following by the commitments by the Government of Israel under the Bertini Commitments. Limiting sea areas causes over-fishing and threatens the livelihoods of over 3,000 fishermen in Gaza who rely on fishing to support their families.
Severe restrictions on agricultural inputs continue to delay recovery and rehabilitation efforts of land, greenhouses, nurseries, roads, wells and irrigation networks. The import ban on live animals constrains breeding efforts in the livestock sub sector and makes the market prices of red and white meat, including beef, lamb and chicken, unaffordable for the majority of consumers.
This entry was posted on Mar 22, 2009 at 03:12:27 pm and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment, Human Rights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.
I would love to kiss you.
The price of kissing is your life.
Now my loving is running toward my life shouting,
What a bargain, let's buy it.
Daylight, full of small dancing particles
and the one great turning, our souls
are dancing with you, without feet, they dance.
Can you see them when I whisper in your ear?
All day and night, music,
a quiet, bright
reedsong. If it
fades, we fade.
(Excerpts from The Essential Rumi, translations by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, 1995.
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A taperecording of Nadia Matar's call for the assassination of Mahmoud Abbas
A number of people have asked if I have a recording for the report that Israeli colonist Nadia Matar called for the killing of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas last night during a lecture at the Safra Synagogue on E. 63rd Street in New York.
Here's an audio, including about 10 minutes of the 1-1/2 hour lecture.
At the beginning, a guy in the crowd (somewhat inaudibly) asks Matar, What do you do with a million Palestinians? Matar gives a rambling and hair-raising answer, most of which is here, including the statement that Israel should have kicked out all the Arabs in '48 or '67 and grabbed the Temple Mount, too. At 2:30 or so she starts in about Neville Chamberlain and Hitler and Churchill, which brings her, at 3:15 or so, to Abbas.
Notice the rousing applause for Matar's call for his murder, which I failed to register when I posted late last night.
ACTION ALERT: Thanks to Marlene for the post above and the following message:
Just wondering what the media response would be if someone was calling for the assassination of Olmert for example, in a mosque here in New York City, and asking for tax deductible contributions as a side dish. It would be on every front page of practically every newspaper in the United States, and then probably the mosque would be investigated, and then might even possibly be shut down. I would imagine that a person like that would be refused entry to this country at some point, as well as any members of that person's organization which would no doubt be labeled as a terrorist organization. Also, the people who are hosting Matar should be held accountible.
Please write to members of Congress protesting this tax-deductible organization and the entry of these people into the United States who publicly call for assassinations, and that this country's policy of different strokes for different folks should not be tolerated.
Contact Congress: http://www.visi. com/juan/ congress/
This entry was posted on Mar 22, 2009 at 02:03:35 pm and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment, American Empire. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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Illustration by Victor Juhasz
“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power” -- Benito Mussolini, Italian dictator, 1883-1945
The global economic crisis isn't about money - it's about power. How Wall Street insiders are using the bailout to stage a revolution
It's over — we're officially, royally fucked. no empire can survive being rendered a permanent laughingstock, which is what happened as of a few weeks ago, when the buffoons who have been running things in this country finally went one step too far. It happened when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was forced to admit that he was once again going to have to stuff billions of taxpayer dollars into a dying insurance giant called AIG, itself a profound symbol of our national decline — a corporation that got rich insuring the concrete and steel of American industry in the country's heyday, only to destroy itself chasing phantom fortunes at the Wall Street card tables, like a dissolute nobleman gambling away the family estate in the waning days of the British Empire.
The latest bailout came as AIG admitted to having just posted the largest quarterly loss in American corporate history — some $61.7 billion. In the final three months of last year, the company lost more than $27 million every hour. That's $465,000 a minute, a yearly income for a median American household every six seconds, roughly $7,750 a second. And all this happened at the end of eight straight years that America devoted to frantically chasing the shadow of a terrorist threat to no avail, eight years spent stopping every citizen at every airport to search every purse, bag, crotch and briefcase for juice boxes and explosive tubes of toothpaste. Yet in the end, our government had no mechanism for searching the balance sheets of companies that held life-or-death power over our society and was unable to spot holes in the national economy the size of Libya (whose entire GDP last year was smaller than AIG's 2008 losses).
So it's time to admit it: We're fools, protagonists in a kind of gruesome comedy about the marriage of greed and stupidity. And the worst part about it is that we're still in denial — we still think this is some kind of unfortunate accident, not something that was created by the group of psychopaths on Wall Street whom we allowed to gang-rape the American Dream. When Geithner announced the new $30 billion bailout, the party line was that poor AIG was just a victim of a lot of shitty luck — bad year for business, you know, what with the financial crisis and all. Edward Liddy, the company's CEO, actually compared it to catching a cold: "The marketplace is a pretty crummy place to be right now," he said. "When the world catches pneumonia, we get it too." In a pathetic attempt at name-dropping, he even whined that AIG was being "consumed by the same issues that are driving house prices down and 401K statements down and Warren Buffet's investment portfolio down."
Liddy made AIG sound like an orphan begging in a soup line, hungry and sick from being left out in someone else's financial weather. He conveniently forgot to mention that AIG had spent more than a decade systematically scheming to evade U.S. and international regulators, or that one of the causes of its "pneumonia" was making colossal, world-sinking $500 billion bets with money it didn't have, in a toxic and completely unregulated derivatives market.
Nor did anyone mention that when AIG finally got up from its seat at the Wall Street casino, broke and busted in the afterdawn light, it owed money all over town — and that a huge chunk of your taxpayer dollars in this particular bailout scam will be going to pay off the other high rollers at its table. Or that this was a casino unique among all casinos, one where middle-class taxpayers cover the bets of billionaires.
People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but they're not pissed off enough. The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d'état. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations.
The crisis was the coup de grâce: Given virtually free rein over the economy, these same insiders first wrecked the financial world, then cunningly granted themselves nearly unlimited emergency powers to clean up their own mess. And so the gambling-addict leaders of companies like AIG end up not penniless and in jail, but with an Alien-style death grip on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve — "our partners in the government," as Liddy put it with a shockingly casual matter-of-factness after the most recent bailout.
The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron — a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers.
I. PATIENT ZERO
The best way to understand the financial crisis is to understand the meltdown at AIG. AIG is what happens when short, bald managers of otherwise boring financial bureaucracies start seeing Brad Pitt in the mirror. This is a company that built a giant fortune across more than a century by betting on safety-conscious policyholders — people who wear seat belts and build houses on high ground — and then blew it all in a year or two by turning their entire balance sheet over to a guy who acted like making huge bets with other people's money would make his dick bigger.
That guy — the Patient Zero of the global economic meltdown — was one Joseph Cassano, the head of a tiny, 400-person unit within the company called AIG Financial Products, or AIGFP. Cassano, a pudgy, balding Brooklyn College grad with beady eyes and way too much forehead, cut his teeth in the Eighties working for Mike Milken, the granddaddy of modern Wall Street debt alchemists. Milken, who pioneered the creative use of junk bonds, relied on messianic genius and a whole array of insider schemes to evade detection while wreaking financial disaster. Cassano, by contrast, was just a greedy little turd with a knack for selective accounting who ran his scam right out in the open, thanks to Washington's deregulation of the Wall Street casino. "It's all about the regulatory environment," says a government source involved with the AIG bailout. "These guys look for holes in the system, for ways they can do trades without government interference. Whatever is unregulated, all the action is going to pile into that."
The mess Cassano created had its roots in an investment boom fueled in part by a relatively new type of financial instrument called a collateralized-debt obligation. A CDO is like a box full of diced-up assets. They can be anything: mortgages, corporate loans, aircraft loans, credit-card loans, even other CDOs. So as X mortgage holder pays his bill, and Y corporate debtor pays his bill, and Z credit-card debtor pays his bill, money flows into the box.
The key idea behind a CDO is that there will always be at least some money in the box, regardless of how dicey the individual assets inside it are. No matter how you look at a single unemployed ex-con trying to pay the note on a six-bedroom house, he looks like a bad investment. But dump his loan in a box with a smorgasbord of auto loans, credit-card debt, corporate bonds and other crap, and you can be reasonably sure that somebody is going to pay up. Say $100 is supposed to come into the box every month. Even in an apocalypse, when $90 in payments might default, you'll still get $10. What the inventors of the CDO did is divide up the box into groups of investors and put that $10 into its own level, or "tranche." They then convinced ratings agencies like Moody's and S&P to give that top tranche the highest AAA rating — meaning it has close to zero credit risk.
Suddenly, thanks to this financial seal of approval, banks had a way to turn their shittiest mortgages and other financial waste into investment-grade paper and sell them to institutional investors like pensions and insurance companies, which were forced by regulators to keep their portfolios as safe as possible. Because CDOs offered higher rates of return than truly safe products like Treasury bills, it was a win-win: Banks made a fortune selling CDOs, and big investors made much more holding them.
The problem was, none of this was based on reality. "The banks knew they were selling crap," says a London-based trader from one of the bailed-out companies. To get AAA ratings, the CDOs relied not on their actual underlying assets but on crazy mathematical formulas that the banks cooked up to make the investments look safer than they really were. "They had some back room somewhere where a bunch of Indian guys who'd been doing nothing but math for God knows how many years would come up with some kind of model saying that this or that combination of debtors would only default once every 10,000 years," says one young trader who sold CDOs for a major investment bank. "It was nuts."
Now that even the crappiest mortgages could be sold to conservative investors, the CDOs spurred a massive explosion of irresponsible and predatory lending. In fact, there was such a crush to underwrite CDOs that it became hard to find enough subprime mortgages — read: enough unemployed meth dealers willing to buy million-dollar homes for no money down — to fill them all. As banks and investors of all kinds took on more and more in CDOs and similar instruments, they needed some way to hedge their massive bets — some kind of insurance policy, in case the housing bubble burst and all that debt went south at the same time. This was particularly true for investment banks, many of which got stuck holding or "warehousing" CDOs when they wrote more than they could sell. And that's were Joe Cassano came in.
Known for his boldness and arrogance, Cassano took over as chief of AIGFP in 2001. He was the favorite of Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, the head of AIG, who admired the younger man's hard-driving ways, even if neither he nor his successors fully understood exactly what it was that Cassano did. According to a source familiar with AIG's internal operations, Cassano basically told senior management, "You know insurance, I know investments, so you do what you do, and I'll do what I do — leave me alone." Given a free hand within the company, Cassano set out from his offices in London to sell a lucrative form of "insurance" to all those investors holding lots of CDOs. His tool of choice was another new financial instrument known as a credit-default swap, or CDS.
The CDS was popularized by J.P. Morgan, in particular by a group of young, creative bankers who would later become known as the "Morgan Mafia," as many of them would go on to assume influential positions in the finance world. In 1994, in between booze and games of tennis at a resort in Boca Raton, Florida, the Morgan gang plotted a way to help boost the bank's returns. One of their goals was to find a way to lend more money, while working around regulations that required them to keep a set amount of cash in reserve to back those loans. What they came up with was an early version of the credit-default swap.
In its simplest form, a CDS is just a bet on an outcome. Say Bank A writes a million-dollar mortgage to the Pope for a town house in the West Village. Bank A wants to hedge its mortgage risk in case the Pope can't make his monthly payments, so it buys CDS protection from Bank B, wherein it agrees to pay Bank B a premium of $1,000 a month for five years. In return, Bank B agrees to pay Bank A the full million-dollar value of the Pope's mortgage if he defaults. In theory, Bank A is covered if the Pope goes on a meth binge and loses his job.
When Morgan presented their plans for credit swaps to regulators in the late Nineties, they argued that if they bought CDS protection for enough of the investments in their portfolio, they had effectively moved the risk off their books. Therefore, they argued, they should be allowed to lend more, without keeping more cash in reserve. A whole host of regulators — from the Federal Reserve to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency — accepted the argument, and Morgan was allowed to put more money on the street.
What Cassano did was to transform the credit swaps that Morgan popularized into the world's largest bet on the housing boom. In theory, at least, there's nothing wrong with buying a CDS to insure your investments. Investors paid a premium to AIGFP, and in return the company promised to pick up the tab if the mortgage-backed CDOs went bust. But as Cassano went on a selling spree, the deals he made differed from traditional insurance in several significant ways. First, the party selling CDS protection didn't have to post any money upfront. When a $100 corporate bond is sold, for example, someone has to show 100 actual dollars. But when you sell a $100 CDS guarantee, you don't have to show a dime. So Cassano could sell investment banks billions in guarantees without having any single asset to back it up.
Secondly, Cassano was selling so-called "naked" CDS deals. In a "naked" CDS, neither party actually holds the underlying loan. In other words, Bank B not only sells CDS protection to Bank A for its mortgage on the Pope — it turns around and sells protection to Bank C for the very same mortgage. This could go on ad nauseam: You could have Banks D through Z also betting on Bank A's mortgage. Unlike traditional insurance, Cassano was offering investors an opportunity to bet that someone else's house would burn down, or take out a term life policy on the guy with AIDS down the street. It was no different from gambling, the Wall Street version of a bunch of frat brothers betting on Jay Feely to make a field goal. Cassano was taking book for every bank that bet short on the housing market, but he didn't have the cash to pay off if the kick went wide.
In a span of only seven years, Cassano sold some $500 billion worth of CDS protection, with at least $64 billion of that tied to the subprime mortgage market. AIG didn't have even a fraction of that amount of cash on hand to cover its bets, but neither did it expect it would ever need any reserves. So long as defaults on the underlying securities remained a highly unlikely proposition, AIG was essentially collecting huge and steadily climbing premiums by selling insurance for the disaster it thought would never come.
Initially, at least, the revenues were enormous: AIGFP's returns went from $737 million in 1999 to $3.2 billion in 2005. Over the past seven years, the subsidiary's 400 employees were paid a total of $3.5 billion; Cassano himself pocketed at least $280 million in compensation. Everyone made their money — and then it all went to shit.
II. THE REGULATORS
Cassano's outrageous gamble wouldn't have been possible had he not had the good fortune to take over AIGFP just as Sen. Phil Gramm — a grinning, laissez-faire ideologue from Texas — had finished engineering the most dramatic deregulation of the financial industry since Emperor Hien Tsung invented paper money in 806 A.D. For years, Washington had kept a watchful eye on the nation's banks. Ever since the Great Depression, commercial banks — those that kept money on deposit for individuals and businesses — had not been allowed to double as investment banks, which raise money by issuing and selling securities. The Glass-Steagall Act, passed during the Depression, also prevented banks of any kind from getting into the insurance business.
But in the late Nineties, a few years before Cassano took over AIGFP, all that changed. The Democrats, tired of getting slaughtered in the fundraising arena by Republicans, decided to throw off their old reliance on unions and interest groups and become more "business-friendly." Wall Street responded by flooding Washington with money, buying allies in both parties. In the 10-year period beginning in 1998, financial companies spent $1.7 billion on federal campaign contributions and another $3.4 billion on lobbyists. They quickly got what they paid for. In 1999, Gramm co-sponsored a bill that repealed key aspects of the Glass-Steagall Act, smoothing the way for the creation of financial megafirms like Citigroup. The move did away with the built-in protections afforded by smaller banks. In the old days, a local banker knew the people whose loans were on his balance sheet: He wasn't going to give a million-dollar mortgage to a homeless meth addict, since he would have to keep that loan on his books. But a giant merged bank might write that loan and then sell it off to some fool in China, and who cared?
The very next year, Gramm compounded the problem by writing a sweeping new law called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act that made it impossible to regulate credit swaps as either gambling or securities. Commercial banks — which, thanks to Gramm, were now competing directly with investment banks for customers — were driven to buy credit swaps to loosen capital in search of higher yields. "By ruling that credit-default swaps were not gaming and not a security, the way was cleared for the growth of the market," said Eric Dinallo, head of the New York State Insurance Department.
The blanket exemption meant that Joe Cassano could now sell as many CDS contracts as he wanted, building up as huge a position as he wanted, without anyone in government saying a word. "You have to remember, investment banks aren't in the business of making huge directional bets," says the government source involved in the AIG bailout. When investment banks write CDS deals, they hedge them. But insurance companies don't have to hedge. And that's what AIG did. "They just bet massively long on the housing market," says the source. "Billions and billions."
In the biggest joke of all, Cassano's wheeling and dealing was regulated by the Office of Thrift Supervision, an agency that would prove to be defiantly uninterested in keeping watch over his operations. How a behemoth like AIG came to be regulated by the little-known and relatively small OTS is yet another triumph of the deregulatory instinct. Under another law passed in 1999, certain kinds of holding companies could choose the OTS as their regulator, provided they owned one or more thrifts (better known as savings-and-loans). Because the OTS was viewed as more compliant than the Fed or the Securities and Exchange Commission, companies rushed to reclassify themselves as thrifts. In 1999, AIG purchased a thrift in Delaware and managed to get approval for OTS regulation of its entire operation.
Making matters even more hilarious, AIGFP — a London-based subsidiary of an American insurance company — ought to have been regulated by one of Europe's more stringent regulators, like Britain's Financial Services Authority. But the OTS managed to convince the Europeans that it had the muscle to regulate these giant companies. By 2007, the EU had conferred legitimacy to OTS supervision of three mammoth firms — GE, AIG and Ameriprise.
That same year, as the subprime crisis was exploding, the Government Accountability Office criticized the OTS, noting a "disparity between the size of the agency and the diverse firms it oversees." Among other things, the GAO report noted that the entire OTS had only one insurance specialist on staff — and this despite the fact that it was the primary regulator for the world's largest insurer!
"There's this notion that the regulators couldn't do anything to stop AIG," says a government official who was present during the bailout. "That's bullshit. What you have to understand is that these regulators have ultimate power. They can send you a letter and say, 'You don't exist anymore,' and that's basically that. They don't even really need due process. The OTS could have said, 'We're going to pull your charter; we're going to pull your license; we're going to sue you.' And getting sued by your primary regulator is the kiss of death."
When AIG finally blew up, the OTS regulator ostensibly in charge of overseeing the insurance giant — a guy named C.K. Lee — basically admitted that he had blown it. His mistake, Lee said, was that he believed all those credit swaps in Cassano's portfolio were "fairly benign products." Why? Because the company told him so. "The judgment the company was making was that there was no big credit risk," he explained. (Lee now works as Midwest region director of the OTS; the agency declined to make him available for an interview.)
In early March, after the latest bailout of AIG, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner took what seemed to be a thinly veiled shot at the OTS, calling AIG a "huge, complex global insurance company attached to a very complicated investment bank/hedge fund that was allowed to build up without any adult supervision." But even without that "adult supervision," AIG might have been OK had it not been for a complete lack of internal controls. For six months before its meltdown, according to insiders, the company had been searching for a full-time chief financial officer and a chief risk-assessment officer, but never got around to hiring either. That meant that the 18th-largest company in the world had no one checking to make sure its balance sheet was safe and no one keeping track of how much cash and assets the firm had on hand. The situation was so bad that when outside consultants were called in a few weeks before the bailout, senior executives were unable to answer even the most basic questions about their company — like, for instance, how much exposure the firm had to the residential-mortgage market.
III. THE CRASH
Ironically, when reality finally caught up to Cassano, it wasn't because the housing market crapped but because of AIG itself. Before 2005, the company's debt was rated triple-A, meaning he didn't need to post much cash to sell CDS protection: The solid creditworthiness of AIG's name was guarantee enough. But the company's crummy accounting practices eventually caused its credit rating to be downgraded, triggering clauses in the CDS contracts that forced Cassano to post substantially more collateral to back his deals.
By the fall of 2007, it was evident that AIGFP's portfolio had turned poisonous, but like every good Wall Street huckster, Cassano schemed to keep his insane, Earth-swallowing gamble hidden from public view. That August, balls bulging, he announced to investors on a conference call that "it is hard for us, without being flippant, to even see a scenario within any kind of realm of reason that would see us losing $1 in any of those transactions." As he spoke, his CDS portfolio was racking up $352 million in losses. When the growing credit crunch prompted senior AIG executives to re-examine its liabilities, a company accountant named Joseph St. Denis became "gravely concerned" about the CDS deals and their potential for mass destruction. Cassano responded by personally forcing the poor sap out of the firm, telling him he was "deliberately excluded" from the financial review for fear that he might "pollute the process."
The following February, when AIG posted $11.5 billion in annual losses, it announced the resignation of Cassano as head of AIGFP, saying an auditor had found a "material weakness" in the CDS portfolio. But amazingly, the company not only allowed Cassano to keep $34 million in bonuses, it kept him on as a consultant for $1 million a month. In fact, Cassano remained on the payroll and kept collecting his monthly million through the end of September 2008, even after taxpayers had been forced to hand AIG $85 billion to patch up his fuck-ups. When asked in October why the company still retained Cassano at his $1 million-a-month rate despite his role in the probable downfall of Western civilization, CEO Martin Sullivan told Congress with a straight face that AIG wanted to "retain the 20-year knowledge that Mr. Cassano had." (Cassano, who is apparently hiding out in his lavish town house near Harrods in London, could not be reached for comment.)
What sank AIG in the end was another credit downgrade. Cassano had written so many CDS deals that when the company was facing another downgrade to its credit rating last September, from AA to A, it needed to post billions in collateral — not only more cash than it had on its balance sheet but more cash than it could raise even if it sold off every single one of its liquid assets. Even so, management dithered for days, not believing the company was in serious trouble. AIG was a dried-up prune, sapped of any real value, and its top executives didn't even know it.
On the weekend of September 13th, AIG's senior leaders were summoned to the offices of the New York Federal Reserve. Regulators from Dinallo's insurance office were there, as was Geithner, then chief of the New York Fed. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who spent most of the weekend preoccupied with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, came in and out. Also present, for reasons that would emerge later, was Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs. The only relevant government office that wasn't represented was the regulator that should have been there all along: the OTS.
"We sat down with Paulson, Geithner and Dinallo," says a person present at the negotiations. "I didn't see the OTS even once."
On September 14th, according to another person present, Treasury officials presented Blankfein and other bankers in attendance with an absurd proposal: "They basically asked them to spend a day and check to see if they could raise the money privately." The laughably short time span to complete the mammoth task made the answer a foregone conclusion. At the end of the day, the bankers came back and told the government officials, gee, we checked, but we can't raise that much. And the bailout was on.
A short time later, it came out that AIG was planning to pay some $90 million in deferred compensation to former executives, and to accelerate the payout of $277 million in bonuses to others — a move the company insisted was necessary to "retain key employees." When Congress balked, AIG canceled the $90 million in payments.
Then, in January 2009, the company did it again. After all those years letting Cassano run wild, and after already getting caught paying out insane bonuses while on the public till, AIG decided to pay out another $450 million in bonuses. And to whom? To the 400 or so employees in Cassano's old unit, AIGFP, which is due to go out of business shortly! Yes, that's right, an average of $1.1 million in taxpayer-backed money apiece, to the very people who spent the past decade or so punching a hole in the fabric of the universe!
"We, uh, needed to keep these highly expert people in their seats," AIG spokeswoman Christina Pretto says to me in early February.
"But didn't these 'highly expert people' basically destroy your company?" I ask.
Pretto protests, says this isn't fair. The employees at AIGFP have already taken pay cuts, she says. Not retaining them would dilute the value of the company even further, make it harder to wrap up the unit's operations in an orderly fashion.
The bonuses are a nice comic touch highlighting one of the more outrageous tangents of the bailout age, namely the fact that, even with the planet in flames, some members of the Wall Street class can't even get used to the tragedy of having to fly coach. "These people need their trips to Baja, their spa treatments, their hand jobs," says an official involved in the AIG bailout, a serious look on his face, apparently not even half-kidding. "They don't function well without them."
IV. THE POWER GRAB
So that's the first step in wall street's power grab: making up things like credit-default swaps and collateralized-debt obligations, financial products so complex and inscrutable that ordinary American dumb people — to say nothing of federal regulators and even the CEOs of major corporations like AIG — are too intimidated to even try to understand them. That, combined with wise political investments, enabled the nation's top bankers to effectively scrap any meaningful oversight of the financial industry. In 1997 and 1998, the years leading up to the passage of Phil Gramm's fateful act that gutted Glass-Steagall, the banking, brokerage and insurance industries spent $350 million on political contributions and lobbying. Gramm alone — then the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee — collected $2.6 million in only five years. The law passed 90-8 in the Senate, with the support of 38 Democrats, including some names that might surprise you: Joe Biden, John Kerry, Tom Daschle, Dick Durbin, even John Edwards.
The act helped create the too-big-to-fail financial behemoths like Citigroup, AIG and Bank of America — and in turn helped those companies slowly crush their smaller competitors, leaving the major Wall Street firms with even more money and power to lobby for further deregulatory measures. "We're moving to an oligopolistic situation," Kenneth Guenther, a top executive with the Independent Community Bankers of America, lamented after the Gramm measure was passed.
The situation worsened in 2004, in an extraordinary move toward deregulation that never even got to a vote. At the time, the European Union was threatening to more strictly regulate the foreign operations of America's big investment banks if the U.S. didn't strengthen its own oversight. So the top five investment banks got together on April 28th of that year and — with the helpful assistance of then-Goldman Sachs chief and future Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson — made a pitch to George Bush's SEC chief at the time, William Donaldson, himself a former investment banker. The banks generously volunteered to submit to new rules restricting them from engaging in excessively risky activity. In exchange, they asked to be released from any lending restrictions. The discussion about the new rules lasted just 55 minutes, and there was not a single representative of a major media outlet there to record the fateful decision.
Donaldson OK'd the proposal, and the new rules were enough to get the EU to drop its threat to regulate the five firms. The only catch was, neither Donaldson nor his successor, Christopher Cox, actually did any regulating of the banks. They named a commission of seven people to oversee the five companies, whose combined assets came to total more than $4 trillion. But in the last year and a half of Cox's tenure, the group had no director and did not complete a single inspection. Great deal for the banks, which originally complained about being regulated by both Europe and the SEC, and ended up being regulated by no one.
Once the capital requirements were gone, those top five banks went hog-wild, jumping ass-first into the then-raging housing bubble. One of those was Bear Stearns, which used its freedom to drown itself in bad mortgage loans. In the short period between the 2004 change and Bear's collapse, the firm's debt-to-equity ratio soared from 12-1 to an insane 33-1. Another culprit was Goldman Sachs, which also had the good fortune, around then, to see its CEO, a bald-headed Frankensteinian goon named Hank Paulson (who received an estimated $200 million tax deferral by joining the government), ascend to Treasury secretary.
Freed from all capital restraints, sitting pretty with its man running the Treasury, Goldman jumped into the housing craze just like everyone else on Wall Street. Although it famously scored an $11 billion coup in 2007 when one of its trading units smartly shorted the housing market, the move didn't tell the whole story. In truth, Goldman still had a huge exposure come that fateful summer of 2008 — to none other than Joe Cassano.
Goldman Sachs, it turns out, was Cassano's biggest customer, with $20 billion of exposure in Cassano's CDS book. Which might explain why Goldman chief Lloyd Blankfein was in the room with ex-Goldmanite Hank Paulson that weekend of September 13th, when the federal government was supposedly bailing out AIG.
When asked why Blankfein was there, one of the government officials who was in the meeting shrugs. "One might say that it's because Goldman had so much exposure to AIGFP's portfolio," he says. "You'll never prove that, but one might suppose."
Market analyst Eric Salzman is more blunt. "If AIG went down," he says, "there was a good chance Goldman would not be able to collect." The AIG bailout, in effect, was Goldman bailing out Goldman.
Eventually, Paulson went a step further, elevating another ex-Goldmanite named Edward Liddy to run AIG — a company whose bailout money would be coming, in part, from the newly created TARP program, administered by another Goldman banker named Neel Kashkari.
V. REPO MEN
There are plenty of people who have noticed, in recent years, that when they lost their homes to foreclosure or were forced into bankruptcy because of crippling credit-card debt, no one in the government was there to rescue them. But when Goldman Sachs — a company whose average employee still made more than $350,000 last year, even in the midst of a depression — was suddenly faced with the possibility of losing money on the unregulated insurance deals it bought for its insane housing bets, the government was there in an instant to patch the hole. That's the essence of the bailout: rich bankers bailing out rich bankers, using the taxpayers' credit card.
The people who have spent their lives cloistered in this Wall Street community aren't much for sharing information with the great unwashed. Because all of this shit is complicated, because most of us mortals don't know what the hell LIBOR is or how a REIT works or how to use the word "zero coupon bond" in a sentence without sounding stupid — well, then, the people who do speak this idiotic language cannot under any circumstances be bothered to explain it to us and instead spend a lot of time rolling their eyes and asking us to trust them.
That roll of the eyes is a key part of the psychology of Paulsonism. The state is now being asked not just to call off its regulators or give tax breaks or funnel a few contracts to connected companies; it is intervening directly in the economy, for the sole purpose of preserving the influence of the megafirms. In essence, Paulson used the bailout to transform the government into a giant bureaucracy of entitled assholedom, one that would socialize "toxic" risks but keep both the profits and the management of the bailed-out firms in private hands. Moreover, this whole process would be done in secret, away from the prying eyes of NASCAR dads, broke-ass liberals who read translations of French novels, subprime mortgage holders and other such financial losers.
Some aspects of the bailout were secretive to the point of absurdity. In fact, if you look closely at just a few lines in the Federal Reserve's weekly public disclosures, you can literally see the moment where a big chunk of your money disappeared for good. The H4 report (called "Factors Affecting Reserve Balances") summarizes the activities of the Fed each week. You can find it online, and it's pretty much the only thing the Fed ever tells the world about what it does. For the week ending February 18th, the number under the heading "Repurchase Agreements" on the table is zero. It's a significant number.
Why? In the pre-crisis days, the Fed used to manage the money supply by periodically buying and selling securities on the open market through so-called Repurchase Agreements, or Repos. The Fed would typically dump $25 billion or so in cash onto the market every week, buying up Treasury bills, U.S. securities and even mortgage-backed securities from institutions like Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, who would then "repurchase" them in a short period of time, usually one to seven days. This was the Fed's primary mechanism for controlling interest rates: Buying up securities gives banks more money to lend, which makes interest rates go down. Selling the securities back to the banks reduces the money available for lending, which makes interest rates go up.
If you look at the weekly H4 reports going back to the summer of 2007, you start to notice something alarming. At the start of the credit crunch, around August of that year, you see the Fed buying a few more Repos than usual — $33 billion or so. By November, as private-bank reserves were dwindling to alarmingly low levels, the Fed started injecting even more cash than usual into the economy: $48 billion. By late December, the number was up to $58 billion; by the following March, around the time of the Bear Stearns rescue, the Repo number had jumped to $77 billion. In the week of May 1st, 2008, the number was $115 billion — "out of control now," according to one congressional aide. For the rest of 2008, the numbers remained similarly in the stratosphere, the Fed pumping as much as $125 billion of these short-term loans into the economy — until suddenly, at the start of this year, the number drops to nothing. Zero.
The reason the number has dropped to nothing is that the Fed had simply stopped using relatively transparent devices like repurchase agreements to pump its money into the hands of private companies. By early 2009, a whole series of new government operations had been invented to inject cash into the economy, most all of them completely secretive and with names you've never heard of. There is the Term Auction Facility, the Term Securities Lending Facility, the Primary Dealer Credit Facility, the Commercial Paper Funding Facility and a monster called the Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility (boasting the chat-room horror-show acronym ABCPMMMFLF). For good measure, there's also something called a Money Market Investor Funding Facility, plus three facilities called Maiden Lane I, II and III to aid bailout recipients like Bear Stearns and AIG.
While the rest of America, and most of Congress, have been bugging out about the $700 billion bailout program called TARP, all of these newly created organisms in the Federal Reserve zoo have quietly been pumping not billions but trillions of dollars into the hands of private companies (at least $3 trillion so far in loans, with as much as $5.7 trillion more in guarantees of private investments). Although this technically isn't taxpayer money, it still affects taxpayers directly, because the activities of the Fed impact the economy as a whole. And this new, secretive activity by the Fed completely eclipses the TARP program in terms of its influence on the economy.
No one knows who's getting that money or exactly how much of it is disappearing through these new holes in the hull of America's credit rating. Moreover, no one can really be sure if these new institutions are even temporary at all — or whether they are being set up as permanent, state-aided crutches to Wall Street, designed to systematically suck bad investments off the ledgers of irresponsible lenders.
"They're supposed to be temporary," says Paul-Martin Foss, an aide to Rep. Ron Paul. "But we keep getting notices every six months or so that they're being renewed. They just sort of quietly announce it."
None other than disgraced senator Ted Stevens was the poor sap who made the unpleasant discovery that if Congress didn't like the Fed handing trillions of dollars to banks without any oversight, Congress could apparently go fuck itself — or so said the law. When Stevens asked the GAO about what authority Congress has to monitor the Fed, he got back a letter citing an obscure statute that nobody had ever heard of before: the Accounting and Auditing Act of 1950. The relevant section, 31 USC 714(b), dictated that congressional audits of the Federal Reserve may not include "deliberations, decisions and actions on monetary policy matters." The exemption, as Foss notes, "basically includes everything." According to the law, in other words, the Fed simply cannot be audited by Congress. Or by anyone else, for that matter.
VI. WINNERS AND LOSERS
Stevens isn't the only person in Congress to be given the finger by the Fed. In January, when Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida asked Federal Reserve vice chairman Donald Kohn where all the money went — only $1.2 trillion had vanished by then — Kohn gave Grayson a classic eye roll, saying he would be "very hesitant" to name names because it might discourage banks from taking the money.
"Has that ever happened?" Grayson asked. "Have people ever said, 'We will not take your $100 billion because people will find out about it?'"
"Well, we said we would not publish the names of the borrowers, so we have no test of that," Kohn answered, visibly annoyed with Grayson's meddling.
Grayson pressed on, demanding to know on what terms the Fed was lending the money. Presumably it was buying assets and making loans, but no one knew how it was pricing those assets — in other words, no one knew what kind of deal it was striking on behalf of taxpayers. So when Grayson asked if the purchased assets were "marked to market" — a methodology that assigns a concrete value to assets, based on the market rate on the day they are traded — Kohn answered, mysteriously, "The ones that have market values are marked to market." The implication was that the Fed was purchasing derivatives like credit swaps or other instruments that were basically impossible to value objectively — paying real money for God knows what.
"Well, how much of them don't have market values?" asked Grayson. "How much of them are worthless?"
"None are worthless," Kohn snapped.
"Then why don't you mark them to market?" Grayson demanded.
"Well," Kohn sighed, "we are marking the ones to market that have market values."
In essence, the Fed was telling Congress to lay off and let the experts handle things. "It's like buying a car in a used-car lot without opening the hood, and saying, 'I think it's fine,'" says Dan Fuss, an analyst with the investment firm Loomis Sayles. "The salesman says, 'Don't worry about it. Trust me.' It'll probably get us out of the lot, but how much farther? None of us knows."
When one considers the comparatively extensive system of congressional checks and balances that goes into the spending of every dollar in the budget via the normal appropriations process, what's happening in the Fed amounts to something truly revolutionary — a kind of shadow government with a budget many times the size of the normal federal outlay, administered dictatorially by one man, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke. "We spend hours and hours and hours arguing over $10 million amendments on the floor of the Senate, but there has been no discussion about who has been receiving this $3 trillion," says Sen. Bernie Sanders. "It is beyond comprehension."
Count Sanders among those who don't buy the argument that Wall Street firms shouldn't have to face being outed as recipients of public funds, that making this information public might cause investors to panic and dump their holdings in these firms. "I guess if we made that public, they'd go on strike or something," he muses.
And the Fed isn't the only arm of the bailout that has closed ranks. The Treasury, too, has maintained incredible secrecy surrounding its implementation even of the TARP program, which was mandated by Congress. To this date, no one knows exactly what criteria the Treasury Department used to determine which banks received bailout funds and which didn't — particularly the first $350 billion given out under Bush appointee Hank Paulson.
The situation with the first TARP payments grew so absurd that when the Congressional Oversight Panel, charged with monitoring the bailout money, sent a query to Paulson asking how he decided whom to give money to, Treasury responded — and this isn't a joke — by directing the panel to a copy of the TARP application form on its website. Elizabeth Warren, the chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, was struck nearly speechless by the response.
"Do you believe that?" she says incredulously. "That's not what we had in mind."
Another member of Congress, who asked not to be named, offers his own theory about the TARP process. "I think basically if you knew Hank Paulson, you got the money," he says.
This cozy arrangement created yet another opportunity for big banks to devour market share at the expense of smaller regional lenders. While all the bigwigs at Citi and Goldman and Bank of America who had Paulson on speed-dial got bailed out right away — remember that TARP was originally passed because money had to be lent right now, that day, that minute, to stave off emergency — many small banks are still waiting for help. Five months into the TARP program, some not only haven't received any funds, they haven't even gotten a call back about their applications.
"There's definitely a feeling among community bankers that no one up there cares much if they make it or not," says Tanya Wheeless, president of the Arizona Bankers Association.
Which, of course, is exactly the opposite of what should be happening, since small, regional banks are far less guilty of the kinds of predatory lending that sank the economy. "They're not giving out subprime loans or easy credit," says Wheeless. "At the community level, it's much more bread-and-butter banking."
Nonetheless, the lion's share of the bailout money has gone to the larger, so-called "systemically important" banks. "It's like Treasury is picking winners and losers," says one state banking official who asked not to be identified.
This itself is a hugely important political development. In essence, the bailout accelerated the decline of regional community lenders by boosting the political power of their giant national competitors.
Which, when you think about it, is insane: What had brought us to the brink of collapse in the first place was this relentless instinct for building ever-larger megacompanies, passing deregulatory measures to gradually feed all the little fish in the sea to an ever-shrinking pool of Bigger Fish. To fix this problem, the government should have slowly liquidated these monster, too-big-to-fail firms and broken them down to smaller, more manageable companies. Instead, federal regulators closed ranks and used an almost completely secret bailout process to double down on the same faulty, merger-happy thinking that got us here in the first place, creating a constellation of megafirms under government control that are even bigger, more unwieldy and more crammed to the gills with systemic risk.
In essence, Paulson and his cronies turned the federal government into one gigantic, half-opaque holding company, one whose balance sheet includes the world's most appallingly large and risky hedge fund, a controlling stake in a dying insurance giant, huge investments in a group of teetering megabanks, and shares here and there in various auto-finance companies, student loans, and other failing businesses. Like AIG, this new federal holding company is a firm that has no mechanism for auditing itself and is run by leaders who have very little grasp of the daily operations of its disparate subsidiary operations.
In other words, it's AIG's rip-roaringly shitty business model writ almost inconceivably massive — to echo Geithner, a huge, complex global company attached to a very complicated investment bank/hedge fund that's been allowed to build up without adult supervision. How much of what kinds of crap is actually on our balance sheet, and what did we pay for it? When exactly will the rent come due, when will the money run out? Does anyone know what the hell is going on? And on the linear spectrum of capitalism to socialism, where exactly are we now? Is there a dictionary word that even describes what we are now? It would be funny, if it weren't such a nightmare.
VII. YOU DON'T GET IT
The real question from here is whether the Obama administration is going to move to bring the financial system back to a place where sanity is restored and the general public can have a say in things or whether the new financial bureaucracy will remain obscure, secretive and hopelessly complex. It might not bode well that Geithner, Obama's Treasury secretary, is one of the architects of the Paulson bailouts; as chief of the New York Fed, he helped orchestrate the Goldman-friendly AIG bailout and the secretive Maiden Lane facilities used to funnel funds to the dying company. Neither did it look good when Geithner — himself a protégé of notorious Goldman alum John Thain, the Merrill Lynch chief who paid out billions in bonuses after the state spent billions bailing out his firm — picked a former Goldman lobbyist named Mark Patterson to be his top aide.
In fact, most of Geithner's early moves reek strongly of Paulsonism. He has continually talked about partnering with private investors to create a so-called "bad bank" that would systemically relieve private lenders of bad assets — the kind of massive, opaque, quasi-private bureaucratic nightmare that Paulson specialized in. Geithner even refloated a Paulson proposal to use TALF, one of the Fed's new facilities, to essentially lend cheap money to hedge funds to invest in troubled banks while practically guaranteeing them enormous profits.
God knows exactly what this does for the taxpayer, but hedge-fund managers sure love the idea. "This is exactly what the financial system needs," said Andrew Feldstein, CEO of Blue Mountain Capital and one of the Morgan Mafia. Strangely, there aren't many people who don't run hedge funds who have expressed anything like that kind of enthusiasm for Geithner's ideas.
As complex as all the finances are, the politics aren't hard to follow. By creating an urgent crisis that can only be solved by those fluent in a language too complex for ordinary people to understand, the Wall Street crowd has turned the vast majority of Americans into non-participants in their own political future. There is a reason it used to be a crime in the Confederate states to teach a slave to read: Literacy is power. In the age of the CDS and CDO, most of us are financial illiterates. By making an already too-complex economy even more complex, Wall Street has used the crisis to effect a historic, revolutionary change in our political system — transforming a democracy into a two-tiered state, one with plugged-in financial bureaucrats above and clueless customers below.
The most galling thing about this financial crisis is that so many Wall Street types think they actually deserve not only their huge bonuses and lavish lifestyles but the awesome political power their own mistakes have left them in possession of. When challenged, they talk about how hard they work, the 90-hour weeks, the stress, the failed marriages, the hemorrhoids and gallstones they all get before they hit 40.
"But wait a minute," you say to them. "No one ever asked you to stay up all night eight days a week trying to get filthy rich shorting what's left of the American auto industry or selling $600 billion in toxic, irredeemable mortgages to ex-strippers on work release and Taco Bell clerks. Actually, come to think of it, why are we even giving taxpayer money to you people? Why are we not throwing your ass in jail instead?"
But before you even finish saying that, they're rolling their eyes, because You Don't Get It. These people were never about anything except turning money into money, in order to get more money; valueswise they're on par with crack addicts, or obsessive sexual deviants who burgle homes to steal panties. Yet these are the people in whose hands our entire political future now rests.
Good luck with that, America. And enjoy tax season.
[From Rolling Stone Issue 1075 — April 2, 2009]
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By Linn Cohen-Cole
HR 875: SHORT TITLE.-This Act may be cited as the "Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009"
Full text version pdf of HR 875:
-Wisdom says stop a bill that is broad as everything yet more vague even than it is broad.
-Wisdom says stop a bill that comes with massive penalties but allows no judicial review.
-Wisdom says stop a bill with everything unspecified and that actually waits til next year for an unspecified "Administrator" to decide what's what.
-Where we come from, that's called a blank check. Who writes laws like that? "Here, do what you want about whatever you want and here's some deadly punishments to make it stick."
-Wisdom says know who wrote that bill and be forewarned.
-Wisdom says wake up.
Here's the bill. Let's use our imaginations and extrapolate from the little bit it reveals and from the reality we know.
SEC. 206. FOOD PRODUCTION FACILITIES.
(a) Authorities- In carrying out the duties of the Administrator and the purposes of this Act, the Administrator shall have the authority, with respectto food production facilities, to--
(1) visit and inspect food production facilities in the United Statesand in foreign countries to determine if they are operating in compliance with the requirements of the food safety law;
(2) review food safety records as required to be kept by the Administrator under section 210 and for other food safety purposes;
(3) set good practice standards to protect the public and animal health and promote food safety;
(4) conduct monitoring and surveillance of animals, plants, products, or the environment, as appropriate;
(5) collect and maintain information relevant to public health andfarm practices.
(b) Inspection of Records- A food production facility shall permit the Administrator upon presentation of appropriate credentials and at reasonable times and in a reasonable manner, to have access to and abilityto copy all records maintained by or on behalf of such food production establishment in any format (including paper or electronic) and at any location, that are necessary to assist the Administrator--
(1) to determine whether the food is contaminated, adulterated, or otherwise not in compliance with the food safety law; or
(2) to track the food in commerce.
(c) Regulations- Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture andrepresentatives of State departments of agriculture, shall promulgate regulations to establish science- based minimum standards for the safe production of food by food production facilities. Such regulations shall--
(1) consider all relevant hazards, including those occurring naturally,and those that may be unintentionally or intentionally introduced;
(2) require each food production facility to have a written food safety plan that describes the likely hazards and preventive controls implemented to address those hazards;
(3) include with respect to growing, harvesting, sorting,and storage operations, minimum standards related to fertizer use, nutrients, hygiene, packaging, temperature controls, animal encroachment... and water;
Ah, such a little paragraph, and so much evil packed in it. Notice they mention harvesting, sorting and storage operations? Notice they never mention seeds but they are precisely what those words cover.
Now, watch how they will be able to easily criminalize seed banking and all holding of seeds. First, to follow how this will be done, you must understand that:
1. there is a small list inside the FDA called "sources of seed contamination" and
2. the FDA has now defined "seed" as food,
3. so seeds can now be controlled through "food safety."
Those seeds (so far) include:
*seeds eaten raw such as flax, poppy sesame, etc.;
*sprouting seeds such as wheat, beans, alfalfa, most greens, etc.;
* seeds pressed into oils such as corn, sunflower, canola, etc.;
*seeds used as animal feed such as soy ....
That includes most seeds. It may even be all seed, given how they are skilled at 'new' definitions.
And what are the "sources of seed contamination" inside the FDA? They include only six little items:
-manure (but not chemical pesticides or fertilizers)
- transporting equipment
- seed cleaning (sorting) equipment
-seed storage (storing) facilities
Did you know that seed cleaning equipment is THE single most critical piece of equipment for sustainable agriculture? It is how we collect organic seed. It is the machinery used after the season, when plants "go to seed," to separate out (sort) the seeds from the plant material so the farmer can collect (harvest) and then save (put in storage) seed for the next year at little cost. With his own seed, the farmer also stays free of patented, genetically engineered, corporately privatized seeds.
This year, 2009, one item on the "sources of seed contamination" list is suddenly illegal in some parts of this country - seed cleaning equipment.
To get the drift, perhaps you need to know that the people who clean seed are being wiped out, as well.
How can they make such vital equipment illegal? Quietly, first of all, so as not to alert organic farmers who have a lot of political ties. And by saying it contaminates food. And by applying their innocent and reasonable sounding "minimum standards."
"Contaminate" is their favorite word since the public fears the deadly contamination that industry itself - not farmers - has caused. That fear is valuable. Scare the public and it is easy to get "food safety standards" set without anyone reading them. 39 progressive co-sponsors leap on, thinking this is about "food safety." But it is only about the use of "food safety," not the reality of it
For to eliminate seed cleaning equipment, the FDA simple set minimum "food safety" standards for seed cleaning (the simple separation of seed from plant) such that a farmer would need a million toa million and a half dollar building and/or equipment to meet the new requirements ... per line of seed.
On the ground, where reality lives, a farmer in the midwest who has been seed cleaning flax for 40 years with his hand made seed cleaner now can't sell his flax on the market anymore. Never mind there are NO instances of anyone ever having gotten sick from seed cleaning equipment. And a farmer in another part of the midwest who has been cleaning wheat, corn and soy for years with one single perfectly fine piece of equipment would now need three to four and half million dollars for three separate pieces of equipment, in order to satisfy the "food safety" standards.
The FDA isn't so high-bar setting when it comes to other things like melamine in baby formula. Though it has proven to sicken and kill infants, initially the FDA just denied the melamine was in all the corporate baby formula but when people found evidence that it was, the FDA then quickly supplied a "food safety" standard that defined whatever level of melamine that was in the formula as fine.
This game playing about "food safety" standards - one to eliminate farmers by setting the bar so high no one can climb, and one to protect industry by setting the bar so low nothing need be done - is nothing new but now it is being suddenly extended to seeds. And it comes with penalties that make bankrupting farmers in an instant, very easy.
The effort to eliminate both seed cleaners and seed cleaning equipment tips us off to who is behind this (shhh) and to this new means of controlling seeds andmakes it possible to see just a few suspect words in this bill, and sense where things are heading.
Organic farmers are not aware of any of this happening. It appears the organic community is being treated with kid gloves until HR 875 and related bills should be passed, coddled so they don't get wise to what's afoot. And they are too disconnected from traditional farmers to be aware of how the USDA has been tromping on them for years.
So organic farmers have missed the handwriting on the wall for themselves.
Plus, plain ole farmers have a history of no one listening to them, which is too bad in general but now it's blatantly dangerous because it is they who are the ones bringing the warning that these bills are not just bad but deadly. The organic community, lulled by its own seeming safety, hasn't heard or understood.
But given what just happened with seed cleaning equipment (sorting), the method and the intent are exposed. "Food safety" is the weapon, with public fear, kept at a high pitch, as the driver. After which, those running this game only need to set the bar at a "food safety" level impossible to meet and apply horrendous punishments for not complying. Farmer is either crushed by that pincer move, or quits. Either way, his land is up for grabs.
And those severe punishments are essential to control groups which will see the whole thing for what it is - insane in terms of farming and anything to do with health, a threat to survival, and driven solely by profit and power.
So, one crucial piece of equipment (seed cleaning) is illegal now and without most people realizing. And simply because a single "foods safety" bar has been raised.
In time, as more and more farmers are forbidden from using their equipment, significant sources of organic seeds will begin to dry up, at which point the organic community would begin to ask what was going on. By then, it will be too late.
Why? Because look at the last item on the list - (seed) storing facilities.
Farmers, gardeners, seed saving exchanges, seed companies, scientific seed projects, and seed banks, all require sorting. All are working overtime to protect biodiversity that is rapidly disappearing specifically because of genetic engineering. As Monsanto began reducing access to seeds, people around the world have worked hard to compensate.
But now the effort is to take over the whole game, going after even these small sources of biodiversity - by simply defining seeds as food and then all farmers' affordable mechanisms for harvesting (collecting), sorting (seed cleaning) andstoring (seed banking or saving) as too dirty to be safe for food.
Set the standard for "food safety" and certification high enough that no one can afford it and punish anyone who tries to save seed in ways that have worked fine for thousands of years, with a million dollar a day fine and/or ten years in prison, and presto, you have just criminalized seed banking.
The penalties are tremendous, the better to protect us from nothing dangerous whatsoever, but to make monopoly over seed absolutely absolute. One is left with control over farmers, an end to seed exchanges, an end to organic seed companies, an end to university programs developing nice normal hybrids, and an end to democracy - reducing us to abject dependence on corporations for food and gratitude even for genetically engineered food and at any price.
When you know that Monsanto, with the help of the US government, plundered ancient and rare seed banks in Iraq that held seeds with a genetic heritage (a biohistory belonging to all of us) going back 1000s of years and then made it a crime for farmers there to collect or use their own normal andnon-patented seeds off their own land, you see how extreme the intent to control is.
Now, perhaps it is possible to see how the identical thing is being done here, only it comes in a heavily, heavily disguised way - through "food safety" that isn't "food safety" at all - and quietly sitting in only one tiny little paragraph within a very large bill (and with no reference to seeds at all).
The Iraqis are now utterly at the mercy of Monsanto and the US for survival itself and will have to pay whatever prices are set for food. They can no longer just grow their own and be free people. So, no matter what form of government they may ever have, as long as this is true, they are now enslaved because the control over them is that extreme. Kissinger was right - control food and you control people.
We are inches from this ourselves. The Left needs to wake up.
In Afghanistan, people are buying and planting beans from America which at the end of the season have nothing whatever inside, the pods are empty. In Equador, the potatoes there do not develop eyes so can't be planted next season to grow potatoes.
Biotech's claim to care about feeding starving multitudes is belied by its blocking human access to normal seeds and its terminator technology (empty beans). Monopoly is monopoly is monopoly. And at this level, and when it comes to seeds which are life itself, monopoly terminates democracy as well as beans.
This trick of setting bars above any ability to be in the game was done to blacks and in realizing this, we must hold Obama accountable for pushing these bills which are profound civil and human rights abuses.
There are three other items of the list which surely will be controlled as well. In toto,that little list of six items (agricultural water, manure, harvesting, transporting and seed cleaning equipment, and seed storage facilities) contains the pieces to deconstruct farming itself,
Take action -- click here to contact your local newspaper or congress people:
Immediately withdraw HR 875, SR 425, HR 814, HR 759, and all related bills. They are intended to destroy small farmers and will trap us into GMOs
Click here to see the most recent messages sent to congressional reps and local newspapers
Is Organic Farming Killer Rep. Rosa DeLauro Becoming the Most Hated Woman in America? (I Hope So) Mar. 20, 2009
Goodbye Farmers Markets, CSAs, and Roadside Stands by Linn Cohen-Cole (Mar. 19, 2009)
Banning Organic Farming & Regulating Home Gardening, HR 875 & S 425 (Mar. 13, 2009)
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Israel was not under attack at the time. The question of defense therefore does not arise.
Israel, with callous disregard for the lives of its own citizens and territory, chose to spurn all overtures by Hamas for a truce. Israel instead chose death and destruction over calm and peace.
The motivation for invading Gaza was not to stop the barrage of rockets being fired by Hamas. Israeli leaders had their own personal agendas for the invasion.
Israel is holding 1,500,000 Gazans hostage to achieve its unending and ever changing demands.
Deterrence? It was like shooting fish in a barrel.
There is no denying that the government of Israel was duty bound to do whatever it takes to defend its territory and protect its citizens from the incessant and relentless bombardment of rockets shot by Hamas from Gaza. Thousands of them had been fired. They had been raining on Israel day in and day out, without let, for years, and, Hamas had ignored warning after warning issued by the Israeli government to stop it. An all out attack on Gaza was apparently the only solution. What else could Israel do?
The answer, of course, is quite simple. There is lots that Israel could have done other than invading Gaza, laying waste the land, killing hundreds and injuring thousands – lots that would have more effectively and surely protected Israeli territory and its citizens.
To begin with it must be understood that Israel was not under attack at the time and therefore the question of defense does not arise.
Further, going to war – and Israel did go to war against the Gazans – is justified only as a last resort. When there is no other option available that will achieve the desired result as effectively. And, when there is a reasonable expectation that an invasion will achieve the aimed for goal.
As for the last requisite, it should have been clear to the Israelis from past experience that the invasion would not prevent Hamas from launching rockets. Israel had tried everything to force Hamas to its knees. The harder Israel hit Hamas, the more resistant and stronger it became. No amount of punishment would make Hamas give up its resistance. On that score alone, a full scale invasion should have been ruled out.
More important, an invasion of Gaza was not the only means available to Israel to defend its territory and protect its population, which, Israel claims, was the sole reason for the invasion. In fact, there was no need for the invasion at all for putting at end to the barrage of Hamas rockets.
There was, at the time, a truce between Israel and Hamas. This provided for the suspension by Hamas of firing rockets into Israel during the truce in return for Israel easing the crippling siege and blockade imposed by it against Gaza.
The truce had been going well. From the beginning of 2008 till June19 Hamas fired 2660 projectiles into Israel. From June 19, when the truce started, till November 4, only 65 rockets had been fired. Israel itself admitted that during the truce period there was a significant reduction of shells being lobbed into Israel.
Though a few rogue elements in Gaza did fire the 65 rockets into Israel, Hamas honored the truce and enforced it on its cadres (even Israel’s intelligence agencies acknowledged this had been implemented with surprising effectiveness).
As against this, Israel not only reneged on its commitment and failed to ease the strangling siege it had put on Gaza for months, but it deliberately broke the truce. On November 4, 2008 IDF went into Gaza and killed 6 Palestinians and injured 6 more, on the pretext of destroying a “ticking” tunnel. Then, one day later, it killed one more Palestinian (the truce was due to expire on December 19).
In spite of this provocative violation of the truce by Israel, Hamas tried its best to make Israel agree to continue the truce, offering to extend it to up to ten years. For several days before the expiry of the truce, Hamas sought, through the good offices of Egypt and others, to extend the truce.
As late as December 14, in a meeting with Jimmy Carter in Damascus, Khaled Mishal, Hamas political leader, offered to resume and extend the by-then-tattered six-month truce in return for Israel’s lifting the siege of Gaza. Robert Pastor, who accompanied Carter, promptly conveyed that offer to the Israeli military.
Clearly, strengthening and extending the truce was the way to go. That would have stopped the rockets from falling into Israel. Even Ephraim Halevy, former head of Mossad, who served as Ariel Sharon’s national security advisor, wrote recently in Yediot Ahronoth that the government could have stopped the rocket attacks long ago by lifting the siege on Gaza.
Had Israel really been concerned about peace, about stopping rockets being rained on Israel from Gaza, about freeing its citizens from living in fear of unannounced death and destruction from Qassam rockets, it would have accepted the offer made by Hamas and extended the truce.
But Israel, with callous disregard for Gaza and its inhabitants, and, more significantly, for the lives of its own citizens and territory, chose to spurn and ignore all overtures by Hamas to resume and even extend the truce. Israel chose instead death and destruction over calm and peace. It decided to invade Gaza - once again.
Brigadier General (Res) Shmuel Zakai, a former commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division., in an interview on an Israeli Army Radio program, as quoted by Bradley Burston in Ha’aretz on December 22, accused Israel’s government of having made a ‘central error’ during the tahdiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce, by failing ‘to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip . . .” He went on to say, “We could have eased the siege over Gaza Strip in such a way that the Palestinians, Hamas, would have understood that holding fire served their interests. But when you create a tahdiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues,’ General Zakai said, ‘it is obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahdiyeh, and that their way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire. You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they’re in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing.”
And yet, Hamas was willing and offered to continue and extend the truce. It is Israel that did not want it.
The conclusion is inescapable that halting the rain of rockets on Israel was not the driving force behind Israel’s devastating invasion of Gaza. What then? Prime Minister Olmert was eager to divert attention from the ongoing probes against him and was also concerned about his “legacy”. He had been badly stung by his misadventure in Lebanon and the humiliating defeat Israel had suffered there. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of the centrist Kadima party, who was at the time contesting the elections and was hoping to become the next Prime Minister, wanted to show that though a woman she was as tough, if not tougher than her other two rivals, Ehud Barak and Benajamin Yetanhau. Defense Minister Ehud Barak of Labor, who was also contesting the elections, wanted to show that despite the perception (actually a misperception!) that he almost gave everything to the Palestinians at Clinton-sponsored negotiations at Camp David, he was as tough on the Palestinians as any of his rivals. He decided to project his army credentials. Netanyahu of Likud, a known rightist had to maintain and enhance his reputation of being completely anti-Palestinians. And all of them felt the need to re-establish the credibility of Israel’s “deterrence” which had suffered so after the Lebanon debacle.
Above all, the invasion was to ‘sear deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people’ as former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon remarked about the goal of the occupation.
Apart from destroying Gaza and ruining the lives of thousands of Gazans – and boosting the chances of some of the politicians standing for election in Israel – the invasion was a total failure. Hamas, as usual, has emerged stronger than ever. The rockets fell even in the midst of the carnage. The only thing that got seared into the minds of the Gazans was the cruelty of Israel. And, as for re-establishing the credibility of Israel’s “deterrence”, it failed to impress. For that it would have had to take on someone its own size. Killing the corralled Gazans, after starving them for weeks, and invading Gaza with guided missiles, bombs, and artillery fire, using drones, F-16s, Apache helicopters, and ships – it was like shooting fish in a barrel. All that the invasion did was to establish Israel as a bully on a rampage..
It bears repeating: Israel could have done a lot to defend its territory and protect its citizens without launching a devastating attack on Gaza. It still can, if that is what it wants and not the destruction of Palestinian lands and the overthrow of Hamas.
Unfortunately it still finds ways to avoid a truce. It wanted Hamas to agree to stop firing rockets into Israel. Hamas has agreed. It wanted international help in stopping arms smuggling into Gaza. It has received assurances about that. It has now added one more demand: it will not agree to a truce in Gaza unless Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was captured by Palestinians in 2006 and is held by Palestinian militants, is freed. Israel would, as part of the deal, release some Palestinian prisoners held by it.
Prisoner exchange is a separate matter and could be a separate deal but Israel has tagged this additional demand as a condition to be met by Hamas for a truce to be agreed on by Israel. And for international reconstruction efforts to rebuild Gaza to start. In effect, Israel is holding 1,500,000 Gazans hostage to achieve its unending and ever changing demands
In the face of all this, to claim that “Israel wants peace but the Palestinians want terror” and to dramatically wail “What could we do” is, to say the least, the height of hypocrisy
Gulamhusein A. Abba can be reached at email@example.com
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A T-shirt printed at the request of an IDF soldier in the sniper unit reading 'I shot two kills.'
20 March 2009
By Uri Blau
The office at the Adiv fabric-printing shop in south Tel Aviv handles a constant stream of customers, many of them soldiers in uniform, who come to order custom clothing featuring their unit's insignia, usually accompanied by a slogan and drawing of their choosing. Elsewhere on the premises, the sketches are turned into plates used for imprinting the ordered items, mainly T-shirts and baseball caps, but also hoodies, fleece jackets and pants. A young Arab man from Jaffa supervises the workers who imprint the words and pictures, and afterward hands over the finished product.
Dead babies, mothers weeping on their children's graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosques - these are a few examples of the images Israel Defense Forces soldiers design these days to print on shirts they order to mark the end of training, or of field duty. The slogans accompanying the drawings are not exactly anemic either: A T-shirt for infantry snipers bears the inscription "Better use Durex," next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A sharpshooter's T-shirt from the Givati Brigade's Shaked battalion shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull's-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, "1 shot, 2 kills." A "graduation" shirt for those who have completed another snipers course depicts a Palestinian baby, who grows into a combative boy and then an armed adult, with the inscription, "No matter how it begins, we'll put an end to it."
There are also plenty of shirts with blatant sexual messages. For example, the Lavi battalion produced a shirt featuring a drawing of a soldier next to a young woman with bruises, and the slogan, "Bet you got raped!" A few of the images underscore actions whose existence the army officially denies - such as "confirming the kill" (shooting a bullet into an enemy victim's head from close range, to ensure he is dead), or harming religious sites, or female or child non-combatants.
In many cases, the content is submitted for approval to one of the unit's commanders. The latter, however, do not always have control over what gets printed, because the artwork is a private initiative of soldiers that they never hear about. Drawings or slogans previously banned in certain units have been approved for distribution elsewhere. For example, shirts declaring, "We won't chill 'til we confirm the kill" were banned in the past (the IDF claims that the practice doesn't exist), yet the Haruv battalion printed some last year.
The slogan "Let every Arab mother know that her son's fate is in my hands!" had previously been banned for use on another infantry unit's shirt. A Givati soldier said this week, however, that at the end of last year, his platoon printed up dozens of shirts, fleece jackets and pants bearing this slogan.
"It has a drawing depicting a soldier as the Angel of Death, next to a gun and an Arab town," he explains. "The text was very powerful. The funniest part was that when our soldier came to get the shirts, the man who printed them was an Arab, and the soldier felt so bad that he told the girl at the counter to bring them to him."
Does the design go to the commanders for approval?
The Givati soldier: "Usually the shirts undergo a selection process by some officer, but in this case, they were approved at the level of platoon sergeant. We ordered shirts for 30 soldiers and they were really into it, and everyone wanted several items and paid NIS 200 on average."
What do you think of the slogan that was printed?
"I didn't like it so much, but most of the soldiers wanted it."
Many controversial shirts have been ordered by graduates of snipers courses, which bring together soldiers from various units. In 2006, soldiers from the "Carmon Team" course for elite-unit marksmen printed a shirt with a drawing of a knife-wielding Palestinian in the crosshairs of a gun sight, and the slogan, "You've got to run fast, run fast, run fast, before it's all over." Below is a drawing of Arab women weeping over a grave and the words: "And afterward they cry, and afterward they cry." [The inscriptions are riffs on a popular song.] Another sniper's shirt also features an Arab man in the crosshairs, and the announcement, "Everything is with the best of intentions."
G., a soldier in an elite unit who has done a snipers course, explained that, "it's a type of bonding process, and also it's well known that anyone who is a sniper is messed up in the head. Our shirts have a lot of double entendres, for example: 'Bad people with good aims.' Every group that finishes a course puts out stuff like that."
When are these shirts worn?
G. "These are shirts for around the house, for jogging, in the army. Not for going out. Sometimes people will ask you what it's about."
Of the shirt depicting a bull's-eye on a pregnant woman, he said: "There are people who think it's not right, and I think so as well, but it doesn't really mean anything. I mean it's not like someone is gonna go and shoot a pregnant woman."
What is the idea behind the shirt from July 2007, which has an image of a child with the slogan "Smaller - harder!"?
"It's a kid, so you've got a little more of a problem, morally, and also the target is smaller."
Do your superiors approve the shirts before printing?
"Yes, although one time they rejected some shirt that was too extreme. I don't remember what was on it."
These shirts also seem pretty extreme. Why draw crosshairs over a child - do you shoot kids?
'We came, we saw'
"As a sniper, you get a lot of extreme situations. You suddenly see a small boy who picks up a weapon and it's up to you to decide whether to shoot. These shirts are half-facetious, bordering on the truth, and they reflect the extreme situations you might encounter. The one who-honest-to-God sees the target with his own eyes - that's the sniper."
Have you encountered a situation like that?
"Fortunately, not involving a kid, but involving a woman - yes. There was someone who wasn't holding a weapon, but she was near a prohibited area and could have posed a threat."
What did you do?
"I didn't take it" (i.e., shoot).
You don't regret that, I imagine.
"No. Whomever I had to shoot, I shot."
A shirt printed up just this week for soldiers of the Lavi battalion, who spent three years in the West Bank, reads: "We came, we saw, we destroyed!" - alongside images of weapons, an angry soldier and a Palestinian village with a ruined mosque in the center.
A shirt printed after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza for Battalion 890 of the Paratroops depicts a King Kong-like soldier in a city under attack. The slogan is unambiguous: "If you believe it can be fixed, then believe it can be destroyed!"
Y., a soldier/yeshiva student, designed the shirt. "You take whoever [in the unit] knows how to draw and then you give it to the commanders before printing," he explained.
What is the soldier holding in his hand?
Y. "A mosque. Before I drew the shirt I had some misgivings, because I wanted it to be like King Kong, but not too monstrous. The one holding the mosque - I wanted him to have a more normal-looking face, so it wouldn't look like an anti-Semitic cartoon. Some of the people who saw it told me, 'Is that what you've got to show for the IDF? That it destroys homes?' I can understand people who look at this from outside and see it that way, but I was in Gaza and they kept emphasizing that the object of the operation was to wreak destruction on the infrastructure, so that the price the Palestinians and the leadership pay will make them realize that it isn't worth it for them to go on shooting. So that's the idea of 'we're coming to destroy' in the drawing."
According to Y., most of these shirts are worn strictly in an army context, not in civilian life. "And within the army people look at it differently," he added. "I don't think I would walk down the street in this shirt, because it would draw fire. Even at my yeshiva I don't think people would like it."
Y. also came up with a design for the shirt his unit printed at the end of basic training. It shows a clenched fist shattering the symbol of the Paratroops Corps.
Where does the fist come from?
"It's reminiscent of [Rabbi Meir] Kahane's symbol. I borrowed it from an emblem for something in Russia, but basically it's supposed to look like Kahane's symbol, the one from 'Kahane Was Right' - it's a sort of joke. Our company commander is kind of gung-ho."
Was the shirt printed?
"Yes. It was a company shirt. We printed about 100 like that."
This past January, the "Night Predators" demolitions platoon from Golani's Battalion 13 ordered a T-shirt showing a Golani devil detonating a charge that destroys a mosque. An inscription above it says, "Only God forgives."
One of the soldiers in the platoon downplays it: "It doesn't mean much, it's just a T-shirt from our platoon. It's not a big deal. A friend of mine drew a picture and we made it into a shirt."
What's the idea behind "Only God forgives"?
The soldier: "It's just a saying."
No one had a problem with the fact that a mosque gets blown up in the picture?
"I don't see what you're getting at. I don't like the way you're going with this. Don't take this somewhere you're not supposed to, as though we hate Arabs."
After Operation Cast Lead, soldiers from that battalion printed a T-shirt depicting a vulture sexually penetrating Hamas' prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, accompanied by a particularly graphic slogan. S., a soldier in the platoon that ordered the shirt, said the idea came from a similar shirt, printed after the Second Lebanon War, that featured Hassan Nasrallah instead of Haniyeh.
"They don't okay things like that at the company level. It's a shirt we put out just for the platoon," S. explained.
What's the problem with this shirt?
S.: "It bothers some people to see these things, from a religious standpoint ..."
How did people who saw it respond?
"We don't have that many Orthodox people in the platoon, so it wasn't a problem. It's just something the guys want to put out. It's more for wearing around the house, and not within the companies, because it bothers people. The Orthodox mainly. The officers tell us it's best not to wear shirts like this on the base."
The sketches printed in recent years at the Adiv factory, one of the largest of its kind in the country, are arranged in drawers according to the names of the units placing the orders: Paratroops, Golani, air force, sharpshooters and so on. Each drawer contains hundreds of drawings, filed by year. Many of the prints are cartoons and slogans relating to life in the unit, or inside jokes that outsiders wouldn't get (and might not care to, either), but a handful reflect particular aggressiveness, violence and vulgarity.
Print-shop manager Haim Yisrael, who has worked there since the early 1980s, said Adiv prints around 1,000 different patterns each month, with soldiers accounting for about half. Yisrael recalled that when he started out, there were hardly any orders from the army.
"The first ones to do it were from the Nahal brigade," he said. "Later on other infantry units started printing up shirts, and nowadays any course with 15 participants prints up shirts."
From time to time, officers complain. "Sometimes the soldiers do things that are inside jokes that only they get, and sometimes they do something foolish that they take to an extreme," Yisrael explained. "There have been a few times when commanding officers called and said, 'How can you print things like that for soldiers?' For example, with shirts that trashed the Arabs too much. I told them it's a private company, and I'm not interested in the content. I can print whatever I like. We're neutral. There have always been some more extreme and some less so. It's just that now more people are making shirts."
Race to be unique
Evyatar Ben-Tzedef, a research associate at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism and former editor of the IDF publication Maarachot, said the phenomenon of custom-made T-shirts is a product of "the infantry's insane race to be unique. I, for example, had only one shirt that I received after the Yom Kippur War. It said on it, 'The School for Officers,' and that was it. What happened since then is a product of the decision to assign every unit an emblem and a beret. After all, there used to be very few berets: black, red or green. This changed in the 1990s. [The shirts] developed because of the fact that for bonding purposes, each unit created something that was unique to it.
"These days the content on shirts is sometimes deplorable," Ben-Tzedef explained. "It stems from the fact that profanity is very acceptable and normative in Israel, and that there is a lack of respect for human beings and their environment, which includes racism aimed in every direction."
Yossi Kaufman, who moderates the army and defense forum on the Web site Fresh, served in the Armored Corps from 1996 to 1999. "I also drew shirts, and I remember the first one," he said. "It had a small emblem on the front and some inside joke, like, 'When we die, we'll go to heaven, because we've already been through hell.'"
Kaufman has also been exposed to T-shirts of the sort described here. "I know there are shirts like these," he says. "I've heard and also seen a little. These are not shirts that soldiers can wear in civilian life, because they would get stoned, nor at a battalion get-together, because the battalion commander would be pissed off. They wear them on very rare occasions. There's all sorts of black humor stuff, mainly from snipers, such as, 'Don't bother running because you'll die tired' - with a drawing of a Palestinian boy, not a terrorist. There's a Golani or Givati shirt of a soldier raping a girl, and underneath it says, 'No virgins, no terror attacks.' I laughed, but it was pretty awful. When I was asked once to draw things like that, I said it wasn't appropriate."
The IDF Spokesman's Office comments on the phenomenon: "Military regulations do not apply to civilian clothing, including shirts produced at the end of basic training and various courses. The designs are printed at the soldiers' private initiative, and on civilian shirts. The examples raised by Haaretz are not in keeping with the values of the IDF spirit, not representative of IDF life, and are in poor taste. Humor of this kind deserves every condemnation and excoriation. The IDF intends to take action for the immediate eradication of this phenomenon. To this end, it is emphasizing to commanding officers that it is appropriate, among other things, to take discretionary and disciplinary measures against those involved in acts of this sort."
Shlomo Tzipori, a lieutenant colonel in the reserves and a lawyer specializing in martial law, said the army does bring soldiers up on charges for offenses that occur outside the base and during their free time. According to Tzipori, slogans that constitute an "insult to the army or to those in uniform" are grounds for court-martial, on charges of "shameful conduct" or "disciplinary infraction," which are general clauses in judicial martial law.
Sociologist Dr. Orna Sasson-Levy, of Bar-Ilan University, author of "Identities in Uniform: Masculinities and Femininities in the Israeli Military," said that the phenomenon is "part of a radicalization process the entire country is undergoing, and the soldiers are at its forefront. I think that ever since the second intifada there has been a continual shift to the right. The pullout from Gaza and its outcome - the calm that never arrived - led to a further shift rightward.
"This tendency is most strikingly evident among soldiers who encounter various situations in the territories on a daily basis. There is less meticulousness than in the past, and increasing callousness. There is a perception that the Palestinian is not a person, a human being entitled to basic rights, and therefore anything may be done to him."
Could the printing of clothing be viewed also as a means of venting aggression?
Sasson-Levy: "No. I think it strengthens and stimulates aggression and legitimizes it. What disturbs me is that a shirt is something that has permanence. The soldiers later wear it in civilian life; their girlfriends wear it afterward. It is not a statement, but rather something physical that remains, that is out there in the world. Beyond that, I think the link made between sexist views and nationalist views, as in the 'Screw Haniyeh' shirt, is interesting. National chauvinism and gender chauvinism combine and strengthen one another. It establishes a masculinity shaped by violent aggression toward women and Arabs; a masculinity that considers it legitimate to speak in a crude and violent manner toward women and Arabs."
Col. (res.) Ron Levy began his military service in the Sayeret Matkal elite commando force before the Six-Day War. He was the IDF's chief psychologist, and headed the army's mental health department in the 1980s.
Levy: "I'm familiar with things of this sort going back 40, 50 years, and each time they take a different form. Psychologically speaking, this is one of the ways in which soldiers project their anger, frustration and violence. It is a certain expression of things, which I call 'below the belt.'"
Do you think this a good way to vent anger?
Levy: "It's safe. But there are also things here that deviate from the norm, and you could say that whoever is creating these things has reached some level of normality. He gives expression to the fact that what is considered abnormal today might no longer be so tomorrow."
This entry was posted on Mar 21, 2009 at 06:06:03 pm and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment, Human Rights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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BETHLEHEM – “Better Use Durex” is the slogan on one t-shirt centered over a cartoon image of a dead Palestinian infant worn proudly by Israeli infantrymen in Tel Aviv.
The latest trend in t-shirts, baseball caps and hooded sweaters manufactured at the Adiv fabric-printing shop in south Tel Aviv, according to the Israeli daily paper Haaretz, are images of “dead babies, mothers weeping on their children's graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosques.”
"Bet you got raped!" was another favorite slogan for the Lavi Battalion. The image was a bruised Palestinian woman.
The Haaretz report came days after the paper shook Israeli society with reports revealed from a training session where soldiers from the Gaza war spoke out against the military conditions that promoted the slaughter of innocents and the destruction of private property.
The images of violent t-shirts also follow reports from the Palestine Center for Human Rights revealing similar statements inscribed on the homes of Gaza homes occupied by military units during the Israeli invasion of the area in January.
According to Haaretz, the t-shirt designs are submitted to commanders for approval before printing, though some soldiers noted that those rejected were often printed later and distributed without knowledge of the military administration.
This entry was posted on Mar 21, 2009 at 05:58:18 pm and is filed under Human Rights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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Al-Khader Convention Palace
BETHLEHEN – Al-Khader residents watched 1,500 dignitaries, delegates, poets, officials and Palestinian bureaucrats arrive in the village south of Bethlehem for the kick-off of events honoring Al-Quds Capital of Arab Culture 2009 on Saturday afternoon.
The official production, which stressed themes of unity, history, and tradition, highlighted the fault-lines of Palestinian society. A “cultured only” event catering to the Arab, Palestinian and international elite showed how remote cultural events are to much of the local population. In Hebron, youth carried the posters handed out in Al-Khader as souvenirs; as close as they would get to the sound and light show near Bethlehem.
Several amateur and semi-professional dabka groups brought in to entertain dignitaries were lively, with a variety of styles and excellent choreographing, but the lack of depth in the overall program meant the profundity of Palestinian cultural history was left in favor of modern abstractions of the ideal.
Myriad facets of Palestinian culture were left unplumbed, including upcoming arts and literature talent, modern dance, theatre and comedy. The visual arts and Palestine’s growing IT and design sector were left out in favor of the recitation of lines by Palestine’s late poet, the great Mahmoud Darwish.
Flat, single lens satellite casts from Lebanon and Gaza highlighted the distance between the scattered Palestinian populations rather than bringing a feeling of unity in tradition to the show.
The event was political, and necessarily so for the celebration of an occupied city by a population whose presence is being washed from the streets, but speeches, artistic presentations and issues of access meant that the chance for a true celebration of Jerusalem as a capital of Arab, and indeed Palestinian, culture, is still remote.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, ministers of education from Arab states and consular officials from Jerusalem were greeted by children in kuffiyahs at the invitation-only event.
Jerusalem Governor Adnan Husseini, who narrowly escaped arrest earlier in the day after Israeli forces found him releasing balloons in the city, addressed the Bethlehem audience through a pre-taped speech filmed in front of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The head of the Arab League’s Organization for Education, Science and Culture (ALESCO), the organization sponsoring the event, addressed the audience expressing his pride in this year’s events celebrating another capital of Arab culture.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the audience next, lamenting the state of the celebrations, driven out of Jerusalem and indoors in the West Bank conference center twenty kilometers away.
Abbas was followed by a video montage of hummus making, bustling markets, hookah pipes in the hands of wizened men on Jerusalem Old City streets and children playing beneath ancient arches. These scenes repeatedly cut to the iconic Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, then to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; images juxtaposed with AK47s and Israeli soldiers in army fatigues.
Talking heads, video montages and traditional dance formed the bulk of the grand event, which was joined by simultaneous satellite casts from Lebanon and Gaza.
In Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers prevented children from launching balloons in different neighborhoods and the Old City. More than 20 officials and local community leaders organizing private events in schools and clubs were arrested. At the same time, however, visitors, tourists and passersby were entirely unaware of the Al-Quds Capital of Culture events being secretly held behind the walls of the city. Indeed, in the capital Saturday’s events were meant to celebrate, it was occupation as usual.
This entry was posted on Mar 21, 2009 at 05:47:43 pm and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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Israeli police had warned that attempts to hold
events would be broken up
Israeli police have prevented Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem from holding events to mark the city's designation as "capital of Arab culture" for 2009.
About 20 Palestinians were detained in and around East Jerusalem on Saturday, but there were no reports of violence, Shmulik Ben-Ruby, a police spokesman, said.
Police reinforcements were deployed around the city and barricades were set up on routes to the al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest site.
Witnesses said that flags and banners associated with the event were confiscated.
At one school, police and soldiers burst balloons in the colours of the Palestinian flag that the children were trying to release to mark the event.
Hatem Abdel Qader, who handles Jerusalem affairs for the Palestinian Authority, was reportedly among those arrested.
Ben-Ruby said the crackdown had been ordered by Israel's internal security ministry because the celebrations violated understandings with the Palestinian Authority.
Celebrations in Nazareth, Israel's largest Arab city, were also cancelled by the police.
"This measure is yet another example of the many extreme policies that the various ministries in the Israeli government impose on us," one event organiser told Al Jazeera.
"These measures are imposed on all artists and people who care about culture. This is a form of prevention of our freedom of expression.
However, events were held in the West Bank.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and Salam Fayyad, the prime minister, received officials from Morocco, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Jordan before attending the ceremony at an auditorium made to look like the Old City.
Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it as the Jewish state's "eternal and indivisible capital", a move which has not been recognised internationally.
Palestinians demand East Jerusalem as the capital of any future Palestinian state.
Jerusalem follows Damascus as the "capital of Arab culture", a title that has been handed to a different city by the Arab League every year since 1996.
Winners typically use the occasion to highlight Arab culture, sponsoring poetry, music, dance performances, lectures, school activities and sporting events.
This entry was posted on Mar 21, 2009 at 05:39:07 pm and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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"From above they said it was permissible (to kill any Palestinians in Gaza), because anyone who remained in the sector and inside Gaza City was in effect condemned, a terrorist, because they hadn't fled" -- IOF soldier
By Amos Harel
Less than a month after the end of Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, dozens of graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory program convened at Oranim Academic College in Kiryat Tivon. Since 1998 the program has prepared participants for what is considered meaningful military service. Many assume command positions in combat and other elite units of the Israel Defense Forces. The program's founder, Danny Zamir, still heads it today and also serves as deputy battalion commander in a reserve unit.
The previous Friday, February 13, Zamir had invited combat soldiers and officers who graduated the program for a lengthy discussion of their experiences in Gaza. They spoke openly, but also with considerable frustration.
Following are extensive excerpts from the transcript of the meeting, as it appears in the program's bulletin, Briza, which was published on Wednesday. The names of the soldiers have been changed to preserve their anonymity. The editors have also left out some of the details concerning the identity of the units that operated in a problematic way in Gaza.
Danny Zamir: "I don't intend for us to evaluate the achievements and the diplomatic-political significance of Operation Cast Lead this evening, nor need we deal with the systemic military aspect [of it]. However, discussion is necessary because this was, all told, an exceptional war action in terms of the history of the IDF, which has set new limits for the army's ethical code and that of the State of Israel as a whole.
"This is an action that sowed massive destruction among civilians. It is not certain that it was possible do have done it differently, but ultimately we have emerged from this operation and are not facing real paralysis from the Qassams. It is very possible that we will repeat such an operation on a larger scale in the years to come, because the problem in the Gaza Strip is not simple and it is not at all certain that it has been solved. What we want this evening is to hear from the fighters."
Aviv: "I am squad commander of a company that is still in training, from the Givati Brigade. We went into a neighborhood in the southern part of Gaza City. Altogether, this is a special experience. In the course of the training, you wait for the day you will go into Gaza, and in the end it isn't really like they say it is. It's more like, you come, you take over a house, you kick the tenants out and you move in. We stayed in a house for something like a week.
"Toward the end of the operation there was a plan to go into a very densely populated area inside Gaza City itself. In the briefings they started to talk to us about orders for opening fire inside the city, because as you know they used a huge amount of firepower and killed a huge number of people along the way, so that we wouldn't get hurt and they wouldn't fire on us.
"At first the specified action was to go into a house. We were supposed to go in with an armored personnel carrier called an Achzarit [literally, Cruel] to burst through the lower door, to start shooting inside and then ... I call this murder ... in effect, we were supposed to go up floor by floor, and any person we identified - we were supposed to shoot. I initially asked myself: Where is the logic in this?
"From above they said it was permissible, because anyone who remained in the sector and inside Gaza City was in effect condemned, a terrorist, because they hadn't fled. I didn't really understand: On the one hand they don't really have anywhere to flee to, but on the other hand they're telling us they hadn't fled so it's their fault ... This also scared me a bit. I tried to exert some influence, insofar as is possible from within my subordinate position, to change this. In the end the specification involved going into a house, operating megaphones and telling [the tenants]: 'Come on, everyone get out, you have five minutes, leave the house, anyone who doesn't get out gets killed.'
"I went to our soldiers and said, 'The order has changed. We go into the house, they have five minutes to escape, we check each person who goes out individually to see that he has no weapons, and then we start going into the house floor by floor to clean it out ... This means going into the house, opening fire at everything that moves , throwing a grenade, all those things. And then there was a very annoying moment. One of my soldiers came to me and asked, 'Why?' I said, 'What isn't clear? We don't want to kill innocent civilians.' He goes, 'Yeah? Anyone who's in there is a terrorist, that's a known fact.' I said, 'Do you think the people there will really run away? No one will run away.' He says, 'That's clear,' and then his buddies join in: 'We need to murder any person who's in there. Yeah, any person who's in Gaza is a terrorist,' and all the other things that they stuff our heads with, in the media.
"And then I try to explain to the guy that not everyone who is in there is a terrorist, and that after he kills, say, three children and four mothers, we'll go upstairs and kill another 20 or so people. And in the end it turns out that [there are] eight floors times five apartments on a floor - something like a minimum of 40 or 50 families that you murder. I tried to explain why we had to let them leave, and only then go into the houses. It didn't really help. This is really frustrating, to see that they understand that inside Gaza you are allowed to do anything you want, to break down doors of houses for no reason other than it's cool.
"You do not get the impression from the officers that there is any logic to it, but they won't say anything. To write 'death to the Arabs' on the walls, to take family pictures and spit on them, just because you can. I think this is the main thing in understanding how much the IDF has fallen in the realm of ethics, really. It's what I'll remember the most."
"One of our officers, a company commander, saw someone coming on some road, a woman, an old woman. She was walking along pretty far away, but close enough so you could take out someone you saw there. If she were suspicious, not suspicious - I don't know. In the end, he sent people up to the roof, to take her out with their weapons. From the description of this story, I simply felt it was murder in cold blood."
Zamir: "I don't understand. Why did he shoot her?"
Aviv: "That's what is so nice, supposedly, about Gaza: You see a person on a road, walking along a path. He doesn't have to be with a weapon, you don't have to identify him with anything and you can just shoot him. With us it was an old woman, on whom I didn't see any weapon. The order was to take the person out, that woman, the moment you see her."
Zvi: "Aviv's descriptions are accurate, but it's possible to understand where this is coming from. And that woman, you don't know whether she's ... She wasn't supposed to be there, because there were announcements and there were bombings. Logic says she shouldn't be there. The way you describe it, as murder in cold blood, that isn't right. It's known that they have lookouts and that sort of thing."
Gilad: "Even before we went in, the battalion commander made it clear to everyone that a very important lesson from the Second Lebanon War was the way the IDF goes in - with a lot of fire. The intention was to protect soldiers' lives by means of firepower. In the operation the IDF's losses really were light and the price was that a lot of Palestinians got killed."
Ram: "I serve in an operations company in the Givati Brigade. After we'd gone into the first houses, there was a house with a family inside. Entry was relatively calm. We didn't open fire, we just yelled at everyone to come down. We put them in a room and then left the house and entered it from a different lot. A few days after we went in, there was an order to release the family. They had set up positions upstairs. There was a sharpshooters' position on the roof. The platoon commander let the family go and told them to go to the right. One mother and her two children didn't understand and went to the left, but they forgot to tell the sharpshooter on the roof they had let them go, and it was was okay and he should hold his fire and he ... he did what he was supposed to, like he was following his orders."
Question from the audience: "At what range was this?"
Ram: "Between 100 and 200 meters, something like that. They had also came out of the house that he was on the roof of, they had advanced a bit and suddenly he saw then, people moving around in an area where they were forbidden to move around. I don't think he felt too bad about it, because after all, as far as he was concerned, he did his job according to the orders he was given. And the atmosphere in general, from what I understood from most of my men who I talked to ... I don't know how to describe it .... The lives of Palestinians, let's say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way."
Yuval Friedman (chief instructor at the Rabin program): "Wasn't there a standing order to request permission to open fire?"
Ram: "No. It exists, beyond a certain line. The idea is that you are afraid that they are going to escape from you. If a terrorist is approaching and he is too close, he could blow up the house or something like that."
Zamir: "After a killing like that, by mistake, do they do some sort of investigation in the IDF? Do they look into how they could have corrected it?"
Ram: "They haven't come from the Military Police's investigative unit yet. There hasn't been any ... For all incidents, there are individual investigations and general examinations, of all of the conduct of the war. But they haven't focused on this specifically."
Moshe: "The attitude is very simple: It isn't pleasant to say so, but no one cares at all. We aren't investigating this. This is what happens during fighting and this is what happens during routine security."
Ram: "What I do remember in particular at the beginning is the feeling of almost a religious mission. My sergeant is a student at a hesder yeshiva [a program that combines religious study and military service]. Before we went in, he assembled the whole platoon and led the prayer for those going into battle. A brigade rabbi was there, who afterward came into Gaza and went around patting us on the shoulder and encouraging us, and praying with people. And also when we were inside they sent in those booklets, full of Psalms, a ton of Psalms. I think that at least in the house I was in for a week, we could have filled a room with the Psalms they sent us, and other booklets like that.
"There was a huge gap between what the Education Corps sent out and what the IDF rabbinate sent out. The Education Corps published a pamphlet for commanders - something about the history of Israel's fighting in Gaza from 1948 to the present. The rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles, and ... their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. This was the main message, and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war. From my position as a commander and 'explainer,' I attempted to talk about the politics - the streams in Palestinian society, about how not everyone who is in Gaza is Hamas, and not every inhabitant wants to vanquish us. I wanted to explain to the soldiers that this war is not a war for the sanctification of the holy name, but rather one to stop the Qassams."
Zamir: "I would like to ask the pilots who are here, Gideon and Yonatan, to tell us a little about their perspective. As an infantryman, this has always interested me. How does it feel when you bomb a city like that?"
Gideon: "First of all, about what you have said concerning the crazy amounts of firepower: Right in the first foray in the fighting, the quantities were very impressive, very large, and this is mainly what sent all the Hamasniks into hiding in the deepest shelters and kept them from showing their faces until some two weeks after the fighting.
"In general the way that it works for us, just so you will understand the differences a bit, is that at night I would come to the squadron, do one foray in Gaza and go home to sleep. I go home to sleep in Tel Aviv, in my warm bed. I'm not stuck in a bed in the home of a Palestinian family, so life is a little better.
"When I'm with the squadron, I don't see a terrorist who is launching a Qassam and then decide to fly out to get him. There is a whole system that supports us, that serves as eyes, ears and intelligence for every plane that takes off, and creates more and more targets in real-time, of one level of legitimacy or another. In any case, I try to believe that these are targets [determined according to] the highest possible level of legitimacy.
"They dropped leaflets over Gaza and would sometimes fire a missile from a helicopter into the corner of some house, just to shake up the house a bit so everyone inside would flee. These things worked. The families came out, and really people [i.e., soldiers] did enter houses that were pretty empty, at least of innocent civilians. From this perspective it works.
"In any case, I arrive at the squadron, I get a target with a description and coordinates, and basically just make sure it isn't within the line of our forces. I look at the picture of the house I am suppose to attack, I see that it matches reality, I take off, I push the button and the bomb takes itself exactly to within one meter of the target itself."
Zamir: "Among the pilots, is there also talk or thoughts of remorse? For example, I was terribly surprised by the enthusiasm surrounding the killing of the Gaza traffic police on the first day of the operation: They took out 180 traffic cops. As a pilot, I would have questioned that."
Gideon: "There are two parts to this. Tactically speaking, you call them 'police.' In any case, they are armed and belong to Hamas ... During better times, they take Fatah people and throw them off the roofs and see what happens.
"With regard to the thoughts, you sit with the squadron and there are lots of discussions about the value-related significance of the fighting, about what we are doing; there is a lot to talk about. From the moment you start the plane's engine until the moment you turn it off, all of your thoughts, all of your concentration and all of your attention are on the mission you have to carry out. If you have an unjustified doubt, you're liable to cause a far greater screw- up and knock down a school with 40 children. If the building I hit isn't the one I am supposed to hit, but rather a house with our guys inside - the price of the mistake is very, very high."
Question from the audience: "Was there anyone in the squadron who didn't push the button, who thought twice?"
Gideon: "That question should be addressed to those involved in the helicopter operation, or to the guys who see what they do. With the weapons I used, my ability to make a decision that contradicts what they told me up to that point is zero. I dispatch the bomb from a range within which I can see the entire Gaza Strip. I also see Haifa, I also see Sinai, but it's more or less the same. It's from really far away."
Yossi: "I am a platoon sergeant in an operations company of the Paratroops Brigade. We were in a house and discovered a family inside that wasn't supposed to be there. We assembled them all in the basement, posted two guards at all times and made sure they didn't make any trouble. Gradually, the emotional distance between us broke down - we had cigarettes with them, we drank coffee with them, we talked about the meaning of life and the fighting in Gaza. After very many conversations the owner of the house, a man of 70-plus, was saying it's good we are in Gaza and it's good that the IDF is doing what it is doing.
"The next day we sent the owner of the house and his son, a man of 40 or 50, for questioning. The day after that, we received an answer: We found out that both are political activists in Hamas. That was a little annoying - that they tell you how fine it is that you're here and good for you and blah-blah-blah, and then you find out that they were lying to your face the whole time.
"What annoyed me was that in the end, after we understood that the members of this family weren't exactly our good friends and they pretty much deserved to be forcibly ejected from there, my platoon commander suggested that when we left the house, we should clean up all the stuff, pick up and collect all the garbage in bags, sweep and wash the floor, fold up the blankets we used, make a pile of the mattresses and put them back on the beds."
Zamir: "What do you mean? Didn't every IDF unit that left a house do that?"
Yossi: "No. Not at all. On the contrary: In most of the houses graffiti was left behind and things like that."
Zamir: "That's simply behaving like animals."
Yossi: "You aren't supposed to be concentrating on folding blankets when you're being shot at."
Zamir: "I haven't heard all that much about you being shot at. It's not that I'm complaining, but if you've spent a week in a home, clean up your filth."
Aviv: "We got an order one day: All of the equipment, all of the furniture - just clean out the whole house. We threw everything, everything, out of the windows to make room. The entire contents of the house went flying out the windows."
Yossi: "There was one day when a Katyusha, a Grad, landed in Be'er Sheva and a mother and her baby were moderately to seriously injured. They were neighbors of one of my soldiers. We heard the whole story on the radio, and he didn't take it lightly - that his neighbors were seriously hurt. So the guy was a bit antsy, and you can understand him. To tell a person like that, 'Come on, let's wash the floor of the house of a political activist in Hamas, who has just fired a Katyusha at your neighbors that has amputated one of their legs' - this isn't easy to do, especially if you don't agree with it at all. When my platoon commander said, 'Okay, tell everyone to fold up blankets and pile up mattresses,' it wasn't easy for me to take. There was lot of shouting. In the end I was convinced and realized it really was the right thing to do. Today I appreciate and even admire him, the platoon commander, for what happened there. In the end I don't think that any army, the Syrian army, the Afghani army, would wash the floor of its enemy's houses, and it certainly wouldn't fold blankets and put them back in the closets."
Zamir: "I think it would be important for parents to sit here and hear this discussion. I think it would be an instructive discussion, and also very dismaying and depressing. You are describing an army with very low value norms, that's the truth ... I am not judging you and I am not complaining about you. I'm just reflecting what I'm feeling after hearing your stories. I wasn't in Gaza, and I assume that among reserve soldiers the level of restraint and control is higher, but I think that all in all, you are reflecting and describing the kind of situation we were in.
"After the Six-Day War, when people came back from the fighting, they sat in circles and described what they had been through. For many years the people who did this were said to be 'shooting and crying.' In 1983, when we came back from the Lebanon War, the same things were said about us. We need to think about the events we have been through. We need to grapple with them also, in terms of establishing a standard or different norms.
"It is quite possible that Hamas and the Syrian army would behave differently from me. The point is that we aren't Hamas and we aren't the Syrian army or the Egyptian army, and if clerics are anointing us with oil and sticking holy books in our hands, and if the soldiers in these units aren't representative of the whole spectrum in the Jewish people, but rather of certain segments of the population - what are we expecting? To whom are we complaining?
"As reservists we don't take relate seriously to the orders of the regional brigades. We let the old people go through and we let families go through. Why kill people when it's clear to you that they are civilians? Which aspect of Israel's security will be harmed, who will be harmed? Exercise judgment, be human."
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Palestinian youths prepare to throw stones at Israeli soldiers in protest against the closure of the West Bank village of Dura near Hebron
Israel imposes further punishments on Gaza after the breakdown of negotiations, reports Khaled Amayreh in occupied East Jerusalem
The Israeli government has decided to impose a new "set of punishments" against the Gaza Strip following the breakdown of Egyptian-mediated negotiations with Hamas over the release of an Israeli occupation soldier held by the Islamic movement's fighters.
The Israeli government, which had signaled that a prisoner swap deal with Hamas was within reach, suddenly changed its mind, accusing Hamas of "inflexibility" and "making exaggerated demands."
Hamas's demands have remained unchanged ever since the Shalit affair began more than 30 months ago when Palestinian guerrillas captured the Israeli occupation soldier during a cross- border battle with the Israeli army.
Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert launched a tirade against Hamas, calling the movement a "terrorist group". Olmert utterly ignored Israel's own terrorist record of killing and murdering thousands of innocent Palestinians during his reign of power.
In December and January, the Israeli army carried out a huge blitz on the Gaza Strip, killing and maiming more than 5,000 people, including hundreds of children, and utterly destroying the bulk of the coastal enclave's civilian infrastructure.
Similarly, the Israeli army killed and maimed thousands of innocent civilians during the 2006 onslaught on Lebanon and dropped millions of cluster bombs on the Lebanese countryside.
Israel routinely calls its Arab victims "terrorists" while considering its own terror "legitimate self-defence". It also holds as many as 10,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of them political activists incarcerated without charge or trial.
Trying to justify his government's refusal to release the leaders of the Palestinian Intifada from Israeli prisons, Olmert said the release of "bloody terrorists" was a red line which Israel was not ready to cross.
"Israel will not give in to Hamas dictates as long as I am prime minister. We will not cease our efforts [to release Shalit from Hamas custody], but we have red lines and will not cross them. We are not a defeated nation."
Israel had offered to release only 350 of the 450 political and resistance leaders imprisoned in Israel in connection with their resistance to the Israeli occupation during the last Palestinian Intifada or uprising.
However, Hamas refused to compromise on the release of the remaining 100 prisoners, arguing that "as Shalit has a family, our prisoners also have families that are waiting for them to come home."
Hamas spokesmen in Gaza also dismissed arguments made by Israeli leaders that some Palestinian prisoners were responsible for the death of Israelis.
"Israel has murdered thousands of innocent Palestinian and Lebanese civilians with white phosphorous shells and cluster bombs. Israel has been murdering Palestinians ever since its creation. Israel itself is the world's premier murderer, liar and thief," said Mushir Al-Masri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza.
Al-Masri told reporters, "it is time Israel realises that our victims are not children of a lesser God and that Jewish blood is not more precious than Palestinian blood."
Hamas's officials involved in the negotiations held Israel fully responsible for the breakdown of the talks. Osama Mazeini said Hamas was negotiating in good faith, adding that Israel wanted to "dictate on us unacceptable conditions such as which prisoner should be released."
Israel also demanded that dozens of prisoners be deported to Syria, a concept Hamas described as "virulent and despicable". Syria refused, with one Syrian officials saying, "Palestinians have a country, it is called Palestine."
According to Osama Hamdan, the Hamas representative in Lebanon, Israel had agreed to "the number" of prisoners to be released but not specifically to those on the Hamas list and not to how they would be released.
Hamdan said Israel rejected some of the names, thinking that this could bear some fruit in view of the pressure that would be created by Olmert's imminent departure from office. He also revealed that Israel wanted Shalit to be released before it released the Palestinian prisoners, which he described as "unacceptable".
Olmert likened the popular Islamic movement to the Third Reich, suggesting that the small, besieged movement posed a great threat to world democracies.
The utterly spurious analogy, observers here suggest, reflected Olmert's frustration by the failure of the unrelenting harsh blockade of the Gaza Strip and Israel's bullying tactics against Hamas to force the movement to free Shalit in return for a "more modest price", allowing Israel to save face.
This is what Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin apparently alluded to following the Israeli cabinet session Tuesday. "Had we agreed to the Hamas conditions as they insisted on during the final day of negotiations, it would have caused serious security damage to Israel."
Israeli Military Intelligence Director Amos Yadlin was more forthcoming in explaining why Israel refused to free key Palestinian political and resistance leaders. "Submitting to Hamas's demands would have dealt a mortal blow to moderate elements in the Palestinian Authority and the entire Middle East, while extremists would have been greatly strengthened."
Israeli sources had reported that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas had warned Israel on several occasions against releasing a large number of Palestinian prisoners at this time on the grounds that this would strengthen Hamas while adversely affecting the Western-backed PA regime. The PA dismissed the Israeli reports as "cheap disinformation".
Interestingly, neither Israel nor Hamas said they would terminate talks aimed at realising a prisoner swap in the foreseeable future. However, it is obvious that Olmert and his outgoing government hope that the incoming right-wing Israeli government, headed by Likud leader Benyamin Netanyahu, will convince Hamas to back down or at least backtrack on its original demands regarding the number of prisoners it wants to see freed in exchange for Shalit.
Netanyahu himself has been silent on the issue and is not expected to voice his opinion until he is sworn in as prime minister, probably by the end of next week. He had hoped that the Olmert government would free Shalit before the new government assumes power.
Additional Israeli sanctions against the already tormented Gazans will include further tightening of the blockade and barring the entry into Gaza of more essential items and consumer products. This represents a direct challenge to growing American and European calls urging Israel to relax the three-year-old draconian siege.
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Barak, left, is reportedly keen to join a
Netanyahu-led coalition [AFP]
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister-elect, has been given two more weeks to form a broad-based coalition government, which he says is essential to maintain political stability.
The Likud leader was granted the extra time by the Israeli president on Friday to persuade the Labour party under Ehud Barak, the outgoing defence minister, to join his coalition.
"The creation of such a government is all the more important in view of ... the grave [security] threats and economic crisis," the office of Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, quoted Netanyahu as saying.
Barak, who initially rejected Netanyahu's offer, has asked his party to consider joining a Likud-led coalition, saying it was in the "superior interests of the state" to counter the effect of the rightist party.
The 1,460-strong Labour congress is due to decide on Tuesday whether they will join the new government.
"The battle will be decided by a very few votes," the Maariv daily said.
According to Israeli news reports, Netanyahu has offered Barak to stay on as the defence minister.
But Yuli Tamir, a Labour MP and outgoing education minister, claimed Barak was leading the party to its doom, saying a government led by Netanyahu would block any effort to relaunch the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Deal with Hamas
It is believed that the extra time would also give Ehud Olmert, the outgoing prime minister, more time to seek a prisoner-swap deal with Hamas to secure the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Palestinian fighters in Gaza in June, 2006.
The latest round of Egyptian-mediated negotiations over the prisoner swap collapsed on Monday following disagreements on the list of Palestinians to be released by Israel.
Netanyahu was asked on February 20 to form a government after February 10 elections. Initially he was given a 28-day deadline but is legally entitled to a two-week extension.
Although the rival Kadima party won 28 seats in the February elections, one more than Netanyahu's Likud, the former premier was tasked with forming the next government because he is believed to have a better chance of forging a majority in the 120-seat parliament.
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New York Review of Books
Volume 56, Number 6 · April 9, 2009
By Mark Danner
ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen "High Value Detainees" in CIA Custody by the International Committee of the Red Cross
43 pp., February 2007
We need to get to the bottom of what happened—and why—so we make sure it never happens again. -- Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
We think time and elections will cleanse our fallen world but they will not. Since November, George W. Bush and his administration have seemed to be rushing away from us at accelerating speed, a dark comet hurtling toward the ends of the universe. The phrase "War on Terror"—the signal slogan of that administration, so cherished by the man who took pride in proclaiming that he was "a wartime president"—has acquired in its pronouncement a permanent pair of quotation marks, suggesting something questionable, something mildly embarrassing: something past. And yet the decisions that that president made, especially the monumental decisions taken after the attacks of September 11, 2001—decisions about rendition, surveillance, interrogation—lie strewn about us still, unclaimed and unburied, like corpses freshly dead.
How should we begin to talk about this? Perhaps with a story. Stories come to us newborn, announcing their intent: Once upon a time... In the beginning... From such signs we learn how to listen to what will come. Consider:
I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately 4m x 4m [13 feet by 13 feet]. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed....
A man, unnamed, naked, strapped to a bed, and for the rest, the elemental facts of space and of time, nothing but whiteness.
The storyteller is very much a man of our time. Early on in the "War on Terror," in the spring of 2002, he entered the dark realm of "the disappeared"—and only four and a half years later, when he and thirteen other "high-value detainees" arrived at Guantánamo and told their stories in interviews with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (reported in the confidential document listed above) did he emerge partly into the light. Indeed, he is a famous man, though his fame has followed a certain path, peculiar to our modern age: jihadist, outlaw, terrorist, "disappeared." An international celebrity whose name, one of them anyway, is instantly recognizable. How many people have their lives described by the president of the United States in a nationally televised speech?
Within months of September the 11th, 2001, we captured a man known as Abu Zubaydah. We believe that Zubaydah was a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden.... Zubaydah was severely wounded during the firefight that brought him into custody—and he survived only because of the medical care arranged by the CIA.
A dramatic story: big news. Wounded in a firefight in Faisalabad, Pakistan, shot in the stomach, groin, and thigh after jumping from a roof in a desperate attempt to escape. Massive bleeding. Rushed to a military hospital in Lahore. A trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins awakened by a late-night telephone call from the director of central intelligence and flown in great secrecy to the other side of the world. The wounded man barely escapes death, slowly stabilizes, is shipped secretly to a military base in Thailand. Thence to another base in Afghanistan. Or was it Afghanistan?
We don't know, not definitively. For from the moment of his dramatic capture, on March 28, 2002, the man known as Abu Zubaydah slipped from one clandestine world, that of al-Qaeda officials gone to ground in the days after September 11, into another, a "hidden global internment network" intended for secret detention and interrogation and set up by the Central Intelligence Agency under authority granted directly by President George W. Bush in a "memorandum of understanding" signed on September 17, 2001.
This secret system included prisons on military bases around the world, from Thailand and Afghanistan to Morocco, Poland, and Romania—"at various times," reportedly, "sites in eight countries"—into which, at one time or another, more than one hundred prisoners...disappeared. The secret internment network of "black sites" had its own air force and its own distinctive "transfer procedures," which were, according to the writers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report, "fairly standardised in most cases":
The detainee would be photographed, both clothed and naked prior to and again after transfer. A body cavity check (rectal examination) would be carried out and some detainees alleged that a suppository (the type and the effect of such suppositories was unknown by the detainees), was also administered at that moment.
The detainee would be made to wear a diaper and dressed in a tracksuit. Earphones would be placed over his ears, through which music would sometimes be played. He would be blindfolded with at least a cloth tied around the head and black goggles. In addition, some detainees alleged that cotton wool was also taped over their eyes prior to the blindfold and goggles being applied....
The detainee would be shackled by [the] hands and feet and transported to the airport by road and loaded onto a plane. He would usually be transported in a reclined sitting position with his hands shackled in front. The journey times...ranged from one hour to over twenty-four to thirty hours. The detainee was not allowed to go to the toilet and if necessary was obliged to urinate and defecate into the diaper.
One works the imagination trying to picture what it was like in this otherworldly place: blackness in place of vision. Silence—or "sometimes" loud music—in place of sounds of life. Shackles, together sometimes with gloves, in place of the chance to reach, touch, feel. One senses metal on wrist and ankle, cotton against eyes, cloth across face, shit and piss against skin. On "some occasions detainees were transported lying flat on the floor of the plane...with their hands cuffed behind their backs," causing them "severe pain and discomfort," as they were moved from one unknown location to another.
For his part, Abu Zubaydah—thirty-one years old, born Zein al-Abedeen Mohammad Hassan, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, though coming of Palestinian stock, from the Gaza Strip—
alleged that during one transfer operation the blindfold was tied very tightly resulting in wounds to his nose and ears. He does not know how long the transfer took but, prior to the transfer, he reported being told by his detaining authorities that he would be going on a journey that would last twenty-four to thirty hours.
A long trip then: perhaps to Guantánamo? Or Morocco? Then back, apparently, to Thailand. Or was it Afghanistan? He thinks the latter but can't be sure....
All classified, compartmentalized, deeply, deeply secret. And yet what is "secret" exactly? In our recent politics, "secret" has become an oddly complex word. From whom was "the secret bombing of Cambodia" secret? Not from the Cambodians, surely. From whom was the existence of these "secret overseas facilities" secret? Not from the terrorists, surely. From Americans, presumably. On the other hand, as early as 2002, anyone interested could read on the front page of one of the country's leading newspapers:
US Decries Abuse but Defends Interrogations: "Stress and Duress" Tactics Used on Terrorism Suspects Held in Secret Overseas Facilities
Deep inside the forbidden zone at the US-occupied Bagram air base in Afghanistan, around the corner from the detention center and beyond the segregated clandestine military units, sits a cluster of metal shipping containers protected by a triple layer of concertina wire. The containers hold the most valuable prizes in the war on terrorism—captured al Qaeda operatives and Taliban commanders....
"If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job," said one official who has supervised the capture and transfer of accused terrorists. "I don't think we want to be promoting a view of zero tolerance on this. That was the whole problem for a long time with the CIA...."
This lengthy article, by Dana Priest and Barton Gellman, appeared in The Washington Post on December 26, 2002, only months after the capture of Abu Zubaydah. A similarly lengthy report followed a few months later on the front page of The New York Times ("Interrogations: Questioning Terror Suspects in a Dark and Surreal World"). The blithe, aggressive tone of the officials quoted—"We don't kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them"—bespeaks a very different political temper, one in which a prominent writer in a national newsmagazine could headline his weekly column "Time to Think About Torture," noting in his subtitle that in this "new world...survival might well require old techniques that seemed out of the question."
So there are secrets and secrets. And when, on a bright sunny day two years ago, just before the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the President of the United States strode into the East Room of the White House and informed the high officials, dignitaries, and specially invited September 11 survivor families gathered in rows before him that the United States government had created a dark and secret universe to hold and interrogate captured terrorists—or, in the President's words, "an environment where they can be held secretly [and] questioned by experts"—he was not telling a secret but instead converting a known and well-reported fact into an officially confirmed truth:
In addition to the terrorists held at Guantánamo, a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war have been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.... Many specifics of this program, including where these detainees have been held and the details of their confinement, cannot be divulged....
We knew that Abu Zubaydah had more information that could save innocent lives, but he stopped talking.... And so the CIA used an alternative set of procedures. These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful. I cannot describe the specific methods used—I think you understand why....
I was watching the live broadcast that day and I remember the uncanny feeling that came over me as, having heard the President explain the virtues of this "alternative set of procedures," I watched him stare straight into the camera and with fierce concentration and exaggerated emphasis intone once more: "The United States does not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it—and I will not authorize it." He had convinced himself, I thought, of the truth of what he said.
This speech, though not much noticed at the time, will stand, I believe, as George W. Bush's most important: perhaps the only "historic" speech he ever gave. In telling his version of Abu Zubaydah's story, and versions of the stories of Khaled Shaik Mohammed and others, the President took hold of many things that were already known but not acknowledged and, by means of the alchemical power of the leader's voice, transformed them into acknowledged facts. He also, in his fervent defense of his government's "alternative set of procedures" and his equally fervent denials that they constituted "torture," set out before the country and the world the dark moral epic of the Bush administration, in the coils of whose contradictions we find ourselves entangled still. Later that month, Congress, facing the midterm elections, duly passed the President's Military Commissions Act of 2006, which, among other things, sought to shelter from prosecution those who had applied the "alternative set of procedures" and had done so, said the President, "in a thorough and professional way."
At the same time, perhaps unwittingly, President Bush made it possible that day for those on whom the "alternative set of procedures" were performed eventually to speak. Even as the President set out before the country his version of what had happened to Abu Zubaydah and the others and argued for its necessity, he announced that he would bring him and thirteen of his fellow "high-value detainees" out of the dark world of the disappeared and into the light. Or, rather, into the twilight: the fourteen would be transferred to Guantánamo, the main acknowledged offshore prison, where—"as soon as Congress acts to authorize the military commissions I have proposed"—they "can face justice." In the meantime, though, the fourteen would be "held in a high-security facility at Guantánamo" and the International Committee of the Red Cross would be "advised of their detention, and will have the opportunity to meet with them."
A few weeks later, from October 6 to 11 and then from December 4 to 14, 2006, officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross—among whose official and legally recognized duties is to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions and to supervise treatment of prisoners of war—traveled to Guantánamo and began interviewing "each of these persons in private" in order to produce a report that would "provide a description of the treatment and material conditions of detention of the fourteen during the period they were held in the CIA detention program," periods ranging "from 16 months to almost four and a half years."
As the ICRC interviewers informed the detainees, their report was not intended to be released to the public but, "to the extent that each detainee agreed for it to be transmitted to the authorities," to be given in strictest secrecy to officials of the government agency that had been in charge of holding them—in this case the Central Intelligence Agency, to whose acting general counsel, John Rizzo, the report was sent on February 14, 2007. Indeed, though almost all of the information in the report has names attached, and though annexes contain extended narratives drawn from interviews with three of the detainees, whose names are used, we do find a number of times in the document variations of this formula: "One of the detainees who did not wish his name to be transmitted to the authorities alleged..."—suggesting that at least one and perhaps more than one of the fourteen, who are, after all, still "held in a high-security facility at Guantánamo," worried about repercussions that might come from what he had said.
In virtually all such cases, the allegations made are echoed by other, named detainees; indeed, since the detainees were kept "in continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention" throughout their time in "the black sites," and were kept strictly separated as well when they reached Guantánamo, the striking similarity in their stories, even down to small details, would seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely, if not impossible. "The ICRC wishes to underscore," as the writers tell us in the introduction, "that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the fourteen adds particular weight to the information provided below."
The result is a document—labeled "confidential" and clearly intended only for the eyes of those senior American officials to whom the CIA's Mr. Rizzo would show it—that tells a certain kind of story, a narrative of what happened at "the black sites" and a detailed description, by those on whom they were practiced, of what the President of the United States described to Americans as an "alternative set of procedures." It is a document for its time, literally "impossible to put down," from its opening page—
1. Main Elements of the CIA Detention Program
1.1 Arrest and Transfer
1.2 Continuous Solitary Confinement and Incommunicado Detention
1.3 Other Methods of Ill-treatment
1.3.1 Suffocation by water
1.3.2 Prolonged Stress Standing
1.3.3 Beatings by use of a collar
1.3.4 Beating and kicking
1.3.5 Confinement in a box
1.3.6 Prolonged nudity
1.3.7 Sleep deprivation and use of loud music
1.3.8 Exposure to cold temperature/cold water
1.3.9 Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles
1.3.11 Forced shaving
1.3.12 Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food
1.4 Further elements of the detention regime....
—to its stark and unmistakable conclusion:
The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Such unflinching clarity, from the body legally charged with overseeing compliance with the Geneva Conventions—in which the terms "torture" and "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" are accorded a strictly defined legal meaning—couldn't be more significant, or indeed more welcome after years in which the President of the United States relied on the power of his office either to redefine or to obfuscate what are relatively simple words. "This debate is occurring," as President Bush told reporters in the Rose Garden the week after he delivered his East Room speech,
because of the Supreme Court's ruling that said that we must conduct ourselves under the Common Article III of the Geneva Convention. And that Common Article III says that, you know, there will be no outrages upon human dignity. It's like—it's very vague. What does that mean, "outrages upon human dignity"?
In allowing Abu Zubaydah and the other thirteen "high-value detainees" to tell their own stories, this report manages to answer, with great power and authority, the President's question.
We return to a man, Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian who, in his thirty-one years, has lived a life shaped by conflicts on the edge of the American consciousness: the Gaza Strip, where his parents were born; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he apparently first saw the light of day; Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, where he took part in the jihad against the Russians, perhaps with the help, directly or indirectly, of American dollars; then, post-Soviet Afghanistan, where he ran al-Qaeda logistics and recruitment, directing aspiring jihadists to the various training camps, placing them in cells after they'd been trained. The man has been captured now: traced to a safe house in Faisalabad, gravely wounded by three shots from an AK-47. He is rushed to the Faisalabad hospital, then to the military hospital at Lahore. When he opens his eyes he finds at his bedside an American, John Kiriakou of the CIA:
I asked him in Arabic what his name was. And he shook his head. And I asked him again in Arabic. And then he answered me in English. And he said that he would not speak to me in God's language. And then I said, "That's okay. We know who you are."
And then he asked me to smother him with a pillow. And I said, "No, no. We have plans for you."
Kiriakou and the "small group of CIA and FBI people who just kept 24/7 eyes on him" knew that in Abu Zubaydah they had "the biggest fish that we had caught. We knew he was full of information...and we wanted to get it." According to Kiriakou, on a table in the house where they found him "Abu Zubaydah and two other men were building a bomb. The soldering [iron] was still hot. And they had plans for a school on the table...." The plans, Kiriakou told ABC News correspondent Brian Ross, were for the British school in Lahore. Their prisoner, they knew, was "very current. On top of the current threat information."
With the help of the American trauma surgeon, Abu Zubaydah's captors nursed him back to health. He was moved at least twice, first, reportedly, to Thailand; then, he believes, to Afghanistan, probably Bagram. In a safe house in Thailand the interrogation began:
I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately [13 feet by 13 feet]. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed. After some time, I think it was several days, but can't remember exactly, I was transferred to a chair where I was kept, shackled by [the] hands and feet for what I think was the next 2 to 3 weeks. During this time I developed blisters on the underside of my legs due to the constant sitting. I was only allowed to get up from the chair to go [to] the toilet, which consisted of a bucket. Water for cleaning myself was provided in a plastic bottle.
I was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on the chair. I was only given Ensure [a nutrient supplement] and water to drink. At first the Ensure made me vomit, but this became less with time.
The cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold. Very loud, shouting type music was constantly playing. It kept repeating about every fifteen minutes twenty-four hours a day. Sometimes the music stopped and was replaced by a loud hissing or crackling noise.
The guards were American, but wore masks to conceal their faces. My interrogators did not wear masks.
During this first two to three week period I was questioned for about one to two hours each day. American interrogators would come to the room and speak to me through the bars of the cell. During the questioning the music was switched off, but was then put back on again afterwards. I could not sleep at all for the first two to three weeks. If I started to fall asleep one of the guards would come and spray water in my face.
A naked man chained in a small, very cold, very white room is for several days strapped to a bed, then for several weeks shackled to a chair, bathed unceasingly in white light, bombarded constantly with loud sound, deprived of food; and whenever, despite cold, light, noise, hunger, the hours and days force his eyelids down, cold water is sprayed in his face to force them up.
One can translate these procedures into terms of art: "Change of Scenery Down." "Removal of Clothing." "Use of Stress Positions." "Dietary Manipulation." "Environmental Manipulation." "Sleep Adjustment." "Isolation." "Sleep Deprivation." "Use of Noise to Induce Stress." All these terms and many others can be found, for example, in documents associated with the debate about interrogation and "counter-resistance" carried on by Pentagon and Justice Department officials beginning in 2002. Here, however, we find a different standard: the Working Group says, for example, that "Sleep Deprivation" is "not to exceed 4 days in succession," that "Dietary Manipulation" should include "no intended deprivation of food or water," that "removal of clothing," while "creating a feeling of helplessness and dependence," must be "monitored to ensure the environmental conditions are such that this technique does not injure the detainee." Here we are in a different place.
But what place? Abu Zubaydah was not only the "biggest fish that we had caught" but the first big fish. According to Kiriakou, Zubaydah, as he recovered, had "wanted to talk about current events. He told us a couple of times that he had nothing personal against the United States.... He said that 9/11 was necessary. That although he didn't think that there would be such a massive loss of life, his view was that 9/11 was supposed to be a wake-up call to the United States."
In those initial weeks of healing, before the white room and the chair and the light, Zubaydah seems to have talked freely with his captors, and during this time, according to news reports, FBI agents began to question him using "standard interview techniques," ensuring that he was bathed and his bandages changed, urging improved medical care, and trying to "convince him they knew details of his activities." (They showed him, for example, a "box of blank audiotapes which they said contained recordings of his phone conversations, but were actually empty.") According to this account, Abu Zubaydah, in the initial days before the white room, "began to provide intelligence insights into Al Qaeda."
Or did he? "How Good Is Abu Zubaydah's Information?" asked a Newsweek "Web exclusive" on April 27, 2002, less than a month after his capture. The extreme secrecy and isolation in which Abu Zubaydah was being held, at a location unknown to him and to all but a tiny handful of government officials, did not prevent his "information" being leaked from that unknown place directly into the American press—in the cause, apparently, of a bureaucratic struggle between the FBI and the CIA. Even Americans who were not following closely the battling leaks from Zubaydah's interrogation would have found their lives affected, whether they knew it or not, by what was happening in that faraway white room; for about the same time the Bush administration saw fit to issue two "domestic terrorism warnings," derived from Abu Zubaydah's "tips"—about "possible attacks on banks or financial institutions in the Northeastern United States" and possible "attacks on US supermarkets and shopping malls." As Newsweek learned from a "senior US official," presumably from the FBI—whose "standard interview techniques" had produced that information and the "domestic terrorism warnings" based on it—the prisoner was "providing detailed information for the 'fight against terrorism.'" At the same time, however, "US intelligence sources"—presumably CIA—"wonder whether he's trying to mislead investigators or frighten the American public."
For his part, John Kiriakou, the CIA man, told ABC News that in those early weeks Zubaydah was "willing to talk about philosophy, [but] he was unwilling to give us any actionable intelligence." The CIA officers had the "sweeping classified directive signed by Mr. Bush," giving them authority to "capture, detain and interrogate terrorism suspects," and Zubaydah was "a test case for an evolving new role,...in which the agency was to act as jailer and interrogator of terrorism suspects." Eventually a team from the CIA's Counterterrorism Center was "sent in from Langley" and the FBI interrogators were withdrawn.
We had these trained interrogators who were sent to his location to use the enhanced techniques as necessary to get him to open up, and to report some threat information.... These enhanced techniques included everything from what was called an attention shake, where you grab the person by their lapels and shake them, all the way up to the other end, which is waterboarding.
They began, apparently, by shackling him to the chair, and applying light, noise, and water to keep him awake. After two or three weeks of this Abu Zubaydah, still naked and shackled, was allowed to lie on the bare floor and to "sleep a little." He was also given solid food—rice—for the first time. Eventually a doctor, a woman, came and examined him, and "asked why I was still naked." The next day he was "provided with orange clothes to wear." The following day, however, "guards came into my cell. They told me to stand up and raise my arms above my head. They then cut the clothes off of me so that I was again naked and put me back on the chair for several days. I tried to sleep on the chair, but was again kept awake by the guards spraying water in my face."
What follows is a confusing period, in which harsh treatment alternated with more lenient. Zubaydah was mostly naked and cold, "sometimes with the air conditioning adjusted so that, one official said, Mr. Zubayah seemed to turn blue." Sometimes clothing would be brought, then removed the next day. "When my interrogators had the impression that I was cooperating and providing the information they required, the clothes were given back to me. When they felt I was being less cooperative the clothes were again removed and I was again put back on the chair." At one point he was supplied with a mattress, at another he was "allowed some tissue paper to use when going to toilet on the bucket." A month passed with no questioning. "My cell was still very cold and the loud music no longer played but there was a constant loud hissing or crackling noise, which played twenty-four hours a day. I tried to block out the noise by putting tissue in my ears." Then, "about two and half or three months after I arrived in this place, the interrogation began again, but with more intensity than before."
It is difficult to know whether these alterations in attitude and procedure were intended, meant to keep the detainee off-guard, or resulted from disputes about strategy among the interrogators, who were relying on a hastily assembled "alternative set of procedures" that had been improvised from various sources, including scientists and psychiatrists within the intelligence community, experts from other, "friendly" governments, and consultants who had worked with the US military and now "reverse-engineered" the resistance training taught to American elite forces to help them withstand interrogation after capture. The forerunners of some of the theories being applied in these interrogations, involving sensory deprivation, disorientation, guilt and shame, so-called "learned helplessness," and the need to induce "the debility-dependence-dread state," can be found in CIA documents dating back nearly a half-century, such as this from a notorious "counterintelligence interrogation" manual of the early 1960s:
The circumstances of detention are arranged to enhance within the subject his feelings of being cut off from the known and the reassuring, and of being plunged into the strange.... Control of the source's environment permits the interrogator to determine his diet, sleep pattern and other fundamentals. Manipulating these into irregularities, so that the subject becomes disorientated, is very likely to create feelings of fear and helplessness.
A later version of the same manual emphasizes the importance of guilt: "If the 'questioner' can intensify these guilt feelings, it will increase the subject's anxiety and his urge to cooperate as a means of escape." Isolation and sensory deprivation will "induce regression" and the "loss of those defenses most recently acquired by civilized man," while the imposition of "stress positions" that in effect force the subject "to harm himself" will produce a guilt leading to an irresistible desire to cooperate with his interrogators.
Two and a half months after Abu Zubaydah woke up strapped to a bed in the white room, the interrogation resumed "with more intensity than before":
Two black wooden boxes were brought into the room outside my cell. One was tall, slightly higher than me and narrow. Measuring perhaps in area [3 1/2 by 2 1/2 feet by 6 1/2 feet high]. The other was shorter, perhaps only [3 1/2 feet] in height. I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room. I was also repeatedly slapped in the face....
I was then put into the tall black box for what I think was about one and a half to two hours. The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside.... They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.
One is reminded here that Abu Zubaydah was not alone with his interrogators, that everyone in that white room—guards, interrogators, doctor—was in fact linked directly, and almost constantly, to senior intelligence officials on the other side of the world. "It wasn't up to individual interrogators to decide, 'Well, I'm gonna slap him. Or I'm going to shake him. Or I'm gonna make him stay up for 48 hours," said John Kiriakou.
Each one of these steps...had to have the approval of the Deputy Director for Operations. So before you laid a hand on him, you had to send in the cable saying, "He's uncooperative. Request permission to do X." And that permission would come.... The cable traffic back and forth was extremely specific. And the bottom line was these were very unusual authorities that the agency got after 9/11. No one wanted to mess them up. No one wanted to get in trouble by going overboard.… No one wanted to be the guy who accidentally did lasting damage to a prisoner.
Smashing against hard walls before Zubaydah enters the tall black coffin-like box; sudden appearance of plywood sheeting affixed to the wall for him to be smashed against when he emerges. Perhaps the deputy director of operations, pondering the matter in his Langley, Virginia, office, suggested the plywood?
Or perhaps it was someone higher up? Shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, according to ABC News, CIA officers "briefed high-level officials in the National Security Council's Principals Committee," including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who "then signed off on the [interrogation] plan." At the time, the spring and summer of 2002, the administration was devising what some referred to as a "golden shield" from the Justice Department—the legal rationale that was embodied in the infamous "torture memorandum," written by John Yoo and signed by Jay Bybee in August 2002, which claimed that for an "alternative procedure" to be considered torture, and thus illegal, it would have to cause pain of the sort "that would be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body function will likely result." The "golden shield" presumably would protect CIA officers from prosecution. Still, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet regularly brought directly to the attention of the highest officials of the government specific procedures to be used on specific detainees—"whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subject to simulated drowning"—in order to seek reassurance that they were legal. According to the ABC report, the briefings of principals were so detailed and frequent that "some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed." At one such meeting, John Ashcroft, then attorney general, reportedly demanded of his colleagues, "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."
We do not know if the plywood appeared in Zubaydah's white room thanks to orders from his interrogators, from their bosses at Langley, or perhaps from their superiors in the White House. We don't know the precise parts played by those responsible for "choreographing" the "alternative set of procedures." We do know from several reports that at a White House meeting in July 2002 top administration lawyers gave the CIA "the green light" to move to the "more aggressive techniques" that were applied to him, separately and in combination, during the following days:
After the beating I was then placed in the small box. They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful. I think this occurred about 3 months after my last operation. It was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to bleed. I don't know how long I remained in the small box, I think I may have slept or maybe fainted.
I was then dragged from the small box, unable to walk properly and put on what looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position. The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited. The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless. I thought I was going to die. I lost control of my urine. Since then I still lose control of my urine when under stress.
I was then placed again in the tall box. While I was inside the box loud music was played again and somebody kept banging repeatedly on the box from the outside. I tried to sit down on the floor, but because of the small space the bucket with urine tipped over and spilt over me.... I was then taken out and again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two interrogators as before.
I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold.
This went on for approximately one week. During this time the whole procedure was repeated five times. On each occasion, apart from one, I was suffocated once or twice and was put in the vertical position on the bed in between. On one occasion the suffocation was repeated three times. I vomited each time I was put in the vertical position between the suffocation.
During that week I was not given any solid food. I was only given Ensure to drink. My head and beard were shaved everyday.
I collapsed and lost consciousness on several occasions. Eventually the torture was stopped by the intervention of the doctor.
I was told during this period that I was one of the first to receive these interrogation techniques, so no rules applied. It felt like they were experimenting and trying out techniques to be used later on other people.
All evidence from the ICRC report suggests that Abu Zubaydah's informant was telling him the truth: he was the first, and, as such, a guinea pig. Some techniques are discarded. The coffin-like black boxes, for example, barely large enough to contain a man, one six feet tall and the other scarcely more than three feet, which seem to recall the sensory-deprivation tanks used in early CIA-sponsored experiments, do not reappear. Neither does the "long-time sitting"—the weeks shackled to a chair—that Abu Zubaydah endured in his first few months.
Nudity, on the other hand, is a constant in the ICRC report, as are permanent shackling, the "cold cell," and the unceasing loud music or noise. Sometimes there is twenty-four-hour light, sometimes constant darkness. Beatings, also, and smashing against the walls seem to be favored procedures; often, the interrogators wear gloves.
In later interrogations new techniques emerge, of which "long-time standing" and the use of cold water are notable. Walid Bin Attash, a Yemeni national involved with planning the attacks on the US embassies in Africa in 1998 and on the USS Cole in 2000, was captured in Karachi on April 29, 2003:
On arrival at the place of detention in Afghanistan I was stripped naked. I remained naked for the next two weeks. I was put in a cell measuring approximately [3 1/2 by 6 1/2 feet]. I was kept in a standing position, feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell. The cell was dark with no light, artificial or natural.
During the first two weeks I did not receive any food. I was only given Ensure and water to drink. A guard would come and hold the bottle for me while I drank.... The toilet consisted of a bucket in the cell.... I was not allowed to clean myself after using the bucket. Loud music was playing twenty-four hours each day throughout the three weeks I was there.
This "forced standing," with arms shackled above the head, a favorite Soviet technique ( stoika ) that seems to have become standard procedure after Abu Zubaydah, proved especially painful for Bin Attash, who had lost a leg fighting in Afghanistan:
After some time being held in this position my stump began to hurt so I removed my artificial leg to relieve the pain. Of course my good leg then began to ache and soon started to give way so that I was left hanging with all my weight on my wrists. I shouted for help but at first nobody came. Finally, after about one hour a guard came and my artificial leg was given back to me and I was again placed in the standing position with my hands above my head. After that the interrogators sometimes deliberately removed my artificial leg in order to add extra stress to the position....
By his account, Bin Attash was kept in this position for two weeks—"apart [from] two or three times when I was allowed to lie down." Though "the methods used were specifically designed not to leave marks," the cuffs eventually "cut into my wrists and made wounds. When this happened the doctor would be called." At a second location, where Bin Attash was again stripped naked and placed "in a standing position with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal ring in the ceiling," a doctor examined his lower leg every day—"using a tape measure for signs of swelling."
I do not remember for exactly how many days I was kept standing, but I think it was about ten days.... During the standing I was made to wear a diaper. However, on some occasions the diaper was not replaced and so I had to urinate and defecate over myself. I was washed down with cold water everyday.
Cold water was used on Bin Attash in combination with beatings and the use of a plastic collar, which seems to have been a refinement of the towel that had been looped around Abu Zubaydah's neck:
Every day for the first two weeks I was subjected to slaps to my face and punches to my body during interrogation. This was done by one interrogator wearing gloves....
Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room. It was also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the walls of the corridor during such movements.
Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks I was made to lie on a plastic sheet placed on the floor which would then be lifted at the edges. Cold water was then poured onto my body with buckets.... I would be kept wrapped inside the sheet with the cold water for several minutes. I would then be taken for interrogation....
Bin Attash notes that in the "second place of detention"—where he was put in the diaper—"they were rather more sophisticated than in Afghanistan because they had a hose-pipe with which to pour the water over me."
A clear method emerges from these accounts, based on forced nudity, isolation, bombardment with noise and light, deprivation of sleep and food, and repeated beatings and "smashings"—though from this basic model one can see the method evolve, from forced sitting to forced standing, for example, and acquire new elements, like immersion in cold water.
Khaled Shaik Mohammed, the key planner of the September 11 attacks who was captured in Rawalpindi on March 1, 2003—nine of the fourteen "high-value detainees" were apprehended in Pakistan—and, after a two-day detention in Pakistan during which he alleges that a "CIA agent...punched him several times in the stomach, chest and face [and]...threw him on the floor and trod on his face," was sent to Afghanistan using the standard "transfer procedures." ("My eyes were covered with a cloth tied around my head and with a cloth bag pulled over it. A suppository was inserted into my rectum. I was not told what the suppository was for.") In Afghanistan, he was stripped and placed in a small cell, where he "was kept in a standing position with my hands cuffed and chained to a bar above my head. My feet were flat on the floor." After about an hour,
I was taken to another room where I was made to stand on tiptoes for about two hours during questioning. Approximately thirteen persons were in the room. These included the head interrogator (a man) and two female interrogators, plus about ten muscle guys wearing masks. I think they were all Americans. From time to time one of the muscle guys would punch me in the chest and stomach.
These "full-dress" interrogations—where the detainee stands naked, on tiptoe, amid a crowd of thirteen people, including "ten muscle guys wearing masks"—were periodically interrupted by the detainee's removal to a separate room for additional procedures:
Here cold water from buckets was thrown onto me for about forty minutes. Not constantly as it took time to refill the buckets. After which I would be taken back to the interrogation room.
On one occasion during the interrogation I was offered water to drink, when I refused I was again taken to another room where I was made to lie [on] the floor with three persons holding me down. A tube was inserted into my anus and water poured inside. Afterwards I wanted to go to the toilet as I had a feeling as if I had diarrhoea. No toilet access was provided until four hours later when I was given a bucket to use.
Whenever I was returned to my cell I was always kept in the standing position with my hands cuffed and chained to a bar above my head.
After three days in what he believes was Afghanistan, Mohammed was again dressed in a tracksuit, blindfold, hood, and headphones, and shackled and placed aboard a plane "sitting, leaning back, with my hands and ankles shackled in a high chair." He quickly fell asleep—"the first proper sleep in over five days"—and remains unsure of how long the journey took. On arrival, however, he realized he had come a long way:
I could see at one point there was snow on the ground. Everybody was wearing black, with masks and army boots, like Planet-X people. I think the country was Poland. I think this because on one occasion a water bottle was brought to me without the label removed. It had [an] e-mail address ending in ".pl."
He was stripped and put in a small cell "with cameras where I was later informed by an interrogator that I was monitored 24 hours a day by a doctor, psychologist and interrogator." He believes the cell was underground because one had to descend steps to reach it. Its walls were of wood and it measured about ten by thirteen feet.
It was in this place, according to Mohammed, that "the most intense interrogation occurred, led by three experienced CIA interrogators, all over 65 years old and all strong and well trained." They informed him that they had received the "green light from Washington" to give him " a hard time." "They never used the word 'torture' and never referred to 'physical pressure,' only to ' a hard time. ' I was never threatened with death, in fact I was told that they would not allow me to die, but that I would be brought to the ' verge of death and back again.'"
I was kept for one month in the cell in a standing position with my hands cuffed and shackled above my head and my feet cuffed and shackled to a point in the floor. Of course during this month I fell asleep on some occasions while still being held in this position. This resulted in all my weight being applied to the handcuffs around my wrist resulting in open and bleeding wounds. [Scars consistent with this allegation were visible on both wrists as well as on both ankles.] Both my feet became very swollen after one month of almost continual standing.
For interrogation, Mohammed was taken to a different room. The sessions last for as long as eight hours and as short as four.
The number of people present varied greatly from one day to another. Other interrogators, including women, were also sometimes present.... A doctor was usually also present. If I was perceived not to be cooperating I would be put against a wall and punched and slapped in the body, head and face. A thick flexible plastic collar would also be placed around my neck so that it could then be held at the two ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall. The beatings were combined with the use of cold water, which was poured over me using a hose-pipe. The beatings and use of cold water occurred on a daily basis during the first month.
Like Abu Zubaydah; like Abdelrahim Hussein Abdul Nashiri, a Saudi who was captured in Dubai in October 2002, Mohammed was also subjected to waterboarding, by his account on five occasions:
I would be strapped to a special bed, which could be rotated into a vertical position. A cloth would be placed over my face. Cold water from a bottle that had been kept in a fridge was then poured onto the cloth by one of the guards so that I could not breathe.... The cloth was then removed and the bed was put into a vertical position. The whole process was then repeated during about one hour. Injuries to my ankles and wrists also occurred during the water-boarding as I struggled in the panic of not being able to breath. Female interrogators were also present...and a doctor was always present, standing out of sight behind the head of [the] bed, but I saw him when he came to fix a clip to my finger which was connected to a machine. I think it was to measure my pulse and oxygen content in my blood. So they could take me to [the] breaking point.
As with Zubaydah, the harshest sessions of interrogation involved the "alternative set of procedures" used in sequence and in combination, one technique intensifying the effects of the others:
The beatings became worse and I had cold water directed at me from a hose-pipe by guards while I was still in my cell. The worst day was when I was beaten for about half an hour by one of the interrogators. My head was banged against the wall so hard that it started to bleed. Cold water was poured over my head. This was then repeated with other interrogators. Finally I was taken for a session of water boarding. The torture on that day was finally stopped by the intervention of the doctor. I was allowed to sleep for about one hour and then put back in my cell standing with my hands shackled above my head.
Reading the ICRC report, one becomes eventually somewhat inured to the "alternative set of procedures" as they are described: the cold and repeated violence grows numbing. Against this background, the descriptions of daily life of the detainees in the black sites, in which interrogation seems merely a periodic heightening of consistently imposed brutality, become more striking. Here again is Mohammed:
After each session of torture I was put into a cell where I was allowed to lie on the floor and could sleep for a few minutes. However, due to shackles on my ankles and wrists I was never able to sleep very well....The toilet consisted of a bucket in the cell, which I could use on request [he was shackled standing, his hands affixed to the ceiling], but I was not allowed to clean myself after toilet during the first month.... During the first month I was not provided with any food apart from on two occasions as a reward for perceived cooperation. I was given Ensure to drink every 4 hours. If I refused to drink then my mouth was forced open by the guard and it was poured down my throat by force.... At the time of my arrest I weighed 78kg. After one month in detention I weighed 60kg.
I wasn't given any clothes for the first month. Artificial light was on 24 hours a day, but I never saw sunlight.
Q : Mr. President,...this is a moral question: Is torture ever justified?
President George W. Bush : Look, I'm going to say it one more time.... Maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you. We're a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at these laws, and that might provide comfort for you. — Sea Island, Georgia, June 10, 2004
Abu Zubaydah, Walid Bin Attash, Khaled Shaik Mohammed—these men almost certainly have blood on their hands, a great deal of blood. There is strong reason to believe that they had critical parts in planning and organizing terrorist operations that caused the deaths of thousands of people. So in all likelihood did the other twelve "high-value detainees" whose treatment while secretly confined by agents of the US government is described with such gruesome particularity in the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross. From everything we know, many or all of these men deserve to be tried and punished—to be "brought to justice," as President Bush, in his speech to the American people on September 6, 2006, vowed they would be.
It seems unlikely that they will be brought to justice anytime soon. In mid-January, Susan J. Crawford, who had been appointed by the Bush administration to decide which Guantánamo detainees should be tried before military commissions, declined to refer to trial Mohammed al-Qahtani, who was to have been among the September 11 hijackers but who had been turned back by immigration officials at Orlando International Airport. After he was captured in Afghanistan in late 2002, Qahtani was imprisoned in Guantánamo and interrogated by Department of Defense intelligence officers. Crawford, a retired judge and former general counsel of the army, told TheWashington Post that she had concluded that Qahtani's "treatment met the legal definition of torture."
The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent....
You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive.
Qahtani's interrogation at Guantánamo, accounts of which have appeared in Time and The Washington Post, was intense and prolonged, stretching for fifty consecutive days beginning in the late fall of 2002, and led to his hospitalization on at least two occasions. Some of the techniques used, including longtime sitting in restraints, prolonged exposure to cold, loud music, and noise, and sleep deprivation, recall those described in the ICRC report. If the "coercive" and "abusive" interrogation of Qahtani makes trying him impossible, one may doubt that any of the fourteen "high-value detainees" whose accounts are given in this report will ever be tried and sentenced in an internationally recognized and sanctioned legal proceeding.
In the case of men who have committed great crimes, this seems to mark perhaps the most important and consequential sense in which "torture doesn't work." The use of torture deprives the society whose laws have been so egregiously violated of the possibility of rendering justice. Torture destroys justice. Torture in effect relinquishes this sacred right in exchange for speculative benefits whose value is, at the least, much disputed. John Kiriakou, the CIA officer who witnessed part of Zubaydah's interrogation, described to Brian Ross of ABC News what happened after Zubaydah was waterboarded:
He resisted. He was able to withstand the water boarding for quite some time. And by that I mean probably 30, 35 seconds.... And a short time afterwards, in the next day or so, he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate because his cooperation would make it easier on the other brothers who had been captured. And from that day on he answered every question just like I'm sitting here speaking to you.... The threat information that he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.
This claim, echoed by President Bush in his speech, is a matter of fierce dispute. Bush's public version, indeed, was much more carefully circumscribed: among other things, that Zubaydah's information confirmed the alias ("Muktar") of Khaled Shaik Mohammed, and thus helped lead to his capture; that it helped lead, indirectly, to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a Yemeni who was another key figure in planning the September 11 attacks; and that it "helped us stop another planned attack within the United States."
At least some of this information, apparently, came during the early, noncoercive interrogation led by FBI agents. Later, according to the reporter Ron Suskind, Zubaydah
named countless targets inside the US to stop the pain, all of them immaterial. Indeed, think back to the sudden slew of alerts in the spring and summer of 2002 about attacks on apartment buildings, banks, shopping malls and, of course, nuclear plants.
Suskind is only the most prominent of a number of reporters with strong sources in the intelligence community who argue that the importance of the intelligence Zubaydah supplied, and indeed his importance within al-Qaeda, have been grossly and systematically exaggerated by government officials, from President Bush on down.
Though it seems highly unlikely that Zubaydah's information stopped "maybe dozens of attacks," as Kiriakou said, the plain fact is that it is impossible, until a thorough investigation can be undertaken of the interrogations, to evaluate fully and fairly what intelligence the United States actually received in return for all the severe costs, practical, political, legal, and moral, the country incurred by instituting a policy of torture. There is a sense in which the entire debate over what Zubaydah did or did not provide, and the attacks the information might or might not have prevented—a debate driven largely by leaks by fiercely self-interested parties—itself reflects an unvoiced acceptance, on both sides, of the centrality of the mythical "ticking-bomb scenario" so beloved of those who argue that torture is necessary, and so prized by the writers of television dramas like 24. That is, the argument centers on whether Zubaydah's interrogation directly "disrupted a number of attacks."
Perhaps unwittingly, Kiriakou is most revealing about the intelligence value of interrogation of "high-value detainees" when he discusses what the CIA actually got from Zubaydah:
What he was able to provide was information on the al-Qaeda leadership. For example, if bin Laden were to do X, who would be the person to undertake such and such an operation? "Oh, logically that would be Mr. Y." And we were able to use that information to kind of get an idea of how al-Qaeda operated, how it came about conceptualizing its operations, and how it went about tasking different cells with carrying out operations.... His value was, it allowed us to have somebody who we could pass ideas onto for his comments or analysis.
This has the ring of truth, for this is how intelligence works—by the patient accruing of individual pieces of information, by building a picture that will help officers make sense of the other intelligence they receive. Could such "comments or analysis" from a high al-Qaeda operative eventually help lead to the disruption of "a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks"? It seems possible—but if it did, the chain of cause and effect might not be direct, certainly not nearly so direct as the dramatic scenarios in newspapers and television dramas—and presidential speeches—suggest. The ticking bomb, about to explode and kill thousands or millions; the evil captured terrorist who alone has the information to find and disarm it; the desperate intelligence operative, forced to do whatever is necessary to gain that information—all these elements are well known and emotionally powerful, but where they appear most frequently is in popular entertainment, not in white rooms in Afghanistan.
There is a reverse side, of course, to the "ticking bomb" and torture: pain and ill-treatment, by creating an unbearable pressure on the detainee to say something, anything, to make the pain stop, increase the likelihood that he will fabricate stories, and waste time, or worse. At least some of the intelligence that came of the "alternative set of procedures," like Zubaydah's supposed "information" about attacks on shopping malls and banks, seems to have led the US government to issue what turned out to be baseless warnings to Americans. Khaled Shaik Mohammed asserted this directly in his interviews with the ICRC. "During the harshest period of my interrogation," he said,
I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop.... I'm sure that the false information I was forced to invent...wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts being placed in the US.
For all the talk of ticking bombs, very rarely, if ever, have officials been able to point to information gained by interrogating prisoners with "enhanced techniques" that enabled them to prevent an attack that had reached its "operational stage" (that is, had gone beyond reconnoitering and planning). Still, widespread perception that such techniques have prevented attacks, actively encouraged by the President and other officials, has been politically essential in letting the administration carry on with these policies after they had largely become public. Polls tend to show that a majority of Americans are willing to support torture only when they are assured that it will "thwart a terrorist attack." Because of the political persuasiveness of such scenarios it is vital that a future inquiry truly investigate claims that attacks have been prevented.
As I write, it is impossible to know what benefits—in intelligence, in national security, in disrupting al-Qaeda—the President's approval of use of an "alternative set of procedures" might have brought to the United States. What we can say definitively is that the decision has harmed American interests in quite demonstrable ways. Some are practical and specific: for example, FBI agents, many of them professionals with great experience and skill in interrogation, were withdrawn, apparently after objections by the bureau's leaders, when it was decided to use the "alternative set of procedures" on Abu Zubaydah. Extensive leaks to the press, from both officials supportive of and critical of the "alternative set of procedures," undermined what was supposed to be a highly secret program; those leaks, in large part a product of the great controversy the program provoked within the national security bureaucracy, eventually helped make it unsustainable.
Finally, this bureaucratic weakness led officials of the CIA to destroy, apparently out of fear of eventual exposure and possible prosecution, a trove of as many as ninety-two video recordings that had been made of the interrogations, all but two of them of Abu Zubaydah. Whether or not the prosecutor investigating those actions determines that they were illegal, it is hard to believe that the recordings did not include valuable intelligence, which was sacrificed, in effect, for political reasons. These recordings doubtless could have played a critical part as well in the effort to determine what benefits, if any, the program brought to the security of the United States.
Far and away the greatest damage, though, was legal, moral, and political. In the wake of the ICRC report one ca
This entry was posted on Mar 20, 2009 at 01:52:58 pm and is filed under American Empire, Human Rights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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Published March 3, 2009
By Khalid Amayreh in Occupied Palestine
The de facto chairman of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas is once again asking Hamas to recognize Israel as a precondition for the formation of a prospective national unity government.
In a speech in Ramallah on Saturday, 28 February, Abbas said any Palestinian unity government " will have to be committed to our values and respect agreements previously signed by the Palestinian Authority.”
Abbas didn’t explicitly say that Hamas would have to recognize Israel. However, this is exactly what every Palestinian listening to his speech understood from his statements.
Well, it is really sad and lamentable that the Palestinian political discourse has stooped to this level of national apostasy.
Palestinian leaders from time immemorial never stopped urging our masses to resist Zionist aggression, and never give up the dream of earning our freedom from the cruel hands of Zionism.
Hence, the fact that a late comer shamelessly urges his own people to recognize the legitimacy of their oppressors and dispossessors, who have just incinerated hundreds of children in Gaza using White Phosphorus bombs, is more than demeaning and injurious to our collective national spirit.
First of all, Abbas should realize, in case he doesn’t, that recognizing Israel would mean a full-embrace of the Zionist narrative, a blaspheme by any other name.
It would mean a recognition, or at least an acknowledgement, that Israel had the right to wrest Palestine from its rightful owners by way of employing murder, terror and ethnic cleansing. It would mean that all the massacres and atrocities Israel perpetrated were legitimate.
In other words, Abbas is effectively demanding that Hamas and other Palestinians morph themselves into full-fledged Zionists.
But Israel seeks more than just a mere recognition of its “right to exist.” The nefarious entity insists that all Palestinians (and all Arabs) recognize her as a Jewish state.
In real terms, this would imply that the sizeable Palestinian community in Israel, whose existence in their ancestral land, had preceded the advent of modern Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe by numerous centuries, will have to be expelled, partially or wholly, at some point in the future?
So, one might really wonder if the PA leader is asking Hamas to recognize Israel’s “right” to expel more than 1.5 million Palestinians on the ground that Israel is a “Jewish state” and that non-Jews have only a transient right to live within the state?
Indeed, one would be stating the obvious by arguing that neither Abbas, nor Fatah, nor Hamas, not even the 23 Arab kings and presidents-for-life, have the right to speak on behalf of these admirable Palestinians who clang to their homes despite all the harassment and institutionalized persecution meted out to them by successive Zionist governments.
Apart from Zionist criminality, there are a thousand other reasons why no dignified Palestinian leadership should not recognize Israel.
The PLO, which everyone is trying to rehabilitate these days, lost its chastity when it was duped into recognizing Israel through the scandalous Oslo Agreement. And instead of receiving a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, as the famous mantra goes, in exchange for that unethical recognition, it got more Jewish-only colonies, narrower horizons for the Palestinian masses and a Nazi-like gigantic wall that effectively transformed Palestinian towns and villages into open-air prisons.
So, I want to ask Mr. Abbas and his cohorts. Did Israel recognize a viable and sovereign Palestinian state in exchange for that stupid PLO recognition?
I am asking this question because even the stupidest and most demented Palestinian wouldn’t have given Israel a free recognition?
Furthermore, I want to ask you Mr. President, which Israel do you want Hamas to recognize? Is it Israel according to the partition plan? Is it Israel according to the 1949 armistice agreement? Is it Israel according to the pre-1967 borders? Is it Israel with East Jerusalem? Is it Israel with the Golan Heights? Is it Israel with Shaba Province? Or is it Greater Israel which according to some rabbinic authorities includes Jordan (Eastern Yeretz Yisrael!!), Syria, Lebanon, as well as large parts of Egypt, Iraq and northern Saudi Arabia?
I am posing these questions because until today, Israel has no fixed borders. Didn’t you hear the gurus of Zionism claim during the recent blitzkrieg in Gaza that Israel had the right to prevent any international ship to access the blockaded and thoroughly starved coastal territory?
More to the point, could you tell me Mr. President why a Palestinian government of national unity would have to recognize Israel when the Israeli government refuses to recognize Palestine?
Aren’t you aware that the government which the notorious pathological liar, Benyamin Netanyahu, is trying to form will include manifestly fascist parties such as Habayt ha’yahudi (the Jewish Home), Ichud Leumi (National Union) Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is our Home) and Shas? Even Netanyahu himself doesn’t believe in a Palestinian state as evident from his vacuous charade about effecting economic prosperity in the West Bank.
You are supposed to be an expert on Zionism and sufficiently familiar with the Nazi-like ideologies espoused by these racist parties.
So, why haven’t you insisted on parity and reciprocity with Israel by demanding that the PA wouldn’t negotiate with any Israeli government that doesn’t recognize a truly sovereign and territorially contiguous Palestinian state on at least 100% of the occupied territories?
I really can’t understand why the Palestinians have to give up all their “bargaining cards” when Israel continues to kill any realistic prospects for the creation of a Palestinian entity that is worthy of the name?
Mr. President, one doesn’t have to be especially smart to tell Hillary Clinton and other western emissaries that they have no right to demand that Hamas recognize Israel and abandon armed struggle as long as the Israeli government includes fascist political parties that not only deny our right to freedom and self-determination but also go as far as demanding our enslavement, banishment and even physical extermination.
You may examine their declared and undeclared platforms and see for yourself the evilness of their designs against our people.
Yes, one doesn’t have to have a specially high IQ to utter these most logical words and put up a brave and dignified stance on behalf of our people. But one does have to be courageous, a character that the present PA leadership obviously doesn’t possess.
Finally, we all know that there is not the slightest chance in hell that Hamas will recognize a Zionist Israel, mainly for religious and moral reasons. A Hamas that recognizes a Zionist Israel simply loses its raison d’etre.
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Comment by Khalid Amayreh
Two inseparable characters have identified Israeli behavior ever since the very inception of its existence in occupied Palestine: Criminality and mendacity.
As to the first, we all know that Israel itself is and has always been a crime against humanity. Israel’s very creation couldn’t have been effected had it not been for the numerous atrocities and terror committed by the legions of Zionism for the express purpose of driving the majority of the Palestinian population into exile.
Indeed, as the conscientious Israeli historian Illan Pappe asserts in his book, the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, the 1948-war was started by the Zionists in order to terrorize the Palestinians into leaving their homeland.
Hence, the massive terrorization and subsequent dispersion of the vast majority of indigenous Palestinians (Christians and Muslims) from their ancestral homeland was actually the intended outcome of the war rather than its unintended result as the Zionists would claim.
Well, criminality and mendacity always go hand in hand, and since the Zionists couldn’t admit guilt for their shameful deeds, e.g. as post-war Germany did, Zionist officials resorted to the intensive use of “weapons of mass distortion” whereby the managed, mostly successfully, to turn the black into white, the big lie into a ‘truth’ glorified by thousands, and the criminals into victims and vice versa.
Some of the classical lies, which have been exposed by some Zionist writers, such as Benny Morris and Tom Segev, include the scandalous claim that the bulk of Palestinian refugees fled their homes voluntarily and that that the Israeli authorities actually implored them to stay.
Unfortunately, such scandalous lies were conveniently parroted by the western media from Australia to the United States.
Interestingly, some of the die-hard Zionist media are still shamelessly clinging to these anachronistic and thoroughly debunked narratives as if every immoral tactic was legitimate as long as the end is to serve Israeli interests.
Since 1948, lying in various forms represented the overall discourse of the Nazi-like state. This writer remembers vividly how the state-run Israeli radio, kol Yisrael, was insulting the intelligence of common listeners when reporting news of the first Intifada (1988-1992), when then War Minister Yitzhak Rabin instructed his soldiers to break the bones of Palestinian children, which is what the soldiers literally did on numerous occasions.
A mere mouthpiece of the Israeli army, the Zionist radio would report that troops fired into the ether to disperse Palestinian stone-throwers and that a certain number of Palestinians were both killed and wounded.
I don’t know if the Israeli newscaster was gullible enough to suggest that the poor Palestinian victims were actually flying in the sky because otherwise none of them would have been killed or wounded had they refrained from using their wings and contented themselves with remaining human.!!!
Nonetheless, such brash lies, which defied logic, were readily repeated by serious media outlets throughout the western world just as the same is happening these days when American and some European networks (e.g. the BBC), have not refrained from giving the benefit of the doubt to the pornographic Israeli lies about the recent blitzkrieg in Gaza.
Today, the general modus operandi remains unchanged, and the "hasbara" fabrication of lies has only become more sophisticated while the overall goals remain unchanged.
For example, Israel routinely justifies the wanton demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank, especially in Occupied East Jerusalem, by arguing that the doomed homes have been built without a proper building license and that Israel, like any other law-abiding state, is duty-bound to enforce building and zoning regulations.
However, what Israel has been trying to hide from the eyes of the world is the fact that the Zionist state is using both the litter and spirit of the law!!! (the occupier’s law) to ethnically cleanse Palestinians, narrow their horizon, and force them to leave their ancestral homeland.
Indeed, the draconian discrimination against Palestinian license applicants has been the adopted policy since the first days of the occupation more than 41 years ago. And the goal is always to force as many as Palestinians as possible to leave in order to allow as many Jewish settlers as possible to replace the evicted victims.
The Israeli authorities actually lie as often as they breathe, and instead of adopting a reasonable approach, based on honesty, toward the Palestinians in places like East Jerusalem, Israeli officials spend weeks and months devising satanic tricks to dispossess non-Jews of their real estate and property, especially homes.
Thus if no problem exists with regard to the building license, the racist officials would concoct or invent other justifications for the demolition of the Arab home or property, such as claiming that the relevant area is an excavation park. And if all the inventory of legal tricks is exhausted, then the occupation authority would simply commit the act of rape by demolishing the home without any explanation. And when the oppressed Arab victims cry out for justice, an arrogant Israeli officer, or even an ordinary soldier, would simply confront him or her by saying… “you’d better come to terms with reality. No one will help you, the media won’t help you, America won’t help you…we control America… Even God won’t help you.”
This is exactly how thousands of Arab homes have been utterly destroyed under the pretext of maintaining law and order while every honest person knows deep in his or her heart that the real motive is simply to effect ethnic cleansing and obliterate the Palestinian identity of the land.
Last week, the Israeli occupation authorities said they were planning to demolish as many as 88 Palestinian homes at the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The plan is part of a master scheme to destroy thousands of Palestinian homes for the purpose of building Jewish settler homes in the traditionally Arab East Jerusalem.
In the meantime, the same Zionist regime is planning a phenomenally huge settlement expansion drive that would double the settler population of the West Bank, now totaling around a million settlers.
In light, it is obvious that the last thing Israel is really thinking about is true peace with the Palestinians.
This reality, which even the blind can see, should make the Obama administration decide, sooner than later, whether it will hold Israel to account or just behave as the previous American administrations did, namely give Israel caret blanch to murder whatever chance for peace in the Middle East there still is while babbling about a clinically dead peace process that is being kept alive through artificial means.
Finally, I am going to say this, which many pro-Israeli Americans don’t wish to hear. Mr. Obama, if you don’t succeed in getting Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, you won’t succeed in overcoming the monumental economic crisis now facing your country and the world.
The connection between the economic super-crisis in America and the unresolved and deteriorating conflict in Palestine is so real and so clear.
You know and I know that the so-called war on terror, which the Bush administration waged on a number of Muslim countries and movements, was conceived in Israel, the very same Israel that is now trying to bully or cajole America to start a new war, this time against Iran, a country that never invaded or attacked any other country in recent memory.
Israeli leaders think, probably justifiably to a large extent, that Israel and the Jews of America control the American government, including Congress as well as the main media.
It is incumbent upon you, Mr. President, to prove they are wrong.
Because if you don’t or can’t, you won’t be able to overcome the economic collapse haunting your country and shaking its foundations.
Leaving the Israeli stranglehold over American politics intact means one thing. It means that America is going to get itself entangled in more wars abroad, mainly to ensure and serve Israeli interests of military aggrandizement and territorial expansion.
Mr. President, don’t sacrifice America’s vital interests for the sake of Israeli hegemony and megalomania.
Don’t let Israel destroy America.
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GAZA - The Hamas Movement highlighted Thursday that the kidnapping campaign waged by Israel against its leaders in the West Bank and the threats to escalate violations against Palestinian prisoners would never succeed in blackmailing it into making concessions on the prisoner swap deal or any issues related to the rights of the Palestinian people.
Dr. Salah Al-Bardawil, the spokesman for the Hamas parliamentary bloc, underlined in an exclusive statement to the PIC that all these repressive measures are exposed attempts to pressure Hamas and force it to release the Israeli captive soldier without any price.
Dr. Bardawil said that these Israeli attempts would be doomed to failure like previous ones because Hamas never retreated from its positions regarding the Palestinian rights and constants.
For his part, Dr. Ahmed Bahar, the acting speaker of the PLC, strongly denounced the kidnapping campaign waged by Israel against Hamas leaders and lawmakers in the West Bank, saying that this campaign is aimed to blackmail the Palestinian resistance into making concessions on the issues of occupied Jerusalem and prisoners and also accepting the international quartet's terms
In an exclusive statement to the PIC, Dr. Bahar, who is currenlty in Doha in line with a tour of a number of Arab and Muslim countries, called on the Palestinian resistance to cling to its demands regarding the swap deal and not to bow to Israel's blackmails.
In the same context, Abdel-Nasser Farwana, a specialist in prisoners' affairs, stated Wednesday that the IOA recently introduced new measures against Palestinian prisoners that are more repressive than the violations committed against detainees in Guantanamo prison.
Farwana added that the IOA escalated its blatant violations of international law regarding the rights of Palestinian prisoners in its jails and also stepped up its use of the terms "unlawful combatant" and "enemy combatants" against Gaza prisoners in an unprecedented way, which means they lost their basic rights mentioned in the Geneva convention and their detention would continue endlessly.
In another context, media sources reported that the IOA expanded the detention of three Hamas lawmakers and added six months to their previous sentences issued against them.
The family of imprisoned MP Mohamed Attal said that the IOA expanded his sentence from 38 to 44 months. The IOA also added six months to the sentences previously issued against MPs Fadl Hamdan and Khalil Al-Rabe'i.
This entry was posted on Mar 19, 2009 at 07:47:59 pm and is filed under Human Rights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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A United Nations human rights investigator said on Thursday that Israel's offensive against Hamas in densely populated Gaza appeared to constitute a war crime of the "greatest magnitude."
Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said the Geneva Conventions required warring forces to distinguish between military targets and surrounding civilians.
"If it is not possible to do so, then launching the attacks is inherently unlawful and would seem to constitute a war crime of the greatest magnitude under international law," Falk said.
"On the basis of the preliminary evidence available, there is reason to reach this conclusion," he wrote in an annual report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Falk called for an independent experts group to be set up to probe possible war crimes committed by both Israeli forces and Hamas.
Violations included Israel's alleged "targeting of schools, mosques and ambulances" during the December 27-January 18 offensive and its use of weapons including white phosphorus, as well as Hamas firing of rockets at civilian targets in southern Israel.
Falk said that Israel's blockade of the coastal strip of 1.5 million people violated the Geneva Conventions, which he said suggested further war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.
The aggression was not legally justified and may represent a "crime against peace" - a principle established at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi criminals, according to the American law professor who serves as the Human Rights Council's independent investigator.
He further suggested that the Security Council might set up an ad hoc criminal tribunal to establish accountability for war crimes in Gaza, noting Israel has not signed the Rome statutes establishing the International Criminal Court.
Rights group names 1,417 Gaza war dead; Israel disputes toll
A Palestinian human rights group has released the names of 1,417 Gazans it says were killed in Israel's recent war on the Palestinian territory's Hamas rulers.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said Thursday that of those killed, 926 were civilians, 236 were combatants and 255 were members of the Palestinian security forces.
Most of the policemen were killed in a series of Israeli bombing attacks on Hamas security compounds on December 27, the first day of the war.
The group says it has investigated every civilian death. The list is posted on the center's Web site.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev disputes the findings. He says Israel is working on its own list and contends that most of those killed were combatants or legitimate targets.
Thirteen Israelis were killed during the 22-day Gaza operation. )Note: Several were killed by Israeli "friendly fire.")
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Huda As-Shaer, the wife of Hamas leader
Nasser As-Shaer, holds his portrait in their
house in Nablus [Ma'anImages]
NABLUS – Israeli forces seized Hamas leaders across the West Bank early on Thursday in an apparent attempt to pressure the group in negotiations over the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
High-ranking Hamas sources told Ma’an that Israeli forces stormed the houses of Hamas leaders in Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron and Bethlehem.
The outgoing Israeli cabinet decided on Tuesday to increase pressure on Hamas after indirect negotiations toward a prisoner swap stalled. Israel blamed Hamas for not compromising in the talks, while Hamas said Israel had made unacceptable demands to deport some prisoners, rather than releasing them to their homes.
The detainees were identified as:
Deputy Prime Minister Nasser As-Sha’er
Hamas political leader Adnan Asfour
Professor Issam Al-Shqar all from Nablus
Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member Ayman Daraghmeh
Head of the deputies’ office Mazen Ar-Rimawi from Ramallah
PLC member Azzam Salhab from Hebron
PLC member Nizar Ramadan from Hebron
Khaled Tafesh from Bethlehem
Ra’fat Nassif from Tulkarem.
The wife of Nasser Al-Sha’er told Ma’an in a phone call that Israeli forces stormed their house in Nablus area at 2am and stayed there until 3.15am. After making several phone calls, the soldiers detained Al-Sha’er and left, taking him to an unknown destination, she said.
The Israeli military said that it detained ten senior Hamas leaders in the West Bank in a joint operation between the military and the intelligence services.
They claimed the men were "wanted" by Israeli security and intelligence services and that they "were taken in for questioning".
Hamas says the detainees include four Hamas politicians, three of whom have already served time in Israeli custody.
The latest detentions are being seen as an effort to pressure Hamas to release an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Hamas-linked fighters near the Gaza border in June 2006.
After Palestinian fighters captured Shalit, Israel seized dozens of Palestinian lawmakers from the West Bank and Gaza. Rather than yielding to Israeli pressure, Hamas has not altered its demands that Israel release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit, including the lawmakers.
Disgraced Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had hoped to negotiate the release of Shalit as his legacy before leaving office in a few days.
Egyptian efforts to mediate the release of of the soldier, currently being held in the Gaza Strip, in return for the release of hundreds of Palestinians, collapsed this week as Israelis kept increasing their demands.
There are more than 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israel’s jails.
Mahmoud Musleh, a Hamas politician, told the Reuters news agency: "These arrests are an angry reaction by Israel because of the failure of the [Gilad] Shalit deal. "This won't do Israel any good."
A Palestinian leader said the Israeli arrests were "mafia-like."
An Israeli military spokesman denied the detentions were connected.
Israeli arrests are part of daily incursions and raids in the villages and towns of the West Bank.
Hamas has been demanding the release of more than 400 Palestinian prisoners.
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By MICHAEL HUDSON
It may seem odd, but the public outrage against $135 million in AIG bonuses is a godsend to Wall Street, AIG scoundrels included. How can the media be so preoccupied with the discovery that there is self-serving greed to be found in the financial sector? Every TV channel and every newspaper in the country, from right to left, have made these bonuses the lead story over the past two days.
What is wrong with this picture? Is there not something over-inflated about the outrage led most vociferously by Senator Charles Schumer and Rep. Barney Frank, the two leading shills for the bank giveaways over the past year? And does Pres. Obama perhaps find it convenient that finally, at long last, he has been able to criticize something that he believes Wall Street has done wrong? Even the Wall Street Journal has gotten into the act. The government’s takeover of AIG, it pointed out, “uses the firm as a conduit to bail out other institutions.” So much more greed is involved than just that of AIG employees. The firm owed much more to other players – abroad as well as on Wall Street – than the assets it had. That is what drove it to insolvency. And popular opposition has been rising to how Obama and McCain could have banded together to support the bailout that, in retrospect, amounts to trillions and trillions of dollars thrown down the drain. Not really down the drain at all, of course – but given to financial speculators on the winning “smart” side of AIG’s bad financial gambles.
“The Washington crowd wants to focus on bonuses because it aims public anger on private actors,” the Journal accused in a March 17 editorial. But instead of explaining that the shift is away from Wall Street grabbers of a thousand times the amount of bonuses being contested, it blames its usual all-purpose bete noire: Congress. Where the right and left differ is just whom the public should be directing its anger at!
Here’s the problem with all the hoopla over the $135 million in AIG bonuses: This sum is only less than 0.1 per cent – one thousandth – of the $183 BILLION that the U.S. Treasury gave to AIG as a “pass-through” to its counterparties. This sum, over a thousand times the magnitude of the bonuses on which public attention is conveniently being focused by Wall Street promoters, did not stay with AIG. For over six months, the public media and Congressmen have been trying to find out just where this money DID go. Bloomberg brought a lawsuit to find out. Only to be met with a wall of silence.
Until finally, on Sunday night, March 15, the government finally released the details. They were indeed highly embarrassing. The largest recipient turned out to be just what earlier financial reports had rumored: Paulson’s own firm, Goldman Sachs, headed the list. It was owed $13 billion in counterparty claims. Here’s the picture that’s emerging. Last September, Treasury Secretary Paulson, from Goldman Sachs, drew up a terse 3-page memo outlining his bailout proposal. The plan specified that whatever he and other Treasury officials did (thus including his subordinates, also from Goldman Sachs), could not be challenged legally or undone, much less prosecuted. This condition enraged Congress, which rejected the bailout in its first incarnation.
It now looks as if Paulson had good reason to put in a fatal legal clause blocking any clawback of funds given by the Treasury to AIG’s counterparties. This is where public outrage should be focused.
Instead, the leading Congressional shepherds of the bailout legislation – along with Obama, who came out in his final, Friday night presidential debate with McCain strongly in favor of the bailout in Paulson’s awful “short” version – have been highlighting the AIG executives receiving bonuses, not the company’s counterparties.
There are two questions that one always must ask when a political operation is being launched. First, qui bono -- who benefits? And second, why now? In my experience, timing almost always is the key to figuring out the dynamics at work.
Regarding qui bono, what does Sen. Schumer, Rep. Frank, Pres. Obama and other Wall Street sponsors gain from this public outcry? For starters, it depicts them as hard taskmasters of the banking and financial sector, not its lobbyists scurrying to execute one giveaway after another. So the AIG kerfuffle has muddied the water about where their political loyalties really lie. It enables them to strike a misleading pose – and hence to pose as “honest brokers” next time they dishonestly give away the next few trillion dollars to their major sponsors and campaign contributors.
Regarding the timing, I think I have answered that above. The uproar about AIG bonuses has effectively distracted attention from the AIG counterparties who received the $183 billion in Treasury giveaways. The “final” sum to be given to its counterparties has been rumored to be $250 billion, do Sen. Schumer, Rep. Frank and Pres. Obama still have a lot more work to do for Wall Street in the coming year or so.
To succeed in this work – while mitigating the public outrage already rising against the bad bailouts – they need to strike precisely the pose that they’re striking now. It is an exercise in deception.
The moral should be: The larger the crocodile tears shed over giving bonuses to AIG individuals (who seem to be largely on the healthy, bona fide insurance side of AIG’s business, not its hedge-fund Ponzi-scheme racket), the more they will distract public attention from the $180 billion giveaway, and the better they can position themselves to give away yet more government money (Treasury bonds and Federal Reserve deposits) to their favorite financial charities.
Let’s go after the REAL money given to AIG – the $183 billion! I realize that this has already been paid out, and we can’t get it back from the counterparties who knew that Alan Greenspan and George Bush and Hank Paulson were steering the U.S. economy off a real estate cliff, a derivatives cliff and a balance-of-payments cliff all wrapped up into one by betting against collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and insuring these casino bets with AIG. That money has been siphoned off from the Treasury fair and square, by putting their own proxies in the key government slots, the better to serve them.
So let’s go after them altogether. Sen. Schumer said to the AIG bonus recipients that the I.R.S. can go after them and get the money back one way or another. And it can indeed go after the $183-billion bailout recipients. All it has to do is re-instate the estate tax and raise the marginal income and wealth-tax rates to the (already reduced) Clinton-era levels.
The money can be recovered. And that’s just what Mr. Schumer, Mr. Frank and others don’t want to see the public discussing. That’s why they’ve diverted attention onto this trivia. It’s the time-honored way to get people not to talk about the big picture and what’s really important.
Michael Hudson is a former Wall Street economist. A Distinguished Research Professor at University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC), he is the author of many books, including Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (new ed., Pluto Press, 2002) He can be reached via his website, mh@michael-hudso
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GAZA -- Hamas lawmaker Mushir Al-Masri stated Wednesday that the members of the incoming Israeli government are extremist and terrorist par excellence, adding, however, that the talk about forming a government able to bring down Hamas is dreams and fantasies that could never be realized.
Masri highlighted that Hamas everyday gets stronger and more determined to maintain the path of resistance, adding that Hamas became a very hard political equation in the region and could not be bypassed.
The lawmaker stressed that the international community should assume its responsibilities and bridle this terrorist government whose incoming foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman called for displacing the Palestinians of 1948 occupied lands, dropping an atomic bomb on the Gaza Strip and bombing the High Dam in Egypt.
He criticized the international community for its double standards, saying that it rejects the Palestinian democracy while opening its arms to Israeli criminals who will lead the next Israeli government.
Masri urged the Arab countries that have relations with the Israeli occupation to sever their ties with it and to realize that there could be no peace with this criminal entity that gets more extremist every day.
Searchable at http://www.palestine-info.co.uk
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From Khalid Amayreh in Occupied East Jerusalem
The Palestinian Islamic resistance movement, Hamas, has held Israel responsible for the breakdown of Egyptian-mediated negotiations over a possible prisoner swap with the apartheid Zionist regime.
Hamas officials described statements by outgoing Israeli premier Ehud Olmert as “theatrical” and “mendacious from A to Z.”
One Hamas official in the Gaza Strip remarked that “Olmert is as mendacious as he is criminal,” adding that “what else would you expect from the killer of thousands of children and civilians?”
On Wednesday, the Israeli government decided to impose a new “set of punishments” against the Gaza Strip.
The Zionist government, which had signaled that a prisoner swap deal with Hamas was within reach, suddenly changed its mind, accusing Hamas of “inflexibility” and “making exaggerated demands.”
Hamas’s demands actually remained unchanged ever since the Shalit affair began more than thirty months ago when Palestinian guerillas captured the Israeli occupation soldier during a cross-border battle with the Israeli army.
Olmert on Tuesday, 17 March, launched a tirade against Hamas, calling the movement a “terrorist group.” Olmert utterly ignored Israel’s own terrorist record of killing and murdering thousands of innocent Palestinians during his reign of power.
In December and January, the Israeli army carried out a huge blitz on the Gaza Strip, killing and maiming more than 5,000 people, including hundreds of children, and utterly destroying the bulk of the coastal enclave's civilian infrastructure.
Similarly, the Israeli army killed and maimed thousands of innocent civilians during the 2006 onslaught on Lebanon and dropped millions of cluster bomblets on the Lebanese countryside.
Israel routinely calls its Arab victims “terrorists” while considering its own superior terror “legitimate self-defense.”
Israel holds as many as 10,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of them political activists incarcerated without charge or trial.
“We are not a defeated nation”
Trying to justify his government’s refusal to release the leaders of the Palestinian intifada (uprising) from Israeli prisons, Olmert said the release of “bloody terrorists” was a red line which Israel was not ready to cross.
“Israel will not give in to Hamas’s dictates as long as I am prime minister. We will not cease our efforts (to release Shalit from Hamas’ custody), but we have redlines and will not cross them. We are not a defeated nation.”
Israel had offered to release only 350 of the 450 political and resistance leaders imprisoned in Israel in connection with their resistance to the Israeli occupation during the last Palestinian intifada or uprising.
However, Hamas refused to compromise on the release of the remaining 100 prisoners, arguing that “as Shalit has a family, our prisoners also have families that are awaiting them to come home.”
Hamas’s spokesmen in Gaza also dismissed arguments made by Israeli leaders that some Palestinian prisoners were responsible for the death of Israelis.
"Israel has murdered thousands of innocent Palestinian and Lebanese civilians with White Phosphorus shells and cluster bombs. Israel has been murdering Palestinians ever since its creation. Israel itself is the world’s premier murderer, liar and thief," said Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza.
Masri told reporters that “it is time Israel realizes that our victims are not children of a lesser God and that Jewish blood is not more precious than Palestinian blood.”
Hamas’s officials involved in the negotiations held Israel fully responsible for the breakdown of the talks.
Osama Mazeini said Hamas was negotiating in good faith, adding that Israel wanted to “dictate on us unacceptable conditions such as which prisoner should be released.”
Israel also demanded that dozens of prisoners be deported to Syria, a concept Hamas described as “virulent and despicable.” Syria refused, with one Syrian official saying “Palestinians have a country, it is called Palestine.”
According to Osama Hamdan, Hamas’ representative in Lebanon, Israel had agreed to “the number” of prisoners to be released but not specifically to those on Hamas’s list and not to how they would be released.
Hamdan said Israel rejected some of the names, thinking that this could bear some fruit in view of the pressure that would be created by Olmert’s imminent departure from office.
He also revealed that Israel wanted Shalit to be released before it released the Palestinian prisoners, which he described as “unacceptable.”
Olmert likened the popular Islamic movement to the Third Reich, suggesting that the small and surrounded movement posed a great threat to world democracies.
The utterly corrupt analogy, observers here suggest, reflected Olmert’s frustration by the failure of all Israel’s bullying tactics against Hamas, including the unrelenting harsh blockade of the Gaza Strip, to force the movement to free Shalit in return for a “more modest price” that would allow Israel to save face.
This is what Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin alluded to following the Israeli cabinet session Tuesday.
“Had we agreed to Hamas’s conditions as they insisted on the final day of negotiations, it would have caused serious security damage to Israel.”
Israeli Military Intelligence director Amos Yadlin was more elaborate in explaining why Israel refused to free key Palestinian political and resistance leaders.
“Submitting to Hamas’s demands would have dealt a mortal blow to moderate elements in the Palestinian Authority and the entire Middle East, while extremists would have been greatly strengthened.”
Israeli sources had reported that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas had been warning Israel on several occasions against releasing a large number of Palestinian prisoners at this time on the ground that this would phenomenally strengthen Hamas while adversely affecting the western-backed PA regime.
The PA dismissed the Israeli reports as “cheap disinformation.”
Interestingly, neither Israel nor Hamas said they would terminate talks aimed at realizing a prisoner swap in the foreseeable future.
However, it is obvious that Olmert and his outgoing government hope that imminent advent to power of the manifestly right-wing Israeli government, headed by Likud leader Benyamin Netanyahu, will convince Hamas to back down or at least backtrack on its original demands regarding the number of prisoners it wants to see freed in exchange for Shalit. Hamas described Israeli hopes to that effect as “wishful thinking.”
Netanyahu himself has been silent on the issue and is not expected to voice his opinion until he is sworn in as Prime Minister, probably by the end of next week.
The would-be premier had hoped that the Olmert government would get Shalit freed before the new government assumes power.
Additional Israeli sanctions against the already tormented Gazans will include further tightening of the blockade and barring the entry into Gaza of more essential items and consumer products.
This would represent a direct challenge to growing American and European calls urging Israel to relax the 3-year-old draconian siege to Gaza.
Searchable on http://www.palestine-info.co.uk
This entry was posted on Mar 18, 2009 at 09:22:14 pm and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment, Human Rights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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By Amos Harel
During Operation Cast Lead, Israeli forces killed Palestinian civilians under permissive rules of engagement and intentionally destroyed their property, say soldiers who fought in the offensive.
The soldiers are graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory course at Oranim Academic College in Tivon. Some of their statements made on Feb. 13 will appear today and tomorrow in Haaretz. Dozens of graduates of the course who took part in the discussion fought in the Gaza operation.
The speakers included combat pilots and infantry soldiers. Their testimony runs counter to the Israel Defense Forces' claims that Israeli troops observed a high level of moral behavior during the operation. The session's transcript was published this week in the newsletter for the course's graduates.
The testimonies include a description by an infantry squad leader of an incident where an IDF sharpshooter mistakenly shot a Palestinian mother and her two children. "There was a house with a family inside .... We put them in a room. Later we left the house and another platoon entered it, and a few days after that there was an order to release the family. They had set up positions upstairs. There was a sniper position on the roof," the soldier said.
"The platoon commander let the family go and told them to go to the right. One mother and her two children didn't understand and went to the left, but they forgot to tell the sharpshooter on the roof they had let them go and it was okay, and he should hold his fire and he ... he did what he was supposed to, like he was following his orders."
According to the squad leader: "The sharpshooter saw a woman and children approaching him, closer than the lines he was told no one should pass. He shot them straight away. In any case, what happened is that in the end he killed them.
"I don't think he felt too bad about it, because after all, as far as he was concerned, he did his job according to the orders he was given. And the atmosphere in general, from what I understood from most of my men who I talked to ... I don't know how to describe it .... The lives of Palestinians, let's say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way," he said.
Another squad leader from the same brigade told of an incident where the company commander ordered that an elderly Palestinian woman be shot and killed; she was walking on a road about 100 meters from a house the company had commandeered.
The squad leader said he argued with his commander over the permissive rules of engagement that allowed the clearing out of houses by shooting without warning the residents beforehand. After the orders were changed, the squad leader's soldiers complained that "we should kill everyone there [in the center of Gaza]. Everyone there is a terrorist."
The squad leader said: "You do not get the impression from the officers that there is any logic to it, but they won't say anything. To write 'death to the Arabs' on the walls, to take family pictures and spit on them, just because you can. I think this is the main thing: To understand how much the IDF has fallen in the realm of ethics, really. It's what I'll remember the most."
The head of the pe-military course, Danny Zamir, told Haaretz yesterday that he did not know in advance what the soldiers would say at the gathering, and what they said "shocked us." He said that after hearing the soldiers, he told IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi about his fears of a serious moral failure in the IDF.
The chief of staff's bureau requested a copy of the transcript of the discussion, and Zamir provided it. This week Zamir met with the IDF's chief education officer, Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister, to discuss the matter. Zamir said he believed the army would take the matter seriously. "They do not intend to avoid responsibility," he said.
The IDF Spokesman's Office said: "As a result of the request of the head of the Rabin pre-military course, Mr. Danny Zamir, to the chief of staff's bureau, a meeting was held between Zamir and the chief education officer, Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister. The chief education officer described to the head of the preparatory course the processes of the operational and ethical inquiries being conducted by the IDF and the chief education officer's staff at all levels."
The chief education officer also described "the actions taken before during and after the operation to inculcate the soldiers and commanders with the moral aspects of the fighting."
The spokesman said that "Brig. Gen. Shermeister also made it clear that the IDF is now conducting intensive and comprehensive inquiries, and that commanders are encouraging discussion of these matters. The IDF has no supporting or prior information about these events. The IDF will check their veracity and investigate as required. The head of the preparatory course was also asked to pass on to the IDF any information he has so we can deal with it and investigate it in depth."
This entry was posted on Mar 18, 2009 at 08:11:55 pm and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment, Human Rights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
"an IDF sharpshooter mistakenly shot a Palestinian mother and her two children"
How can any human possibly, even point a gun at a child?
Even if i was ordered explicitly to do so, i would have preferred to shoot myself instead of killing a kid.
Is this the high level of morality observed by the IDF army as a whole?
The Israelis have become what they hate. In
this era of war is peace, ketchup are vegetables and Israelis are war criminals. Just like the former American President. Liberalism is Liberty!
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By Eric Black, MinnPost.com
At a “Great Conversations” event at the University of Minnesota [Monday] legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh may have made a little more news than he intended by talking about new alleged instances of domestic spying by the CIA, and about an ongoing covert military operation that he called an “executive assassination ring.”
Hersh spoke with great confidence about these findings from his current reporting, which he hasn’t written about yet.
In an email exchange afterward, Hersh said that his statements were “an honest response to a question” from the event’s moderator, U of M Political Scientist Larry Jacobs and “not something I wanted to dwell about in public.”
Hersh didn’t take back the statements, which he said arise from reporting he is doing for a book, but that it might be a year or two before he has what he needs on the topic to be “effective ... that is, empirical, for even the most skeptical.”
The evening of great conversation, featuring Walter Mondale and Hersh, moderated by Jacobs and titled “America’s Constitutional Crisis,” looked to be a mostly historical review of events that have tested our Constitution, by a journalist and a high government officials who had experience with many of the crises.
And it was mostly historical, and a great conversation, in which Hersh and Mondale talked about the patterns by which presidents seem to get intoxicated by executive power, frustrated by the limitations on that power from Congress and the public, drawn into improper covert actions that exceed their constitutional powers, in the belief that they can get results and will never be found out. Despite a few references to the Founding Fathers, the history was mostly recent, starting with the Vietnam War with much of it arising from the George W. Bush administration, which both men roundly denounced.
At the end of one answer by Hersh about how these things tend to happen, Jacobs asked: “And do they continue to happen to this day?”
“Yuh. After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. That does happen.
"Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command -- JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. ...
"Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.
"Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.
"It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized.
"In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people.
"I’ve had people say to me -- five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical (attention) and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee.?’
"But they’re not gonna get before a committee.”
Hersh, the best-known investigative reporter of his generation, writes about these kinds of issues for The New Yorker. He has written often about JSOC, including, last July that:
“Under the Bush Administration’s interpretation of the law, clandestine military activities, unlike covert C.I.A. operations, do not need to be depicted in a Finding, because the President has a constitutional right to command combat forces in the field without congressional interference.”
(“Finding” refers to a special document that a president must issue, although not make public, to authorize covert CIA actions.)
Here is a tape of the full Mondale-Hersh-Jacobs colloquy, a little over an hour, without the audience Q and A. If you want to look for the Hersh statement quoted above, it’s about at the 7:30 mark.
The rest of the evening was, as expected, full of worry and wisdom and quite a bit of Bush-bashing.
Jacobs walked the two elder statesmen through their experiences of:
* The My Lai massacre, which Hersh first revealed publicly and which he last night called “the end of innocence about us and war.”
* The Pentagon Papers case, which Mondale called the best example of the “government’s potential for vast public deception.”
* Henry Kissinger’s secret dealings, mostly relating to the Vietnam War. (Hersh, who has written volumes about Kissinger, said that he will always believe that whereas ordinary people count sheep to fall asleep, Kissinger “has to count burned and maimed Cambodian babies.”)
* The Church Committee investigation of CIA and FBI abuses, in which Mondale played a major role. (He talked about the fact that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, not only spied on Martin Luther King but literally tried to drive him to suicide.)
* The Iran Contra scandal. (Hersh said the Reagan administration came to office with a clear goal of finding a way to finance covert actions, such as the funding of the Nicaraguan Contras, without appropriations so that Congress wouldn't know about them. Mondale noted that Reagan had signed a law barring further aid to the Contras, then participated in a scheme to keep the aid flowing. Hersh said that two key veterans of Iran-Contra, Dick Cheney and national security official Elliot Abrams, were reunited in the George W. Bush White House and decided that the key lesson from Iran-Contra was that too many people in the administration knew about it.)
* And the Bush-Cheney years. (Said Hersh: “The contempt for Congress in the Bush-Cheney White House was extaordinary.” Said Mondale of his successor, Cheney and his inner circle: “they ran a government within the government.” Hersh added: “Eight or nine neoconservatives took over our country.” Mondale said that the precedents of abuse of vice presidential power by Cheney would remain "like a loaded pistol that you leave on the dining room table.")
Jacobs pressed both men on the question of whether the frequent abuses of power show that the Constitution fails, because these things keep happening, or whether it works, because these things keep coming to light.
Mondale stuck with the happy answer. “The system has come through again and again,” he said. Presidents always think they will get away with it, but eventually reporters like Hersh bring things to light, the public “starts smelling this stuff,” the courts and the Congress get involved. Presidents “always, in the long run, find out that the system is stronger than they are.”
Hersh seemed more troubled by the repetitions of the pattern. The “beautiful thing about our system” is that eventually we get new leaders, he said. “The evil twosome, Cheney and Bush, left,” Hersh said. But he also said “it’s really amazing to me that we manage to get such bad leadership, so consistently.”
And he added that both the press and the public let down their guard in the aftermath of 9/11.
“The major newspapers joined the [Bush] team,” Hersh said. Top editors passed the message to investigative reporters not to “pick holes” in what Bush was doing. Violations of the Bill of Rights happened in the plain sight of the public. It it was not only tolerated, but Bush was re-elected.
And even Mondale admitted that one of his greatest successes, laws reforming the FBI and CIA in the aftermath of the Church Committee, were supposed to fix the problem so that “we would never have these problems again in the lifetime of anyone alive at the time, but of course we did.”
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The Zionist ideal of a Jewish state is keeping Israelis and Palestinians from living in peace.
By Ben Ehrenreich
It's hard to imagine now, but in 1944, six years after Kristallnacht, Lessing J. Rosenwald, president of the American Council for Judaism, felt comfortable equating the Zionist ideal of Jewish statehood with "the concept of a racial state -- the Hitlerian concept." For most of the last century, a principled opposition to Zionism was a mainstream stance within American Judaism.
Even after the foundation of Israel, anti-Zionism was not a particularly heretical position. Assimilated Reform Jews like Rosenwald believed that Judaism should remain a matter of religious rather than political allegiance; the ultra-Orthodox saw Jewish statehood as an impious attempt to "push the hand of God"; and Marxist Jews -- my grandparents among them -- tended to see Zionism, and all nationalisms, as a distraction from the more essential struggle between classes.
To be Jewish, I was raised to believe, meant understanding oneself as a member of a tribe that over and over had been cast out, mistreated, slaughtered. Millenniums of oppression that preceded it did not entitle us to a homeland or a right to self-defense that superseded anyone else's. If they offered us anything exceptional, it was a perspective on oppression and an obligation born of the prophetic tradition: to act on behalf of the oppressed and to cry out at the oppressor.
For the last several decades, though, it has been all but impossible to cry out against the Israeli state without being smeared as an anti-Semite, or worse. To question not just Israel's actions, but the Zionist tenets on which the state is founded, has for too long been regarded an almost unspeakable blasphemy.
Yet it is no longer possible to believe with an honest conscience that the deplorable conditions in which Palestinians live and die in Gaza and the West Bank come as the result of specific policies, leaders or parties on either side of the impasse. The problem is fundamental: Founding a modern state on a single ethnic or religious identity in a territory that is ethnically and religiously diverse leads inexorably either to politics of exclusion (think of the 139-square-mile prison camp that Gaza has become) or to wholesale ethnic cleansing. Put simply, the problem is Zionism.
It has been argued that Zionism is an anachronism, a leftover ideology from the era of 19th century romantic nationalisms wedged uncomfortably into 21st century geopolitics. But Zionism is not merely outdated. Even before 1948, one of its basic oversights was readily apparent: the presence of Palestinians in Palestine. That led some of the most prominent Jewish thinkers of the last century, many of them Zionists, to balk at the idea of Jewish statehood. The Brit Shalom movement -- founded in 1925 and supported at various times by Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem -- argued for a secular, binational state in Palestine in which Jews and Arabs would be accorded equal status. Their concerns were both moral and pragmatic. The establishment of a Jewish state, Buber feared, would mean "premeditated national suicide."
The fate Buber foresaw is upon us: a nation that has lived in a state of war for decades, a quarter-million Arab citizens with second-class status and more than 5 million Palestinians deprived of the most basic political and human rights. If two decades ago comparisons to the South African apartheid system felt like hyperbole, they now feel charitable. The white South African regime, for all its crimes, never attacked the Bantustans with anything like the destructive power Israel visited on Gaza in December and January, when nearly1,300 Palestinians were killed, one-third of them children.
Israeli policies have rendered the once apparently inevitable two-state solution less and less feasible. Years of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have methodically diminished the viability of a Palestinian state. Israel's new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has even refused to endorse the idea of an independent Palestinian state, which suggests an immediate future of more of the same: more settlements, more punitive assaults.
All of this has led to a revival of the Brit Shalom idea of a single, secular binational state in which Jews and Arabs have equal political rights. The obstacles are, of course, enormous. They include not just a powerful Israeli attachment to the idea of an exclusively Jewish state, but its Palestinian analogue: Hamas' ideal of Islamic rule. Both sides would have to find assurance that their security was guaranteed. What precise shape such a state would take -- a strict, vote-by-vote democracy or a more complex federalist system -- would involve years of painful negotiation, wiser leaders than now exist and an uncompromising commitment from the rest of the world, particularly from the United States.
Meanwhile, the characterization of anti-Zionism as an "epidemic" more dangerous than anti- Semitism reveals only the unsustainability of the position into which Israel's apologists have been forced. Faced with international condemnation, they seek to limit the discourse, to erect walls that delineate what can and can't be said.
It's not working. Opposing Zionism is neither anti-Semitic nor particularly radical. It requires only that we take our own values seriously and no longer, as the book of Amos has it, "turn justice into wormwood and hurl righteousness to the ground."
Establishing a secular, pluralist, democratic government in Israel and Palestine would of course mean the abandonment of the Zionist dream. It might also mean the only salvation for the Jewish ideals of justice that date back to Jeremiah.
Ben Ehrenreich is the author of the novel "The Suitors."
This entry was posted on Mar 17, 2009 at 05:53:51 pm and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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Today (March 16, 2009) marks the sixth anniversary of the killing of the American peace activist Rachel Corrie. She was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer in Rafah on March 16, 2003, a few days before the United States attacked Iraq. The twenty-three-year-old student from Olympia, Washington went to Gaza with the International Solidarity Movement. She was crushed to death by a US Caterpillar bulldozer that was run by the Israeli military. She had been trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home near the border with Egypt when she was killed. Eyewitnesses say she was wearing a fluorescent orange vest and in full view of the bulldozer’s driver.
(In a remarkable series of emails to her family, she explained why she was risking her life.)
February 7 2003
Hi friends and family, and others,
I have been in Palestine for two weeks and one hour now, and I still have very few words to describe what I see. It is most difficult for me to think about what's going on here when I sit down to write back to the United States. Something about the virtual portal into luxury. I don't know if many of the children here have ever existed without tank-shell holes in their walls and the towers of an occupying army surveying them constantly from the near horizons. I think, although I'm not entirely sure, that even the smallest of these children understand that life is not like this everywhere. An eight-year-old was shot and killed by an Israeli tank two days before I got here, and many of the children murmur his name to me - Ali - or point at the posters of him on the walls. The children also love to get me to practice my limited Arabic by asking me, "Kaif Sharon?" "Kaif Bush?" and they laugh when I say, "Bush Majnoon", "Sharon Majnoon" back in my limited arabic. (How is Sharon? How is Bush? Bush is crazy. Sharon is crazy.) Of course this isn't quite what I believe, and some of the adults who have the English correct me: "Bush mish Majnoon" ... Bush is a businessman. Today I tried to learn to say, "Bush is a tool", but I don't think it translated quite right. But anyway, there are eight-year-olds here much more aware of the workings of the global power structure than I was just a few years ago.
Nevertheless, no amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can't imagine it unless you see it - and even then you are always well aware that your experience of it is not at all the reality: what with the difficulties the Israeli army would face if they shot an unarmed US citizen, and with the fact that I have money to buy water when the army destroys wells, and the fact, of course, that I have the option of leaving. Nobody in my family has been shot, driving in their car, by a rocket launcher from a tower at the end of a major street in my hometown. I have a home. I am allowed to go see the ocean. When I leave for school or work I can be relatively certain that there will not be a heavily armed soldier waiting halfway between Mud Bay and downtown Olympia at a checkpoint with the power to decide whether I can go about my business, and whether I can get home again when I'm done. As an afterthought to all this rambling, I am in Rafah: a city of about 140,000 people, approximately 60% of whom are refugees - many of whom are twice or three times refugees. Today, as I walked on top of the rubble where homes once stood, Egyptian soldiers called to me from the other side of the border, "Go! Go!" because a tank was coming. And then waving and "What's your name?". Something disturbing about this friendly curiosity. It reminded me of how much, to some degree, we are all kids curious about other kids. Egyptian kids shouting at strange women wandering into the path of tanks. Palestinian kids shot from the tanks when they peak out from behind walls to see what's going on. International kids standing in front of tanks with banners. Israeli kids in the tanks anonymously - occasionally shouting and also occasionally waving - many forced to be here, many just agressive - shooting into the houses as we wander away.
I've been having trouble accessing news about the outside world here, but I hear an escalation of war on Iraq is inevitable. There is a great deal of concern here about the "reoccupation of Gaza". Gaza is reoccupied every day to various extents but I think the fear is that the tanks will enter all the streets and remain here instead of entering some of the streets and then withdrawing after some hours or days to observe and shoot from the edges of the communities. If people aren't already thinking about the consequences of this war for the people of the entire region then I hope you will start.
My love to everyone. My love to my mom. My love to smooch. My love to fg and barnhair and sesamees and Lincoln School. My love to Olympia.
February 20 2003
Now the Israeli army has actually dug up the road to Gaza, and both of the major checkpoints are closed. This means that Palestinians who want to go and register for their next quarter at university can't. People can't get to their jobs and those who are trapped on the other side can't get home; and internationals, who have a meeting tomorrow in the West Bank, won't make it. We could probably make it through if we made serious use of our international white person privilege, but that would also mean some risk of arrest and deportation, even though none of us has done anything illegal.
The Gaza Strip is divided in thirds now. There is some talk about the "reoccupation of Gaza", but I seriously doubt this will happen, because I think it would be a geopolitically stupid move for Israel right now. I think the more likely thing is an increase in smaller below-the-international-outcry-radar incursions and possibly the oft-hinted "population transfer".
I am staying put in Rafah for now, no plans to head north. I still feel like I'm relatively safe and think that my most likely risk in case of a larger-scale incursion is arrest. A move to reoccupy Gaza would generate a much larger outcry than Sharon's assassination-during-peace-negotiations/land grab strategy, which is working very well now to create settlements all over, slowly but surely eliminating any meaningful possibility for Palestinian self-determination. Know that I have a lot of very nice Palestinians looking after me. I have a small flu bug, and got some very nice lemony drinks to cure me. Also, the woman who keeps the key for the well where we still sleep keeps asking me about you. She doesn't speak a bit of English, but she asks about my mom pretty frequently - wants to make sure I'm calling you.
Love to you and Dad and Sarah and Chris and everybody.
February 27 2003
(To her mother)
Love you. Really miss you. I have bad nightmares about tanks and bulldozers outside our house and you and me inside. Sometimes the adrenaline acts as an anesthetic for weeks and then in the evening or at night it just hits me again - a little bit of the reality of the situation. I am really scared for the people here. Yesterday, I watched a father lead his two tiny children, holding his hands, out into the sight of tanks and a sniper tower and bulldozers and Jeeps because he thought his house was going to be exploded. Jenny and I stayed in the house with several women and two small babies. It was our mistake in translation that caused him to think it was his house that was being exploded. In fact, the Israeli army was in the process of detonating an explosive in the ground nearby - one that appears to have been planted by Palestinian resistance.
This is in the area where Sunday about 150 men were rounded up and contained outside the settlement with gunfire over their heads and around them, while tanks and bulldozers destroyed 25 greenhouses - the livelihoods for 300 people. The explosive was right in front of the greenhouses - right in the point of entry for tanks that might come back again. I was terrified to think that this man felt it was less of a risk to walk out in view of the tanks with his kids than to stay in his house. I was really scared that they were all going to be shot and I tried to stand between them and the tank. This happens every day, but just this father walking out with his two little kids just looking very sad, just happened to get my attention more at this particular moment, probably because I felt it was our translation problems that made him leave.
I thought a lot about what you said on the phone about Palestinian violence not helping the situation. Sixty thousand workers from Rafah worked in Israel two years ago. Now only 600 can go to Israel for jobs. Of these 600, many have moved, because the three checkpoints between here and Ashkelon (the closest city in Israel) make what used to be a 40-minute drive, now a 12-hour or impassible journey. In addition, what Rafah identified in 1999 as sources of economic growth are all completely destroyed - the Gaza international airport (runways demolished, totally closed); the border for trade with Egypt (now with a giant Israeli sniper tower in the middle of the crossing); access to the ocean (completely cut off in the last two years by a checkpoint and the Gush Katif settlement). The count of homes destroyed in Rafah since the beginning of this intifada is up around 600, by and large people with no connection to the resistance but who happen to live along the border. I think it is maybe official now that Rafah is the poorest place in the world. There used to be a middle class here - recently. We also get reports that in the past, Gazan flower shipments to Europe were delayed for two weeks at the Erez crossing for security inspections. You can imagine the value of two-week-old cut flowers in the European market, so that market dried up. And then the bulldozers come and take out people's vegetable farms and gardens. What is left for people? Tell me if you can think of anything. I can't.
If any of us had our lives and welfare completely strangled, lived with children in a shrinking place where we knew, because of previous experience, that soldiers and tanks and bulldozers could come for us at any moment and destroy all the greenhouses that we had been cultivating for however long, and did this while some of us were beaten and held captive with 149 other people for several hours - do you think we might try to use somewhat violent means to protect whatever fragments remained? I think about this especially when I see orchards and greenhouses and fruit trees destroyed - just years of care and cultivation. I think about you and how long it takes to make things grow and what a labour of love it is. I really think, in a similar situation, most people would defend themselves as best they could. I think Uncle Craig would. I think probably Grandma would. I think I would.
You asked me about non-violent resistance.
When that explosive detonated yesterday it broke all the windows in the family's house. I was in the process of being served tea and playing with the two small babies. I'm having a hard time right now. Just feel sick to my stomach a lot from being doted on all the time, very sweetly, by people who are facing doom. I know that from the United States, it all sounds like hyperbole. Honestly, a lot of the time the sheer kindness of the people here, coupled with the overwhelming evidence of the wilful destruction of their lives, makes it seem unreal to me. I really can't believe that something like this can happen in the world without a bigger outcry about it. It really hurts me, again, like it has hurt me in the past, to witness how awful we can allow the world to be. I felt after talking to you that maybe you didn't completely believe me. I think it's actually good if you don't, because I do believe pretty much above all else in the importance of independent critical thinking. And I also realise that with you I'm much less careful than usual about trying to source every assertion that I make. A lot of the reason for that is I know that you actually do go and do your own research. But it makes me worry about the job I'm doing. All of the situation that I tried to enumerate above - and a lot of other things - constitutes a somewhat gradual - often hidden, but nevertheless massive - removal and destruction of the ability of a particular group of people to survive. This is what I am seeing here. The assassinations, rocket attacks and shooting of children are atrocities - but in focusing on them I'm terrified of missing their context. The vast majority of people here - even if they had the economic means to escape, even if they actually wanted to give up resisting on their land and just leave (which appears to be maybe the less nefarious of Sharon's possible goals), can't leave. Because they can't even get into Israel to apply for visas, and because their destination countries won't let them in (both our country and Arab countries). So I think when all means of survival is cut off in a pen (Gaza) which people can't get out of, I think that qualifies as genocide. Even if they could get out, I think it would still qualify as genocide. Maybe you could look up the definition of genocide according to international law. I don't remember it right now. I'm going to get better at illustrating this, hopefully. I don't like to use those charged words. I think you know this about me. I really value words. I really try to illustrate and let people draw their own conclusions.
Anyway, I'm rambling. Just want to write to my Mom and tell her that I'm witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide and I'm really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature. This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don't think it's an extremist thing to do anymore. I still really want to dance around to Pat Benatar and have boyfriends and make comics for my coworkers. But I also want this to stop. Disbelief and horror is what I feel. Disappointment. I am disappointed that this is the base reality of our world and that we, in fact, participate in it. This is not at all what I asked for when I came into this world. This is not at all what the people here asked for when they came into this world. This is not the world you and Dad wanted me to come into when you decided to have me. This is not what I meant when I looked at Capital Lake and said: "This is the wide world and I'm coming to it." I did not mean that I was coming into a world where I could live a comfortable life and possibly, with no effort at all, exist in complete unawareness of my participation in genocide. More big explosions somewhere in the distance outside.
When I come back from Palestine, I probably will have nightmares and constantly feel guilty for not being here, but I can channel that into more work. Coming here is one of the better things I've ever done. So when I sound crazy, or if the Israeli military should break with their racist tendency not to injure white people, please pin the reason squarely on the fact that I am in the midst of a genocide which I am also indirectly supporting, and for which my government is largely responsible.
I love you and Dad. Sorry for the diatribe. OK, some strange men next to me just gave me some peas, so I need to eat and thank them.
February 28 2003
(To her mother)
Thanks, Mom, for your response to my email. It really helps me to get word from you, and from other people who care about me.
After I wrote to you I went incommunicado from the affinity group for about 10 hours which I spent with a family on the front line in Hi Salam - who fixed me dinner - and have cable TV. The two front rooms of their house are unusable because gunshots have been fired through the walls, so the whole family - three kids and two parents - sleep in the parent's bedroom. I sleep on the floor next to the youngest daughter, Iman, and we all shared blankets. I helped the son with his English homework a little, and we all watched Pet Semetery, which is a horrifying movie. I think they all thought it was pretty funny how much trouble I had watching it. Friday is the holiday, and when I woke up they were watching Gummy Bears dubbed into Arabic. So I ate breakfast with them and sat there for a while and just enjoyed being in this big puddle of blankets with this family watching what for me seemed like Saturday morning cartoons. Then I walked some way to B'razil, which is where Nidal and Mansur and Grandmother and Rafat and all the rest of the big family that has really wholeheartedly adopted me live. (The other day, by the way, Grandmother gave me a pantomimed lecture in Arabic that involved a lot of blowing and pointing to her black shawl. I got Nidal to tell her that my mother would appreciate knowing that someone here was giving me a lecture about smoking turning my lungs black.) I met their sister-in-law, who is visiting from Nusserat camp, and played with her small baby.
Nidal's English gets better every day. He's the one who calls me, "My sister". He started teaching Grandmother how to say, "Hello. How are you?" In English. You can always hear the tanks and bulldozers passing by, but all of these people are genuinely cheerful with each other, and with me. When I am with Palestinian friends I tend to be somewhat less horrified than when I am trying to act in a role of human rights observer, documenter, or direct-action resister. They are a good example of how to be in it for the long haul. I know that the situation gets to them - and may ultimately get them - on all kinds of levels, but I am nevertheless amazed at their strength in being able to defend such a large degree of their humanity - laughter, generosity, family-time - against the incredible horror occurring in their lives and against the constant presence of death. I felt much better after this morning. I spent a lot of time writing about the disappointment of discovering, somewhat first-hand, the degree of evil of which we are still capable. I should at least mention that I am also discovering a degree of strength and of basic ability for humans to remain human in the direst of circumstances - which I also haven't seen before. I think the word is dignity. I wish you could meet these people. Maybe, hopefully, someday you will.
(Introduction: Democracy Now. Rachel’s E-mails: The UK/Guardian, March 18, 2003. For more information visit: http://www.rachelcorrie.org)
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'There has never been a time more propitious for groundbreaking change.'
By Muhammad Idrees Ahmad
The assault on Gaza marks the end of an era for Israel. For the second time in two years its colonial ambition has floundered in the face of determined resistance. It may persist for some time; but the trajectory is clear – it is losing both legitimacy and power. Support for it is dwindling in Washington; its friends are alarmed. Citizens are acting where governments have failed; the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions is snowballing. Apologists are finding it more difficult to justify its persistent criminality. Rifts have emerged in the transatlantic alliance over its recent actions; EU leaders have broken with Israel and the US, questioning the wisdom of continuing to isolate Hamas. Even the pliant Tony Blair will no longer toe the line.
This leviathan may yet be tamed, accountability restored; but what part, if any, will International law have played in this?
At one point in Errol Morris’s 2004 documentary Fog of War, former US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara recounts a conversation he had had with General Curtis Lemay of the USAF apropos the fire bombing of Japanese cities. LeMay, according to McNamara, said that if the US ended up losing the war “we would be hanged for this”. As it transpired, the US did not lose; and far from being hanged, the allied command got to play hangman. (1) The trials that led to the execution of German and Japanese high command assumed a broader significance; they became the founding documents of international law. The conclusions from these trials served as the basis for the Genocide Convention (1948), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Nuremberg Principles (1950), The Convention on the Abolition of the Statute of Limitations on War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity (1968), the Geneva Convention on the Laws and Customs of War (1949), its supplementary protocols (1977), and the International Criminal Court (2002).
As Kirsten Sellars details in her book The Rise and Rise of Human Rights, the Nuremberg trials and the subsequent Tokyo trials which would later provide the basis for international law were not themselves free of controversy. At the end of the war, Western powers saw Germany and Japan as potential allies in the looming conflict against the Soviet Union. However, the passions that had been mobilized against the Axis powers demanded blood sacrifice before Japan and Germany could be laundered back into the Free World. It was to satisfy this purpose that the tribunals were reluctantly instituted. While Justice Robert Jackson’s eloquent pronouncements on the rule of law in international affairs have become de rigueur in discourses on the subject, his contemporaries took a less generous view. US chief justice Harlan Stone called the whole Nuremberg exercise a “sanctimonious…fraud” accusing Jackson of conducting a “high-grade lynching party”. Justice William Douglas of the US Supreme Court accused the allies of “substituting power for principle” and creating laws “ex post facto to suit the passion and clamour of the time”. In his famous dissent at the Tokyo trials, Indian Justice Radhabinod Pal indicted the tribunal for its exclusion of European colonialism and the American use of the atomic bomb. The trial, he argued, was nothing more than an “opportunity for the victors to retaliate”. Antiwar US senator Robert Taft called it “victors’ justice”.
Power asymmetry has defined the application of International Law since. Gaza is a case in point.
Jus ad Bellum
Israel and its apologists have sought to justify its military assault on Gaza as an act of “self-defence” against Hamas rockets invoking Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. (2) So pervasive was this view that even putatively antiwar voices frequently worked the word “disproportionate” into their denunciations. Israel, according to this view, has a right to defend itself but used more force than was necessary. However, this argument relies on the inversion of cause and effect and a defective legal premise.
Israel’s assault was not meant to protect its citizens against the Hamas rockets, it was to protect its colonial project and the right to continue the strangulation of Gaza. Israel broke the truce on 4th November 2008 when under the cover of the US elections it launched an attack inside Gaza killing six Palestinians. The attack, writes Middle East scholar Sara Roy, was “no doubt designed finally to undermine the truce”, (3) as even according to Israel’s own intelligence agencies Hamas had implemented the ceasefire with remarkable effectiveness. Though Hamas retaliated with rockets, it still offered to renew the truce provided Israel ended the siege. Israel refused. (4)
Between the evacuation of its settlements from Gaza in 2005 and the beginning of its latest assault, Israel had killed a total of 1,250 Palestinians, including 222 children, and maimed many more. This despite Hamas’s 18 month unilateral ceasefire to which it strictly adhered. The situation was so dismal before the siege that the late Israeli historian and author Tanya Reinhart described it as “a process of slow and steady genocide”. (5) Sara Roy saw in it a deliberate process of what she calls “de-development”. The siege, in her view, had two objectives: to reduce the Palestinian issue to a humanitarian problem; and to “foist Gaza onto Egypt”. Israel’s economic stranglehold over the territory, she said, was leading to the “breakdown of an entire society”. (6)
The UN human rights rapporteur John Dugard, a South African legal scholar, has compared the situation in the Occupied Territories to Apartheid. His successor Richard Falk, an American Jew and a leading authority on International law, called the situation a “prelude to genocide”. Gaza, he said, was “slouching towards a holocaust” insofar as the situation expressed vividly “a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty”. Falk accused Israel of bringing Gaza to the “brink of collective starvation”, imposing “a sub-human existence” on a people “repeatedly and systematically” victimized. Poignantly, he added:
“To persist with such an approach under present circumstances is indeed genocidal, and risks destroying an entire Palestinian community that is an integral part of an ethnic whole. It is this prospect that makes appropriate the warning of a Palestinian holocaust in the making, and should remind the world of the famous post-Nazi pledge of ‘never again’.”(7)
On 5th November, Israel sealed all entries and exits to Gaza and intensified the stranglehold.
For Gaza – a region whose unemployment rate is 49.1 percent, where the majority relies on food aid (from the World Food Program and UNRWA, the latter alone feeding about 750,000 Gazans), and 50 percent of whose population comprises children – the consequences were devastating. Roy reports that according to Oxfam, an average of 4.6 trucks per day entered Gaza in November 2008 as compared to 564 trucks a day in December 2005. There were three days where 20,000 went without food and on 18 December UNRWA had to suspend food distribution altogether. On top of that, the WFP had to pay more than $300,000 to Israeli businesses in November and December for storage of the food being withheld from Gaza. Thirty out of Gaza’s forty-seven commercial bakeries had to close for the lack of cooking gas; by April there will be no poultry on which 70 per cent of Gazans rely for their protein. UNRWA’s cash assistance to the most needy had to be suspended. The embargo on paper, ink and glue needed for the production of textbooks would affect 200,000 students. (8)
Gaza faces regular shortages of diesel, petrol and cooking gas. On 13th November, Gaza’s only power station suspended operations because it ran out of industrial diesel. Spare parts for the power station were auctioned by Israel after being held in customs for eight months. Gaza’s hospitals have had to rely on diesel and gas smuggled from Egypt via the tunnels. In an attempt to undermine Hamas, Israel’s surrogates in the Palestinian Authority (PA) withheld World Bank funds from Gaza’s Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) to pay for fuel to run Gaza’s sewage system. Israel has allowed in only 18 of the 200 tons of chlorine requested by CMWU for water purification. While medical supplies in Gaza have been running dangerously low, the collaborationist PA has been turning supply shipments away rather then send them to Gaza. (9)
It was within this context that on 19th December Hamas officially ended its truce.
All of this is significant, as in ’67 Israel used Nasser’s blockade of the Gulf of Tiran as the casus belli for its pre-emptive attacks on Egypt, Syria and Jordan – the fateful war where it captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Unlike Gaza, however, Israel faced no shortages of food, fuel or medicine – indeed, trade continued unimpeded all across its main air- and sea ports (all of which are located on the Mediterranean coast). Yet, in spite of the facts, ’67 has entered mainstream discourse as a legitimate case of pre-emptive self-defence under Article 51 of the Geneva Conventions. The precedent was even invoked by Colin Powell when on February 5, 2003 he made his case for invading Iraq at the UN Security Council. If Israel was within its rights to launch a pre-emptive war in ‘67 – a highly tendentious proposition – then the Palestinians most definitely had a similar right. It is not only enshrined in the Fourth Geneva Convention, it is also accorded them by virtue of Israel’s denial of basic necessities.
But what of International law?
The use of force is an act of last resort under international law subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity. As a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, Israel has a right to defend itself against attacks; but it has no right to do so by force. In order to use force, it will have to show that other options were not available. This was clearly not the case. It had the option to end its occupation, withdraw from Palestinian land, and accept the international consensus on the two-state solution. It also had more immediate options: it could have agreed to renew the truce and end the crippling siege of Gaza. The Hamas government had made three separate peace offers over a period of two years through veteran Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, including one a mere two weeks before the assault. Relayed through a family member of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert all of these overtures were rebuffed. (10) In spurning this opportunity Israel had forfeited any claims to self-defence. Had Hamas attacked after Israel had tried all these options, writes political scientist Jerome Slater, “then–and only then–would it have a true ‘right of self defense’”. It is also the only condition under which the question of proportionality would arise.
The rocket attacks had not killed a single individual before Israel began its assault; had they done so, they would still not entitle Israel to kill 1,300 Palestinians, mostly civilians, injure 5,000 and destroy schools, mosques, homes, UN compounds and government buildings. As the occupying power Israel has no rights under the Fourth Geneva Convention, it has only obligations – including a responsibility to protect Palestinian civilians and infrastructure. And as the occupied the Palestinians have a right to resist Israel’s oppression. Writes Slater: “An oppressor is not engaged in ‘self defense’ when it uses force in order to annihilate resistance to its repression, and that holds true even if the form of resistance–attacks intended to kill civilians–is itself morally wrong”. The fact is lost on no one, except perhaps the BBC and CNN, that Israel’s occupation predates both the rockets and Hamas. “Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence,” wrote distinguished lawyers and legal scholars in an 11th January 2009 letter to the Sunday Times, “not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary”. They added:
“As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.”
That the Palestinians also have a right to self-defence is not an issue the UN Security Council would even allow anyone to raise. Instead, there are feeble pleas for ‘restraint’. In lieu of an investigation, in the initial phase of the massacre some UN officials dignified the Israeli claim that a mere 25 percent of the Palestinian casualties were civilians (in fact the majority were police trainees killed at their graduation). The notoriously undemocratic executive arm of the UN continued to treat the assault as a ‘war’, even though Gaza is recognized as an Occupied Territory, according Israel the right to ‘defend itself’ itself, albeit ‘proportionately’. In reserving their condemnation exclusively for the targeting of ‘women and children’, the UN was also declaring Gaza’s male population fair game. Despite the verdict of international law experts that Israel’s murder spree in Gaza constitutes war crimes and crimes against humanity, writes Omar Barghouti,
“this UN discourse not only reduces close to half a million Palestinian men in that wretched, tormented and occupied coastal strip to “militants,” radical “fighters,” or whatever other nouns in currency nowadays in the astoundingly, but characteristically, biased western media coverage…it also treats them as already condemned criminals that deserve the capital punishment Israel has meted out on them.” (The Electronic Intifada, 1 January 2009)
Jus in Bello
Israel made no bones about its attacks on civilian targets: one army spokeswoman declared that “[a]nything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target”; another added that “we are trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel”. The government which had only a year earlier rejected the results of an election which had seen Hamas take the majority of the vote, was suddenly willing to acknowledge the party’s popularity so it could hold it against the whole population of Gaza as evidence of their support for “terrorism against Israel”. (11) As the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people all of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure was thus “affiliated” with Hamas and hence a legitimate target. In the very first hour of its assault Israel bombed the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Ministries of Education and Justice, the Islamic University of Gaza, mosques, ambulances and many homes. Palestinian civilian infrastructure was subjected as a whole to Israeli terror. By the end, Israel had destroyed 4,700 homes completely or partially, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless.
Sara Roy implored the world in the name of International law – and “human decency” – to protect the people of Gaza. Perhaps the appeal to human decency is a tacit acknowledgment of the irrelevance of international law where it doesn’t align with the interests of major powers. As Conor Gearty notes, the assault on Gaza “has laid bare the relative impotence of international law in the face of determined sovereign action”. (12) Like Roy and Gearty, Falk also places little faith in International law for redress. It would be unrealistic, he writes, “to expect the UN to do anything in the face of this crisis, given the pattern of US support for Israel and taking into account the extent to which European governments have lent their weight to recent illicit efforts to crush Hamas as a Palestinian political force”. (13)
The impotence of the mechanisms for enforcing International law was exposed in Israel’s refusal to heed the UN’s calls for a ceasefire. Israel blithely ignored the UN Security Council’s call on 8th January 2009 for “an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire”. Likewise, it ignored the strong statement by High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, the next day about the applicability of international human rights law “in all circumstances and at all times”. Pillay stressed that the violations of these laws “may constitute war crimes for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked”. She urged the UN’s Human Rights Council to “consider authorizing a mission to assess violations” in order to establish “the relevant facts and ensure accountability”. The Council in its resolution said that it “strongly condemns the ongoing military operation” for its “massive violations of human rights of Palestinian people and systematic destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure”; it was particularly outraged at the Israel’s “targeting” of UN facilities. At the conclusion of the assault, Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary General himself, visited Gaza. He said he was “appalled” by the destruction, which he found “outrageous and totally unacceptable” and called for the perpetrators to be “punished”.14 The UN has called for the attack to be investigated as a war crime.
“The anger evident in all this UN activity, and in particular the passion evident in the High Commissioner’s choice of words, is founded upon the blatancy of the disregard of the law that has been evident in Gaza.” (The Tablet, January 2009)
In a highly unusual move, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) broke with convention to condemn the Israeli military for breaching international humanitarian law when it refused access for four days to a Zeitoun neighbourhood where four small children were later found starving among twelve corpses, including those of their mothers. The incident also occasioned one of the most extraordinary moments in the history of British journalism when Alex Thomson of Channel 4 subjected the Israeli spokesperson Mark Regev to an unrelenting interrogation ending with the plea, “In the name of humanity what is Israel doing?” (15)
While Israel may have taken a hit in terms of its image – already the worst brand in the world, according to a 2006 poll (16) – a wave of boycotts sweeping Europe also adds economic pressure. “But in the absence of any kind of enforcement mechanism,” writes Gearty, “the legal effect of all this international noise has been for all practical purposes zero”. Absent an international adjudicative body to which Israel is required to defer, he writes, the worse Israel has to fear is five minutes of interrogation on the media, which is itself a rare occurrence. Israel’s claim to self-defence “might not be able to survive a few hours in a court of law”, Gearty avers, but with a mostly pliant media already humming with a chorus of friendly ‘academic terrorism experts’ and ‘defence analysts’ Israel is all but immune from accountability. (17)
It was Israel’s ’67 pre-emptive attacks on neighbouring Arab states and Reagan’s March 1986 bombing of Libya – both invoking Article 51 of the UN charter – that demonstrated that unilateral action was possible without eliciting any legal repercussions. The US refusal to join the International Criminal Court, and Israel’s repeated rejection of its jurisdiction, is transforming the whole concept of international law is revealed so far to be a farce. The only people brought to trial in the Hague have all belonged to countries either on the short end of the unipolar world’s stick, or to countries in which major powers have no vested interests. The irony of the US supporting the ICC’s prosecution of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir while itself refusing to ratify its charter is lost on few in the outside world. Under these circumstances, warnings about criminal responsibility are seen as little more than empty threats. International law has hitherto served no purpose other than to lull the aggrieved into believing that verbal indictments are somehow a substitute for justice.
The End of Impunity?
Concerns about prosecutions at the Hague led the Bush administration to repeal the US signature from the treaty enabling the ICC and in 2002 to pass the American Service Members Protection Act (ASMPA), more commonly known as the Invasion of The Hague Act which permits the United States to unilaterally invade the Netherlands to liberate any military personnel and other elected and appointed officials held for war crimes. The US also pressured weaker states around the world to sign ‘bilateral immunity’ policies that require them to sign a waiver stating that they will contravene the ICC in the case of Americans being arrested. Those who do not comply risk losing US military assistance: Kenya and Trinidad-Tobago, for example, learned this the hard way. According to the Observer, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is already pursuing seriously the legal instruments that would allow him to put Israelis on trial for war crimes. (18) Fear of prosecution has already caused the Israeli government to launch an international campaign to defend its legal position while and at the same time redacting names written reports and masking photographs of military personnel involved. Director of the Israel Law Center, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, has opted for bluster, urging the Knesset to legislate a law prohibiting cooperation with any war crimes tribunal and to pass an ASMPA-style Invasion of the Hague law. “Foreign countries should be made to understand we mean business”, she added.
Obstacles remain, however, and precedents of the actual implementation of international law demand one to attenuate expectations. It is this recognition that has led some to consider using the universal jurisdiction laws enshrined in the legal codes of several European countries to bring US and Israeli war criminals to the dock. Several Israelis have already had close brushes with the law in Europe. In 2001 prosecutors in Belgium filed a war crimes indictment against Ariel Sharon and Gen Amos Yaron for their responsibility in the massacre of Palestinians in Lebanon. The case was later dismissed by an appeals court on a technicality. On 10th September 2005, Israeli general Doron Almog escaped arrest on arrival in London only through a last minute warning from someone at the foreign office (one senior foreign office official Kim Howells is a former chairman of the Israel Lobby organization Labour Friends of Israel). Had he disembarked, he would have faced arrest for violations of the Geneva Convention in carrying out house demolitions in Gaza.
Using the same laws that led to the 1998 arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Spanish judge Fernando Andreu has launched an investigation of Israeli officials over a 2002 bombing where a one-ton bomb dropped on a densely populated Gaza neighbourhood had killed fifteen, including nine children. Those charged include former defense minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer; former chief-of-staff, Moshe Ya’alon; former airforce chief, Dan Halutz; head of Southern command, Doron Almog; head of National Security Council, Giora Eiland; the defense minister’s military secretary, Mike Herzog; and head of Shin Bet, Avi Dichter. The Israel lobby flexed its muscle, and foreign minister Tzipi Livni was soon claiming that she had been assured by her Spanish counterpart, Miguel Moratinos, that his government would amend its laws to diminish the possibility of investigating torture and war crimes committed outside Spain. This however was immediately contradicted by Deputy Prime Minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega who stated defiantly that “Spain is a country ruled by law” whose justice system enjoys “absolute independence”; this fact was “made clear to Israel and we are sure they understand this”. (19)
The ground is also shrinking around leading US war criminals. Henry Kissinger already can’t set foot in many European countries without risking arrest. Rumsfeld likewise had to be spirited out of Paris a few years back in order to save him the embarrassment of being served a French subpoena. Recently the renowned prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi has shown how criminal law can be used to prosecute George W. Bush for murder in any of the districts where a soldier has been killed as a result of a war sold on lies. (20) Until international law evolves a mechanism for enforcement that does not allow any state exemption from its purview, the potential of domestic laws to keep war criminals on their toes if not behind bars will remain indispensable.
In the wake of the 11th September 2001 attacks, Cheney and the cabal of neoconservatives around him had gone about dismantling the international legal framework which had been developed across several presidencies as a result of a growing preference for hegemony by consent rather than coercion. Given the extreme unpopularity of the last regime, Obama feels compelled pragmatically to distance himself from its legacy. The appointments of George Mitchell as Middle East envoy had already occasioned tension between the Obama administration and the Israel lobby; the humiliating climbdown over the appointment of Charles Freeman as the director of the National Intelligence Council under lobby pressure has only brought renewed pressure for a change of course from an emerging alliance between progressives and establishment realists. The growing unease over the ascension of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman to power in Israel is only likely to exacerbate matters. Gestures towards Syria and Iran have caused alarm among Israel-firsters in Washington. While many rightly criticized Obama for his silence in the face of the Israeli slaughter, the standard reflex of a US politician would have been to come out unconditionally in support of the attacks.
In a remarkable departure from her earlier stance where she opposed the impeachment of Bush administration officials, the house majority leader, Nancy Pelosi, has recently declared that “no one is above the law”. (21) Maybe she only wants to one-up Senator Patrick Leahy who has proposed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But for the first time talk of prosecutions has entered mainstream discourse. What was dismissed as unthinkable only months ago appears now almost attainable. Since Pelosi controls the assignment of hearings to relevant committees in the Congress, writes the veteran journalist Alexander Cockburn,
“this means that she could give the green light to House Justice Committee chairman John Conyers to organize hearings. Equipped with a capable director and subpoena power - that is, the ability to compel testimony and documents under the threat of criminal sanction.” (22)
Pelosi may or may not be serious but for the left there is a rich opportunity in all this, writes Cockburn. “Obama’s pledges in the campaign to run a lawful government were very explicit”. He clearly seeks a break with the image if not necessarily the policies of the Bush administration. The closing of Guantanamo and the categorical ban on torture is part of this new trajectory (even though unlawful detention and subcontracted torture would likely continue). This attempt to re-engage with the world will not be effective until Obama affirms US commitment to international law, including a resigning of the ICC charter. This would also have the effect of empowering the UN rapporteurs, special representatives, tribunals and so on, Gearty argues:
“Since its application would be general, Obama could do all this without any mention of Israel, leaving the consequences to be worked through by various bureaucracies…Were pressure from the lobbies to reach dangerous levels, the president might choose to take the issue to the American people, to discuss openly whether Israel should have an exemption from the system of values to which…the US itself will by then have signed up.” (23)
While this is no doubt a scenario that the Israel lobby would want to avoid, Gearty’s otherwise original and practical proposal overlooks the fact that the Israel lobby has long exploited an existing US disposition for unilateralism to generate hostility towards the UN. The UN is undermined in general so it won’t have any legitimacy when it comes to the particular demands of making Israel abide by its resolutions. The bulk of US vetoes in the Security Council have been cast in support of Israel. Likewise, the precedent of appealing directly to the public has also failed to gain any cover for the last two presidents who tried it. Both Gerald Ford and George Bush (Snr.) ended up as one-term presidents: the former balked after receiving a letter signed by the majority of the Senate; the latter suffered a major electoral loss for which the Israel lobby claimed credit. (24) However, Obama is in a unique position: he has the tide of history with him. He is also more susceptible to public pressure. The Israel lobby is on the backfoot. There has never been a time more propitious for groundbreaking change. Gaza was the catalyst. It is time demands were made of Obama to restore faith in international humanitarian law. Until then, Europe’s universal jurisdiction laws should suffice to keep the war criminals on their toes.
- Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is a member of Spinwatch.org, and the co-founder of Pulsemedia.org. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. (A version of this article first appeared in Variant magazine.)
(1) Since the allies had carried out more bombings of civilians than the axis powers, the American prosecutor Telford Taylor got around the problem by declaring that “the air bombardment of cities and factories has become a recognized part of modern warfare”, hence a part of “customary law”; and since the fourth Hague convention of 1907, which forbade bombing of civilians, had no been applied during WWII it had lost its validity (see Sven Linqvist, A History of Bombing, Granta, 2000, n.239)
(2) Zionist propagandist Paul Berman who in his book Terror and Liberalism ridiculed the notion that Israeli occupation might be the cause of Palestinian resentment had to resort to hyperbole in order to justify Israel’s killing of more than 400 children in Gaza. Israel, he told the American Jewish Committee’s webzine Z Word, did it to prevent ‘genocide’.
(3) Sara Roy, “If Gaza Falls”, London Review of Books, 1 January 2009
(4) Henry Siegman, “Israel’s Lies”, London Review of Books, 29 January 2009
(5) Jon Elmer, “Slow Genocide: Tanya Reinhart interview”, FromOccupiedPalestine.org, 10 September 2003
(6) Roy, op. cit.
(7) Richard Falk, “Slouching toward a Palestinian holocaust”, The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, 29 June 2007
(8) Roy, op. cit.
(10) See Peter Beaumont, “Israel PM’s family link to Hamas peace bid”, The Observer, 1 March 2009
(11) Cited in John Mearsheimer, “Another war, another defeat”, The American Conservative, 26 January 2009
(12) Conor Gearty, “Sovereign wrongs and human rights”, The Tablet, January 2009
(13) Falk, op.cit.
(14) Robert Fisk, “So, I asked the UN secretary general, isn’t it time for a war crimes tribunal?”, The Independent, 19 January 2009
(15) Channel 4 News, 8 January 2008. Video of exchange available here.
(16) “Survey:Israel worst brand name in the world”, Israel Today, 22 November 2006
(17) For example, the BBC gave platform to the very dubious Col. Richard Kemp to make pronouncements such as “I don’t think there has ever been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF is doing today in Gaza” (can be seen here). Over in the US, Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, earned his junket to Israel by declaring that it fought a “clean war” (“The ‘Gaza War’”, CSIS, 2 February 2009). For a debunking of Cordesman, see Norman Finkelstein, ‘War Whore: A Camp Follower Who Aims to Please’, Pulsemedia.org, 19 February 2009
(18) Peter Beaumont, The Observer, 2nd March 2009
(19) JPost.com Staff, “‘Spain won’t annul judge’s decision’”, Jerusalem Post, 1 February 2009
(20) For a succinct summation of Bugliosi’s case, see his interview with Pulsemedia.org, 27 February 2009
(21) “One-on-one with Nancy Pelosi”, Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC, 25 February 2009
(22) Alexander Cockburn, Counterpunch.org, 27 February 2009
(23) Conor Gearty, London Review of Books, 15 January 2009
(24) Philip Weiss, ‘Did the First President Bush Lose His Job to the Israel Lobby?’, New York Observer, 17 July 2009
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Archbishop Tutu and his co-signatories say they were "shocked to the core" by the damage inflicted on Gaza
James Hider in Jerusalem
A group of human rights campaigners from around the world has called on the United Nations to investigate allegations that war crimes were committed by the Israeli military and Hamas during the war in Gaza earlier this year.
Led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson, the former Irish President and one-time head of the UN’s human rights agency, the authors of an open letter to the United Nations published today call for a “prompt, independent and impartial investigation [that] would provide a public record of gross violations of international humanitarian law committed and provide recommendations on how those responsible for crimes should be held to account".
The 16 signatories, including some who have investigated war crimes from Darfur to the former Yugoslavia, say they were “shocked to the core” by the damage inflicted during Israel’s three-week offensive, which began at the end of December last year.
According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 1,434 Palestinians were killed in the combined air and ground offensives. They included 960 civilians, 239 police officers and 235 fighters. Thirteen Israelis died in the war, including three civilians killed by Hamas rockets.
* Gaza white phosphorus shells 'were US made'
* 'Human shields forced into the front line'
Human rights groups have accused the Israeli army of using disproportionate force in its attempt to halt Hamas rockets being fired into Israel, and there have been allegations that Israeli troops used civilians as human shields, refused to allow medics access to the wounded and used white phosphorous, a napalm-like substance that is intended for use as a battlefield smokescreen, on civilian areas.
Hamas has been accused of committing war crimes by firing its rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas for years, and there have also been reports of its fighters carrying out summary executions of suspected collaborators.
The UN has already launched an investigation into attacks on its Gaza compounds, which included the alleged use of white phosphorous against a shelter and an Israeli artillery strike outside a school being used as a refugee shelter.
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'The rightists assert no American president would dare confront the Israeli lobby.'
By Uri Avnery – Israel
Returning home from a very short visit to London, I found the country in the grip of uncontrollable emotions.
No, it was not about the looming danger of the radical right gaining control. It is now almost certain that the next government will consist of an assorted bunch of settlers, explicit racists and perhaps even outright fascists. But that does not evoke any excitement.
Nor was there much excitement about yet another interrogation of the (still) incumbent Prime Minister in his various corruption affairs. That is hardly news anymore.
All the excitement was about a “press conference” given by the former President of Israel, Moshe Katsav, after the Attorney General announced that he might be indicted for rape.
Katsav, it may be remembered by those who remember such things, was accused by several of his female staff of persistent sexual harassment and at least one case of rape. He had to resign.
An Iranian-born immigrant and a protégé of Menachem Begin, Katsav had made a career based on a kind of affirmative action. Begin believed that, for the sake of integration, promising young immigrants from Oriental countries should be promoted to positions of responsibility. Katsav, a rather nondescript right-wing politician with all the customary right-wing opinions, became Minister of Tourism and then was elected by the Knesset to the ceremonial post of President, mainly to spite the rival candidate, Shimon Peres. Wags said that the Knesset was reluctant to spoil Peres’ (then) unbroken record of lost elections.
Since his abdication two years ago, the Katsav affair has dragged on and on, almost to the point of farce. Revelations were leaked by the police, several women disclosed lurid details, the ex-President made a plea agreement admitting to lesser offences, he then revoked the deal, the Attorney General procrastinated and now he seems to have made up his mind about the indictment.
So Katsav called a press-conference in his remote home-town, Kiryat Malakhi (the former Arab village of Qastina, now within reach of the Qassams). It was an unprecedented performance. The ex-President spoke solo for nearly three hours, airing his grievances against the police, the Attorney-General, the media, the politicians and almost everybody else. All this was, incredibly, broadcast live on all three of Israel’s TV channels, as if it had been a State of the Union address. Katsav rambled on and on, repeating himself again and again. No questions were allowed. Respected journalists, hungry for scoops, were evicted if they dared to interrupt.
So when I came back yesterday morning, I found this feat dominating the front pages of all our newspapers. Everything else was banished to the back pages.
* * *
Because of this, Charles Freeman got hardly a mention. Yet his affair was a thousand-fold more important than all the sexual activities of our ex-President.
Freeman was called by Barack Obama’s newly-appointed Chief of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, to the post of Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. In this position, he would have been in charge of the National intelligence Estimates (NIE), summarizing the reports of all the 16 US intelligence agencies, which employ some 100,000 people at an annual cost of 50 billion dollars, and composing the estimates that are put before the President.
In Israel, this is the job of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, and the officer in charge has a huge influence on government policy. In October 1973, the then intelligence chief disregarded all reports to the contrary and informed the government that there was only a “low probability” of an Egyptian attack. A few days later the Egyptian army crossed the canal.
Throughout the 1990’s, the man in charge of intelligence estimates, Amos Gilad, deliberately misled the government into believing that Yasser Arafat was deceiving them and was actually plotting the destruction of Israel. Gilad was later openly accused by his subordinates of suppressing their expert reports and submitting estimates of his own, which were not based on any intelligence whatsoever. Later, as the guru of Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Gilad coined the phrase “We have no Palestinian partner for peace”.
In the US, the intelligence chiefs famously supplied President George W. Bush with the (false) intelligence he needed to justify his invasion of Iraq.
All this shows how vitally important it is to have an estimates chief of intellectual integrity and wide experience and knowledge. Admiral Blair could not have chosen a better person than Charles Freeman, a man of sterling character and uncontested expertise, especially about China and the Arab world.
And that was his undoing.
* * *
As a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Freeman is an expert on the Arab world and the Israeli-Arab conflict. He has strong opinions about American policy in the Middle East, and makes no secret of them.
In a 2005 speech, he criticized Israel's "high-handed and self-defeating policies" originating in the "occupation and settlement of Arab lands," which he described as "inherently violent."
In a 2007 speech he said that the US had "embraced Israel’s enemies as our own" and that Arabs had "responded by equating Americans with Israelis as their enemies." Charging the US with backing Israel’s "efforts to pacify its captive and increasingly ghettoized Arab populations" and to "seize ever more Arab land for its colonists," he added that "Israel no longer even pretends to seek peace with the Palestinians.”
Another conclusion is his belief that the terrorism the United States confronts is due largely to "the brutal oppression of the Palestinians by an Israeli occupation that has lasted over 40 years and shows no signs of ending."
Naturally, the appointment of such a person was viewed with great alarm by the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. They decided on an all-out attack. No subtle behind-the-scenes intervention, no discreet protestations, but a full-scale demonstration of their might right at the beginning of the Obama era.
Public denunciations were composed, senators and congressmen pressed into action, media people mobilized. Freeman’s integrity was called into question, shady connections with Arab and Chinese financial interests “disclosed” by the docile press. Admiral Blair came to his appointee’s defense, but in vain. Freeman had no choice but to withdraw.
* * *
The full meaning of this episode should not escape anyone.
It was the first test of strength of the lobby in the new Obama era. And in this test, the lobby came out with flying (blue-and-white) colors. The administration was publicly humiliated.
The White House did not even try to hide its abject surrender. It declared that the appointment had not been cleared with the President, that Obama had no hand in it and did not even know about it. Meaning: of course he would have objected to the appointment of any official who was not fully acceptable to the lobby. The portrayal of the power of the lobby by Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, has been fully vindicated.
* * *
This has a significance which goes far beyond the already far-reaching implications of the affair itself.
Many people in Israel, who view the establishment of the new rightist government with apprehension, cite as their main fear the danger of a clash with the new Obama administration. Such a clash, they believe, could be fatal for Israel’s security. But the rightists deride such arguments. They assert that no American president would ever dare to confront the Israeli lobby. The captive congressmen and senators, as well as the supporters of the Israeli government in the media and even in the White House itself, would sink on sight any American policy opposed by even the most extreme right-wing government in Israel.
Now the first skirmish has taken place, and the President of the United States has blinked first. Perhaps one should not rush to conclusions, perhaps Obama needs more time to find his bearings, but the signs are ominous for any Israeli interested in peace.
It may be too early to call this episode the Rape of Washington, but it is certainly vastly more important than Katsav’s sexual escapades.
* * *
By the way, or not by the way, a word about my trip to London.
I went there to lend support to a group of Jewish personalities, well-known in academic and other circles, who have set up an organization called “Independent Jewish Voices”.
Recently they published a book called “A Time To Speak Out”, in which several of them contributed to the debate about Israel, human rights and Jewish ethics. The views expressed are very close to those current in the Israeli peace camp. But when they offered their book for presentation in the Jewish Book Week, they were rudely rejected. In protest, they convened an event of their own, and that’s where I spoke.
I believe that it is of utmost importance that such Jewish voices be heard. In several countries, including the US, groups of brave Jews are trying to stand up to the Jewish establishment that unconditionally supports the Israeli Right. In the US, several such groups have sprung up, some quite recently. One of them, called “J Street”, is trying to compete with the formidable and notorious AIPAC.
It is important for governments and peoples to know that the unconditional support for the Israeli Right does not represent the majority of Jews in the US, the UK and other countries. The Jewish public is far from monolithic. The majority is liberal and believes in peace and human rights. Until now this was a silent majority, out of fear of a repressive establishment. It is indeed “a time to speak out”.
I believe that it is in the interest of Israel to support these groups – and that their activities are somewhat more important than Mr. Katsav’s exploits.
- Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
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Jubilant Funes supporters poured into the streets of San Salvador to celebrate [AFP]
El Salvador's former rebel group-turned-political party has claimed victory in the country's presidential election.
Jubilant supporters of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) poured into the streets of San Salvador in the early hours of Monday, after Mauricio Funes, the FMLN leader, declared that he had won.
"This is the happiest night of my life, and I want it to be the night of El Salvador's greatest hope," Funes said, with results showing he had 51.3 per cent of the vote, with over 90 per cent of returns counted.
Soon afterwards, Rodrigo Avila, the conservative candidate, conceded defeat, vowing to lead a formidable opposition.
"I want to make it known to Mauricio Funes from the FMLN that in this close battle the margin of difference has given him the advantage," Avila said, recognising the end of two decades of rule by his party.
'Peaceful and massive'
At least 20,000 government troops were deployed to maintain order during the elections but voting was "peaceful and massive", Walter Araujo, the president of the supreme electoral tribunal, said.
The FMLN win is the first defeat for conservatives since the country's 12-year civil war, in which 75,000 people were killed.
The election campaign had polarised El Salvador.
Funes pledged to combat corruption and tax evasion and ease the burden of the global downturn with centre-left policies aimed at helping the poor.
He had also promised to crack down on big business which he said exploited government complacency to evade taxes.
Avila, a former army sniper, with close ties to the business community, said he was the better qualified candidate to handle problems linked to the global recession and argued that Funes would turn the country into a Venezuelan socialist satellite.
Al Jazeera's Mariana Sanchez, reporting from San Salvador, said that Funes was a fresh face for the FMLN, having never fought with the guerrillas during the civil war, and commanded a lot of respect within the country.
During the civil war, Funes had worked for the CNN Spanish television channel and a commercial station in the capital, San Salvador, reporting on the war, which ended in 1992, before becoming a host of one of the country's most popular television shows.
Alberto Arene, a political analyst, told Al Jazeera that Funes faced many challenges.
Funes said it was the happiest
night of his life [Reuters]
"We have a global economic crisis, deepening poverty levels, and many other issues," he said.
"I think he will have to govern from the centre if he wants to make a more viable government."
El Salvador, the most densely populated country in the Americas, is still recovering from the civil war, in which more than 75,000 people were killed, with many still missing, following 12 years of fighting between the army-backed government and FMLN fighters.
The country has been a close US ally and Arena supporters said an FMLN victory could affect the country's relationship with Washington.
But Funes has pledged to develop relations with the US.
A quarter of the country's population lives in the US and the tiny nation - Central America's smallest - relies heavily on remittances.
The government estimated that 40,000 immigrants in the US returned to vote.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies
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Avigdor Lieberman emerged more popular after the Gaza war
Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is Our Home) party, is poised to become a powerful player in Israel's domestic policies.
Polls held a few days before the February 10 elections have given Lieberman, an immigrant from Moldova in the former Soviet Union where he once worked as a nightclub bouncer, an edge over the centre-left Labour party, which ruled Israel for more than 30 years.
The party that first entered the Knesset in 1998 with four seats, is now predicted to win 15-18 seats.
Prior to the Gaza war, Lieberman's party was expected to keep to its 11 seats in the 120-member Knesset, mostly due to core support from fellow immigrants from the ex-Soviet Union.
But after the war, with security topping the agenda, the 50-year-old gained popularity with other Israelis who were disappointed that the Gaza war ended with Hamas still in power, disenchanted with career politicians and exhausted by the region's never-ending violence.
Some commentators say Lieberman brings a much-needed iron fist to domestic politics while others have called his policies racist.
During his election campaign, Lieberman focused on ways to deal with "disloyal" Israeli Arabs which he has called Israel's "The Main Threat".
The man who worked at a nightclub in the desert city of Beersheva after immigrating from Moldova in 1978, advocates throwing out Arab citizens who refuse to pledge loyalty to the Jewish state.
As a resident of a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, he wants to keep major settlement blocs in exchange for transferring areas with heavy concentration of Israeli Arabs to a future Palestinian state.
In the three years since the last elections, he has called for the execution of Israeli Arab MPs who had had dealings with Hamas, for Gaza to be "treated like Chechnya" and for Israel to fight Hamas "just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II".
Such statements have bolstered his image as a strong hand, especially among first-time, non-Russian Israeli voters who mirror the nation's shift to the right and are supporting him, pollsters say.
However, other Israeli politicians, such as Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, have criticised Lieberman for his suggestions of heavy-handed tactics.
In 1999, Lieberman was elected to the Knesset where he served as chairman of the Israel-Moldova Parliamentary Friendship League.
In March 2001, Lieberman was appointed minister of national infrastructure, but resigned the post only a year later.
He became the minister of transportation in 2003 but was fired a year later by Ariel Sharon, the then Israeli prime minister, after he voiced strong opposition to the latter's Gaza disengagement plan.
With his party likely to increase its seats in parliament, Lieberman will become a coalition builder with any party that emerges as the majority winner in parliament.
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Netanyahu's pick for Israel's FM raises concerns that Israel's international image will be harmed
Benjamin Netanyahu, the designated Israeli prime minister and leader of the Likud party, has signed a coalition agreement with the Yisrael Beitenu party.
Under the deal, Avigdor Lieberman, Yisrael Beitenu's leader, would be foreign minister, Israel Radio reported on Monday.
The agreement is the first step towards establishing a new coalition government.
An official from Yisrael Beitenu, which takes a hawkish, nationalist line on domestic and security policies, said that after days of negotiations its representatives signed an initial agreement naming Lieberman as the incoming foreign minister.
The agreement also gives charge to Yisrael Beitenu over the ministries of internal security, infrastructure, tourism and the integration of new immigrants.
Netanyahu faces a deadline imposed by Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, to form a cabinet by April 3.
The two parties are poised to secure agreements with other parties in order to achieve a majority within Israel's 120-seat parliament.
Netanyahu, who served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, is likely to form a cabinet dominated by conservatives since both the Kadima and Labour party have refused to join his government.
Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna in Jerusalem said: "Seeing how the government is set up and how the US administration is beginning to position itself, combined with the demands of the Palestinians between these factors, it's very difficult to see anything but a long period of wrangling and anger as well as little progress in peace negotiations.
"The important point to note is that Yisrael Beiteinu agrees to a two-state solution, perhaps different from the kind of two-state solution that Palestinians might envisage.
"Lieberman's wants a pure Jewish state and anyone who doesn't pledge an oath of allegiance to Israel must be deported to another state alongside, which he sees as a Palestinian state," he said.
Lieberman's appointment as foreign minister raised concerns that Israel's international ties will be harmed.
Lieberman has been accused of being a racist demagogue because of his plans to require loyalty oaths from Israeli Arabs as a pre-condition for gaining citizenship.
A narrowly based government and a prominent role for Lieberman could put Netanyahu on a collision course with the administration of Barack Obama, who has pledged to pursue an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
Yisrael Beiteinu, which won 15 seats in the 120-member parliament, wants to trade land where Israeli-Arab citizens live in exchange for illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank in any peace deal with Palestinians.
Despite the deal with Lieberman's party, Netanyahu's deputies are continuing efforts to form a broad-based coalition by winning support from Tzipi Livni, the outgoing foreign minister and Kadima leader.
Livni has demanded Netanyahu to commit to US-backed talks with Palestinians for a two-state solution, as a condition for joining any government.
She also demanded a power-sharing arrangement in exchange for joining a government alongside him.
This entry was posted on Mar 16, 2009 at 10:07:21 am and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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By Stephen M. Walt
As you might expect, I have a few thoughts on Charles Freeman's decision to withdraw from consideration as chair of the National Intelligence Committee. (For Freeman's own reaction, see FP's The Cable here; for other reactions, see Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan, Phil Weiss, and MJ Rosenberg.
First, for all of you out there who may have questioned whether there was a powerful "Israel lobby," or who admitted that it existed but didn't think it had much influence, or who thought that the real problem was some supposedly all-powerful "Saudi lobby," think again.
Second, this incident does not speak well for Barack Obama's principles, or even his political instincts. It is one thing to pander to various special interest groups while you're running for office -- everyone expects that sort of thing -- but it's another thing to let a group of bullies push you around in the first fifty days of your administration. But as Ben Smith noted in Politico, it's entirely consistent with most of Obama's behavior on this issue.
The decision to toss Freeman over the side tells the lobby (and others) that it doesn't have to worry about Barack getting tough with Netanyahu, or even that he’s willing to fight hard for his own people. Although AIPAC has issued a pro forma denial that it had anything to do with it, well-placed friends in Washington have told me that it leaned hard on some key senators behind-the-scenes and is now bragging that Obama is a "pushover." Bottom line: Caving on Freeman was a blunder that could come back to haunt any subsequent effort to address the deteriorating situation in the region.
Third, and related to my second point, this incident reinforces my suspicion that the Democratic Party is in fact a party of wimps. I'm not talking about Congress, which has been in thrall to the lobby for decades, but about the new team in the Executive Branch. Don't they understand that you have to start your term in office by making it clear that people will pay a price if they cross you? Barack Obama won an historic election and has a clear mandate for change -- and that includes rethinking our failed Middle East policy -- and yet he wouldn't defend an appointment that didn't even require Senate confirmation. Why? See point No.1 above.
Of course, it's possible that I'm wrong here, and that Obama's team was actually being clever. Freeman's critics had to expend a lot of ammunition to kill a single appointment to what is ultimately not a direct policy-making position, and they undoubtedly ticked off a lot of people by doing so. When the real policy fights begin -- over the actual content of the NIEs, over attacking Iran, and over the peace process itself -- they aren't likely to get much sympathy from DNI Blair and it is least conceivable that Obama will turn to them and say, "look, I gave you one early on, but now I'm going to do what's right for America." I don't really believe that will happen, but I'll be delighted if Obama proves me wrong.
Fourth, the worst aspect of the Freeman affair is the likelihood of a chilling effect on discourse in Washington, at precisely the time when we badly need a more open and wide-ranging discussion of our Middle East policy. As I noted earlier, this was one of the main reasons why the lobby went after Freeman so vehemently; in an era where more and more people are questioning Israel's behavior and questioning the merits of unconditional U.S. support, its hardline defenders felt they simply had to reinforce the de facto ban on honest discourse inside the Beltway. After forty-plus years of occupation, two wars in Lebanon, and the latest pummeling of Gaza, (not to mention Ehud Olmert's own comparison of Israel with South Africa), defenders of the "special relationship" can't win on facts and logic anymore. So they have to rely on raw political muscle and the silencing or marginalization of those with whom they disagree. In the short term, Freeman's fate is intended to send the message that if you want to move up in Washington, you had better make damn sure that nobody even suspects you might be an independent thinker on these issues.
This outcome is bad for everyone, including Israel. It means that policy debates in the United States will continue to be narrower than in other countries (including Israel itself), public discourse will be equally biased, and a lot of self-censorship will go on. America's Middle East policy will remain stuck in the same familiar rut, and even a well-intentioned individual like George Mitchell won't be able to bring the full weight of our influence to bear. At a time when Israel badly needs honest advice, nobody in Washington is going to offer it, lest they face the wrath of the same foolish ideologues who targeted Freeman. The likely result is further erosion in America's position in the Middle East, and more troubles for Israel as well.
Yet to those who defended Freeman’s appointment and challenged the lobby's smear campaign, I offer a fifth observation: do not lose heart. The silver lining in this sorry episode is that it was abundantly clear to everyone what was going on and who was behind it. In the past, the lobby was able to derail appointments quietly -- even pre-emptively -- but this fight took place in broad daylight. And Steve Rosen, one of Freeman's chief tormentors, once admitted: "a lobby is like a night flower. It thrives in the dark and dies in the sun." Slowly, the light is dawning and the lobby's negative influence is becoming more and more apparent, even if relatively few people have the guts to say so out loud. But history will not be kind to the likes of Charles Schumer, Jonathan Chait, Steve Rosen et al, whose hidebound views are unintentionally undermining both U.S. and Israeli security.
Last but not least, I cannot help but be struck by how little confidence Freeman's critics seem to have in Israel itself. Apparently they believe that a country that recently celebrated its 60th birthday, whose per capita income ranks 29th in the world, that has several hundred nuclear weapons, and a military that is able to inflict more than 1,300 deaths on helpless Palestinians in a couple of weeks without much effort will nonetheless be at risk if someone who has criticized some Israeli policies (while defending its existence) were to chair the National Intelligence Council. The sad truth is that these individuals are deathly afraid of honest discourse here in the United States because deep down, they believe Israel cannot survive if it isn't umbilically attached to the United States. The irony is that people like me have more confidence in Israel than they do: I think Israel can survive and prosper if it has a normal relationship with the United States instead of "special" one. Indeed, I think a more normal relationship would be better for both countries. It appears they aren't so sure, and that is why they went after Charles Freeman.
This entry was posted on Mar 16, 2009 at 09:24:28 am and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment, American Empire. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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Calls for investigation into Gaza attacks
Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur for the HR in the oPt
15 March 2009
Israel blamed its earlier wars on the threat to its security, even that against Lebanon in 1982. However, its assault on Gaza was not justified and there are international calls for an investigation. But is there the political will to make Israel account for its war crimes?
For the first time since the establishment of Israel in 1948 the government is facing serious allegations of war crimes from respected public figures throughout the world. Even the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, normally so cautious about offending sovereign states – especially those aligned with its most influential member, the United States – has joined the call for an investigation and potential accountability. To grasp the significance of these developments it is necessary to explain what made the 22 days of attacks in Gaza stand shockingly apart from the many prior recourses to force by Israel to uphold its security and strategic interests.
In my view, what made the Gaza attacks launched on 27 December different from the main wars fought by Israel over the years was that the weapons and tactics used devastated an essentially defenceless civilian population. The one-sidedness of the encounter was so stark, as signalled by the relative casualties on both sides (more than 100 to 1; 1300-plus Palestinians killed compared with 13 Israelis, and several of these by friendly fire), that most commentators refrained from attaching the label “war”.
The Israelis and their friends talk of “retaliation” and “the right of Israel to defend itself”. Critics described the attacks as a “massacre” or relied on the language of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In the past Israeli uses of force were often widely condemned, especially by Arab governments, including charges that the UN Charter was being violated, but there was an implicit acknowledgement that Israel was using force in a war mode. War crimes charges (to the extent they were made) came only from radical governments and the extreme left.
The early Israeli wars were fought against Arab neighbours which were quite literally challenging Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state. The outbreaks of force were of an inter-governmental nature; and even when Israel exhibited its military superiority in the June 1967 six day war, it was treated within the framework of normal world politics, and though it may have been unlawful, it was not criminal.
But from the 1982 Lebanon war this started to change. The main target then was the presence of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in southern Lebanon. But the war is now mainly remembered for its ending, with the slaughter of hundreds of unarmed Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Although this atrocity was the work of a Lebanese Christian militia, Israeli acquiescence, control and complicity were clearly part of the picture. Still, this was an incident which, though alarming, was not the whole of the military operation, which Israel justified as necessary due to the Lebanese government’s inability to prevent its territory from being used to threaten Israeli security.
The legacy of the 1982 war was Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon and the formation of Hizbullah in reaction, mounting an armed resistance that finally led to a shamefaced Israeli withdrawal in 1998. This set the stage for the 2006 Lebanon war in which the announced adversary was Hizbullah, and the combat zone inevitably merged portions of the Lebanese civilian population with the military campaign undertaken to destroy Hizbullah. Such a use of hi-tech Israeli force against Hizbullah raised the issue of fighting against a hostile society with no equivalent means of defending itself rather than against an enemy state. It also raised questions about whether reliance on a military option was even relevant to Israel’s political goals, as Hizbullah emerged from the war stronger, and the only real result was to damage the reputation of the IDF as a fighting force and to leave southern Lebanon devastated.
The Gaza operation brought these concerns to the fore as it dramatised this shift away from fighting states to struggles against armed resistance movements, and with a related shift from the language of “war” to “criminality”. In one important respect, Israel managed to skew perceptions and discourse by getting the media and diplomats to focus the basic international criminal law question on whether or not Israeli use of force was “disproportionate”.
This way of describing Israeli recourse to force ignores the foundational issue: were the attacks in any legal sense “defensive” in character in the first place? An inquiry into the surrounding circumstances shows an absence of any kind of defensive necessity: a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that had been in effect since 19 July 2008 had succeeded in reducing cross-border violence virtually to zero; Hamas consistently offered to extend the ceasefire, even to a longer period of ten years; the breakdown of the ceasefire is not primarily the result of Hamas rocket fire, but came about mainly as a result of an Israeli air attack on 4 November that killed six Hamas fighters in Gaza.
In other words, there were no grounds for claiming the right of self-defence as Israel was not the object of a Hamas attack, and diplomatic alternatives to force existed and seemed credible, and their good-faith reliance was legally obligatory. On this basis the focus of legal debate should not be upon whether Israeli force was disproportionate. Of course it was. The focus should be on whether the Israeli attacks were a prohibited, non-defensive use of force under the UN charter, amounting to an act of aggression, and as such constituting a crime against peace. At Nuremberg after the second world war, surviving Nazi leaders were charged with this crime, which was described in the judgment as “the supreme crime” encompassing the others.
The Gaza form of encounter almost by necessity blurs the line between war and crime, and when it occurs in a confined, densely populated area such as Gaza, necessarily intermingles the resistance fighters with the civilian population. It also induces the resistance effort to rely on criminal targeting of civilians as it has no military capacity directly to oppose state violence. In this respect, the Israeli attacks on Gaza and the Hamas resistance crossed the line between lawful combat and war crimes.
These two sides should not be viewed as equally responsible for the recent events. Israel initiated the Gaza campaign without adequate legal foundation or just cause, and was responsible for causing the overwhelming proportion of devastation and the entirety of civilian suffering. Israeli reliance on a military approach to defeat or punish Gaza was intrinsically “criminal”, and as such demonstrative of both violations of the law of war and the commission of crimes against humanity.
There is another element that strengthens the allegation of aggression. The population of Gaza had been subjected to a punitive blockade for 18 months when Israel launched its attacks. This blockade was widely, and correctly, viewed as collective punishment in a form that violated Articles 33 and 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention governing the conduct of an occupying power in relation to the civilian population living under occupation. This policy was itself condemned as a crime against humanity, as well as a grave breach of international humanitarian law.
It also had resulted in serious nutritional deficiencies and widespread mental disorders on the part of the entire Gaza population, leaving it particularly vulnerable to the sort of “shock and awe” attack mounted by Israel from land, air and sea. This vulnerability was reinforced by Israel’s unwillingness to allow Gaza civilians to seek safety while the tiny Strip was under such intense combat pressure. Two hundred non-Palestinian wives were allowed to leave, which underscored the criminality of locking children, women, the sick, elderly and disabled into the war zone, and showed its ethnically discriminatory character. This appears to be the first time in wartime conditions that a civilian population was denied the possibility of becoming refugees.
In addition to these big picture issues, there are a variety of alleged war crimes associated with Israeli battlefield practices. These charges, based on evidence collected by human rights groups, include IDF firing at a variety of civilian targets, instances where Israeli military personnel denied medical aid to wounded Palestinians, and others where ambulances were prevented from reaching their destinations. There are also documented claims of 20 occasions on which Israeli soldiers were seen firing at women and children carrying white flags. And there are various allegations associated with the use of phosphorus bombs in residential areas of Gaza, as well as legal complaints about the use of a new cruel weapon, known as DIME, that explodes with such force that it rips body parts to pieces.
These war crimes concerns can only be resolved by factual clarifications as to whether a basis exists for possible prosecution of the perpetrators, and commanders and political leaders to the extent that criminal tactics and weaponry were authorised as matters of Israeli policy. In this vein too are the Israeli claims relating to rockets fired at civilian targets and to Hamas militants using “human shields” and deliberately attacking from non-military targets.
Even without further investigation, it is not too soon to raise questions about individual accountability for war crimes. The most serious allegations relate to the pre-existing blockade, the intrinsic criminality and non-defensiveness of the attack itself; and the official policies (eg confinement of civilian population in the war zone) have been acknowledged. The charges against Hamas require further investigation and legal assessment before it is appropriate to discuss possible arrangements for imposing accountability.
A question immediately arises as to whether talk of Israeli war crimes is nothing more than talk. Are there any prospects that the allegations will be followed up with effective procedures to establish accountability? There are a variety of potentially usable mechanisms to impose accountability, but will any of these be available in practice? This issue has been already raised by the Israeli government at the highest levels in the form of official commitments to shield Israeli soldiers from facing war crimes charges.
The most obvious path to address the broader questions of criminal accountability would be to invoke the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court established in 2002. Although the prosecutor has been asked to investigate the possibility of such a proceeding, it is highly unlikely to lead anywhere since Israel is not a member and, by most assessments, Palestine is not yet a state or party to the statute of the ICC. Belatedly, and somewhat surprisingly, the Palestinian Authority sought, after the 19 January ceasefire, to adhere to the Rome Treaty establishing the ICC. But even if its membership is accepted, which is unlikely, the date of adherence would probably rule out legal action based on prior events such as the Gaza military operation. And it is certain that Israel would not cooperate with the ICC with respect to evidence, witnesses or defendants, and this would make it very difficult to proceed even if the other hurdles could be overcome.
The next most obvious possibility would be to follow the path chosen in the 1990s by the UN Security Council, establishing ad hoc international criminal tribunals, as was done to address the crimes associated with the break-up of former Yugoslavia and with the Rwanda massacres of 1994. This path seems blocked in relation to Israel as the US, and likely other European permanent members, would veto any such proposal. In theory, the General Assembly could exercise parallel authority, as human rights are within its purview and it is authorised by Article 22 of the UN charter to “establish such subsidiary organs as it deems necessary for the performance of its function”. In 1950 it acted on this basis to establish the UN Administrative Tribunal, mandated to resolve employment disputes with UN staff members.
The geopolitical realities that exist within the UN make this an unlikely course of action (although it is under investigation). At present there does not seem to be sufficient inter-governmental political will to embark on such a controversial path, but civil society pressure may yet make this a plausible option, especially if Israel persists in maintaining its criminally unlawful blockade of Gaza, resisting widespread calls, including by President Obama, to open the crossings from Israel. Even in the unlikely event that it is established, such a tribunal could not function effectively without a high degree of cooperation with the government of the country whose leaders and soldiers are being accused. Unlike former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Israel’s political leadership would certainly do its best to obstruct the activities of any international body charged with prosecuting Israeli war crimes.
Claims of universal jurisdiction
Perhaps the most plausible governmental path would be reliance on claims of universal jurisdiction  associated with the authority of national courts to prosecute certain categories of war crimes, depending on national legislation. Such legislation exists in varying forms in more than 12 countries, including Spain, Belgium, France, Germany, Britain and the US. Spain has already indicted several leading Israeli military officers, although there is political pressure on the Spanish government to alter its criminal law to disallow such an undertaking in the absence of those accused.
This path to criminal accountability was taken in 1998 when a Spanish high court indicted the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, and he was later detained in Britain where the legal duty to extradite was finally upheld on rather narrow grounds by a majority of the Law Lords, the highest court in the country. Pinochet was not extradited however, but returned to Chile on grounds of unfitness to stand trial, and died in Chile while criminal proceedings against him were under way.
Whether universal jurisdiction provides a practical means of responding to the war crimes charges arising out of the Gaza experience is doubtful. National procedures are likely to be swayed by political pressures, as were German courts, which a year ago declined to proceed against Donald Rumsfeld on torture charges despite a strong evidentiary basis and the near certainty that he would not be prosecuted in the US, which as his home state had the legally acknowledged prior jurisdictional claim. Also, universal jurisdictional proceedings are quite random, depending on either the cooperation of other governments by way of extradition or the happenchance of finding a potential defendant within the territory of the prosecuting state.
It is possible that a high profile proceeding could occur, and this would give great attention to the war crimes issue, and so universal jurisdiction is probably the most promising approach to Israeli accountability despite formidable obstacles. Even if no conviction results (and none exists for comparable allegations), the mere threat of detention and possible prosecution is likely to inhibit the travel plans of individuals likely to be detained on war crime charges; and has some political relevance with respect to the international reputation of a government.
There is, of course, the theoretical possibility that prosecutions, at least for battlefield practices such as shooting surrendering civilians, would be undertaken in Israeli criminal courts. Respected Israeli human rights organisations, including B’Tselem, are gathering evidence for such legal actions and advance the argument that an Israeli initiative has the national benefit of undermining the international calls for legal action.
This Israeli initiative, even if nothing follows in the way of legal action, as seems almost certain due to political constraints, has significance. It will lend credence to the controversial international contentions that criminal indictment and prosecution of Israeli political and military leaders and war crimes perpetrators should take place in some legal venue. If politics blocks legal action in Israel, then the implementation of international criminal law depends on taking whatever action is possible in either an international tribunal or foreign national courts, and if this proves impossible, then by convening a non-governmental civil society tribunal with symbolic legal authority.
What seems reasonably clear is that despite the clamour for war crimes investigations and accountability, the political will is lacking to proceed against Israel at the inter-governmental level, whether within the UN or outside. The realities of geopolitics are built around double standards when it comes to war crimes. It is one thing to proceed against Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic, but quite another to go against George W Bush or Ehud Olmert. Ever since the Nuremberg trials after the second world war, there exists impunity for those who act on behalf of powerful, undefeated states and nothing is likely to challenge this fact of international life in the near future, thus tarnishing the status of international law as a vehicle for global justice that is consistent in its enforcement efforts. When it comes to international criminal law, there continues to exist impunity for the strong and victorious, and potential accountability for the weak or defeated.
It does seem likely that civil society initiatives will lead to the establishment of one or more tribunals operating without the benefit of governmental authorisation. Such tribunals became prominent in the Vietnam war when Bertrand Russell took the lead in establishing the Russell Tribunal. Since then the Permanent Peoples Tribunal based in Rome has organised more than 20 sessions on a variety of international topics that neither the UN nor governments will touch.
In 2005 the World Tribunal on Iraq, held in Istanbul, heard evidence from 54 witnesses, and its jury, presided over by the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, issued a Declaration of Conscience that condemned the US and Britain for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and named names of leaders in both countries who should be held criminally accountable.
The tribunal compiled an impressive documentary record as to criminal charges, and received considerable media attention, at least in the Middle East. Such an undertaking is attacked or ignored by the media because it is one-sided, and lacking in legal weight, but in the absence of formal action on accountability, such informal initiatives fill a legal vacuum, at least symbolically, and give legitimacy to non-violent anti-war undertakings.
The legitimacy war
In the end, the haunting question is whether the war crimes concerns raised by Israel’s behaviour in Gaza matters, and if so, how. I believe it matters greatly in what might be called “the second war” – the legitimacy war that often ends up shaping the political outcome more than battlefield results. The US won every battle in the Vietnam war and lost the war; the same with France in Indochina and Algeria, and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Shah of Iran collapsed, as did the apartheid regime in South Africa, because of defeats in the legitimacy war.
It is my view that this surfacing of criminal charges against Israel during and after its attacks on Gaza resulted in major gains on the legitimacy front for the Palestinians. The widespread popular perceptions of Israeli criminality, especially the sense of waging war against a defenceless population with modern weaponry, has prompted people around the world to propose boycotts, divestments and sanctions. This mobilisation exerts pressure on governments and corporations to desist from relations with Israel, and is reminiscent of the worldwide anti-apartheid campaign that did so much to alter the political landscape in South Africa. Winning the legitimacy war is no guarantee that Palestinian self-determination will be achieved in the coming years. But it does change the political equation in ways that are not fully discernable at this time.
The global setup provides a legal framework capable of imposing international criminal law, but it will not be implemented unless the political will is present. Israel is likely to be insulated from formal judicial initiatives addressing war crimes charges, but will face the fallout arising from the credibility that these charges possess for world public opinion. This fallout is reshaping the underlying Israel/Palestine struggle, and giving far greater salience to the legitimacy war (fought on a global political battlefield) than was previously the case.
 The idea of universal jurisdiction has its roots in the approach taken to piracy in prior centuries, allowing any country to capture and prosecute wherever a pirate vessel was found and regardless of the nationality of those charged with the crime.
Richard Falk is professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and in 2008 was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights
This entry was posted on Mar 15, 2009 at 08:30:17 pm and is filed under Human Rights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
Mr.Falk is to be commended for taking a stand on this. An investigation into Israel's war crimes is long overdue. Israel has been allowed to get away with murder - literally. It is time the world community lived up to its responsibilities and not only insisted on an investigation of war crimes but also took action to compell Israel to honor international law and specific UN resolutions calling for its withdrawal from occupied territories anf for the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland from which they were driven out by the Israelis or wheich they had to fleee from.
“What seems reasonably clear is that despite the clamour for war crimes investigations and accountability, the political will is lacking to proceed against Israel at the inter-governmental level, whether within the UN or outside. The realities of geopolitics are built around double standards when it comes to war crimes. It is one thing to proceed against Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic, but quite another to go against George W Bush or Ehud Olmert. Ever since the Nuremberg trials after the second world war, there exists impunity for those who act on behalf of powerful, undefeated states and nothing is likely to challenge this fact of international life in the near future, thus tarnishing the status of international law as a vehicle for global justice that is consistent in its enforcement efforts. When it comes to international criminal law, there continues to exist impunity for the strong and victorious, and potential accountability for the weak or defeated.”
This is as true as it is lamentable and disgraceful. This is why defenseless victims are losing faith in the international community, in the UN, and are taking the law into their own hands. Because they feel that no one else will. Knowing that they cannot, will not prevail, they yet fight back, in the hope that, limited though the casualties may be on the other side, the “them” will in time begin to desire an end to the casualties and may be persuaded to negotiate a just resolution, and, in the hope that their acts of resistance will attract the attention of the world and will ultimately lead to notice being taken with some resultant action.
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BETHLEHEM - Two Israeli police officers were killed on Sunday evening near the illegal Masu'a settlement in the West Bank.
They were apparently shot to death, according to Israeli news reports.
The "Imad Mughniyah Brigades" claimed responsibility for the attack in a telephone call to Ma'an.
Imad Mughniyah was Hizbullah's top officer in Syria, assassinated in February 2008 in what many believe was an Israeli operation.
Both of the slain officers were found in their vehicle after being shot, and one was pronounced dead on the scene, an Israeli newspaper reported. The other was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.
The officers' vehicle was reportedly overturned when Israeli police and medical crews arrived to investigate.
An Israeli police spokesperson said the investigation is ongoing, but that there is a working assumption the two were killed by Palestinians.
"The two had been killed by gunshots and the main suspicion points to a nationalistic motive," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld reportedly said, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The illegal settlement of Masu'a is in the Jordan Valley, southeast of Nablus and near the other illegal West Bank settlement of Ariel.
About two weeks earlier, a Palestinian-driven tractor driver plowed into a police cruiser and a bus in Jerusalem before he was shot dead. Two Israeli police officers were injured in that attack, though not seriously.
This entry was posted on Mar 15, 2009 at 08:13:21 pm and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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RAMALLAH - Three young Palestinians were injured by Israeli bullets after its army invaded the village of Beit Rima, northwest of Ramallah, on Sunday.
Residents of the village told Ma’an that 17-year-old Jameel Afrah Ar-Rimawi was shot and injured in the waist. His condition was described as moderate.
Meanwhile, Samer Sami Ar-Rimawi and Ahmad Sameh Ar-Rimawi, both 21, were shot by two bullets and injured in the thighs, residents said.
Israeli soldiers had invaded the village on Sunday, after which clashes erupted between Palestinian youths throwing stones at the soldiers, who fired live bullets in response.
This entry was posted on Mar 15, 2009 at 08:09:37 pm and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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NABLUS - Israel returned 300 confiscated weapons to the Palestinian Authority on Sunday, according to the head of the PA’s Department of Civil Affairs.
The official, Husein Ash-Sheikh, told Ma’an that during a visit to the former Beit Eba military checkpoint on Sunday that Israel had returned 300 pieces of weaponry to the Palestinian Authority’s security services.
Thousands of PA weapons were confiscated by Israel during an operation in 2002, he said.
Meanwhile, he noted that the PA is working to “totally remove the Huwwara checkpoint,” which is located south of the West Bank city of Nablus.
“Removing Beit Eba checkpoint, west of Nablus, was a good move but insufficient as around 50 checkpoints surround the entrances of [various] West Bank districts,” Ash-Sheikh noted.
He described those checkpoints as “political—not military,” adding that “they do not affect attacks carried out inside Israel.”
The department head also expressed optimism that a prisoner swap with Israel might be concluded soon, so that Palestinian prisoners inside Israel might see freedom in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
However, he said that there would be “no negotiations with Israel with these continued invasions, arrests and checkpoints.”
According to Yu’av Disken, head of Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank, said that the decision to remove the Beit Eba checkpoint west of Nablus “came after the security decision had stabilized in the West Bank.”
He noted that “Israel is discussing carrying out renovations on other Israeli checkpoints, particularly Huwwara,” which is south of Nablus, and that the renovations “will make a real difference on the movement of residents by the end of the year 2009.”
He also praised the role played by Palestinian Authority security forces in stabilizing security in the West Bank.
The Israeli military checkpoint at Beit Iba west of Nablus was replaced by a large iron gate two kilometers away. According to an Israeli Government Press Office statement, the move is part of “general plan of goodwill.”
There are currently 13 military checkpoints, 39 earth mounds, 12 road blocks and 26 road gates preventing Palestinians from moving freely in the Nablus area alone.
This entry was posted on Mar 15, 2009 at 08:07:13 pm and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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THE "LOGIC" OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY'S APPROACH TO SOLVING THE CONFLICT IN PALESTINE: "International calls to stop the alleged flow of arms into Gaza grew sharply after Israel's three-week war, which killed more than 1,350 people, mostly civilians, and wounded 5,450."
LONDON _ In a covert meeting held in London on Friday, March 13, the United States and eight allies agreed a plan to stop arms smuggling into the besieged Gaza Strip.
"What it (the plan) does is provide a platform to start some form of practical cooperation," a senior British diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The plan, agreed by the US, Canada and 7 European states, envisages interception at sea, information sharing and diplomatic pressure to stop arms reaching Gaza.
"(All NATO members, will) take action, to the extent that national legal authorities permit and consistent with international law, to support interdiction efforts," said the diplomat.
"Such efforts may include enquiry, boarding, searching, stopping, seizing, or other efforts necessary to prevent transfers of arms, ammunition and weapons components."
The diplomat stressed that naval ships would not use force to stop arms smuggling into the besieged strip.
The nine states also proposed sharing information about points of origin, carriers and transit routes of suspected arms shipments.
They also promised cooperation to put diplomatic pressure on countries involved to stop weapons reaching the impoverished territory.
The British official said that countries are not obliged to join any particular action.
Egypt and the Palestinian Authority were invited to the meeting but declined to attend, a British diplomat told the Dubai-based Al-Bayan daily.
Egypt and the PA declined a similar invitation from Copenhagen to participate in a similar meeting last month.
Egypt, the only Arab country that borders Gaza, has reacted angrily to a recent deal between the US and Israel to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza.
Egypt said it would not be abide by any deal that could harm its sovereignty, warning it would not allow any foreign navy force to operate inside its territorial water.
France, a NATO state, sent a frigate in January to patrol water off Gaza to stop arms smuggling into the strip. Paris later withdrew the frigate.
The onslaught, the deadliest ever against Gaza, wrecked havoc infrastructure, leaving nearly 20,000 homes and thousands of other buildings damaged.
Last month, Amnesty International called on the international community to stop arming Israel.
The London-based human rights group said Israel has directly and indiscriminately used its military arsenal against Gaza civilians.
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Ismail Haniya, right, and Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 ]
Several ex-senior officials in the US government have written to Barack Obama, the president, urging him to seek dialogue with the Palestinian Hamas movement, a newspaper report says.
The Boston Globe on Sunday reported that the group has called on the White House to hold talks with Hamas leaders to persuade the Palestinian group to lay down arms and join the rival Fatah in a unity government.
Such talks would be a major departure from current US policy, with the state department listing Hamas as a "terrorist" organisation.
Washington has frequently said that it will not deal with Hamas, which effectively governs the Gaza Strip, unless it renounces violence and agrees to recognise Israel's right to exist.
"I see no reason not to talk to Hamas," Brent Scowcroft, a former US national adviser to president George Bush senior, was quoted as saying.
Scowcroft signed the letter along with Zbigniew Brzezinski, another former national security adviser and Paul Volcker, Obama's economic recovery adviser, the Boston Globe said.
The letter was handed to Obama just days before he took office in January, the newspaper reported.
Marl Lynch, an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, told Al Jazeera that dealing directly with Hamas was still an "extremely controversial question" in the US.
"I think that there is a group of people who think that it is necessary. Hamas controls Gaza, you can't get aid into Gaza without working with Hamas and they represent a large portion of the Palestinian people," he said.
"On the other side you have a lot of people who say that the international community has a series of conditions. They haven't met those conditions, they have blood on their hands and there are a lot of people who have deep qualms about talking to Hamas."
Six European politicians, meanwhile, met Hamas officials, including Khaled Meshaal, the exiled political chief, in the Syrian capital, Damascus on Saturday.
"We need to talk to Hamas to make progress because they represent a big proportion of the Palestinians," Clare Short, a former minister in Britain's ruling Labour party who led the delegation, said.
Lynch said there were "significant differences" between the public positions of the US and Europe on dealing with Hamas.
"The Europeans seem, at least to my eye, more open to the possibility of working with Hamas towards meeting those conditions rather than having them as preconditions," he said.
Calls for negotiations with Hamas have grown since Israel ended its 22-day assault on the Gaza Strip in January. More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in an operation Israel said targeted Hamas infrastructure and rocket-launching squads.
Hamas is currently engaged in talks in the Egyptian capital Cairo with the West Bank-based Fatah, which is led by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, in an attempt to form a unity government.
However, relations between the two factions are fraught following Hamas's bloody uprising against security forces loyal to Abbas in the Gaza Strip in June 2007.
Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006 and entered into a short-lived unity government with Fatah prior to the forcible takeover of Gaza.
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Evo Morales Ayma is the president of Bolivia.
By Evo Morales
La Paz, Bolivia
THIS week in Vienna, a meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs took place that will help shape international antidrug efforts for the next 10 years. I attended the meeting to reaffirm Bolivia’s commitment to this struggle but also to call for the reversal of a mistake made 48 years ago.
In 1961, the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs placed the coca leaf in the same category with cocaine — thus promoting the false notion that the coca leaf is a narcotic — and ordered that “coca leaf chewing must be abolished within 25 years from the coming into force of this convention.” Bolivia signed the convention in 1976, during the brutal dictatorship of Col. Hugo Banzer, and the 25-year deadline expired in 2001.
So for the past eight years, the millions of us who maintain the traditional practice of chewing coca have been, according to the convention, criminals who violate international law. This is an unacceptable and absurd state of affairs for Bolivians and other Andean peoples.
Many plants have small quantities of various chemical compounds called alkaloids. One common alkaloid is caffeine, which is found in more than 50 varieties of plants, from coffee to cacao, and even in the flowers of orange and lemon trees. Excessive use of caffeine can cause nervousness, elevated pulse, insomnia and other unwanted effects.
Another common alkaloid is nicotine, found in the tobacco plant. Its consumption can lead to addiction, high blood pressure and cancer; smoking causes one in five deaths in the United States. Some alkaloids have important medicinal qualities. Quinine, for example, the first known treatment for malaria, was discovered by the Quechua Indians of Peru in the bark of the cinchona tree.
The coca leaf also has alkaloids; the one that concerns antidrug officials is the cocaine alkaloid, which amounts to less than one-tenth of a percent of the leaf. But as the above examples show, that a plant, leaf or flower contains a minimal amount of alkaloids does not make it a narcotic. To be made into a narcotic, alkaloids must typically be extracted, concentrated and in many cases processed chemically. What is absurd about the 1961 convention is that it considers the coca leaf in its natural, unaltered state to be a narcotic. The paste or the concentrate that is extracted from the coca leaf, commonly known as cocaine, is indeed a narcotic, but the plant itself is not.
Why is Bolivia so concerned with the coca leaf? Because it is an important symbol of the history and identity of the indigenous cultures of the Andes.
The custom of chewing coca leaves has existed in the Andean region of South America since at least 3000 B.C. It helps mitigate the sensation of hunger, offers energy during long days of labor and helps counter altitude sickness. Unlike nicotine or caffeine, it causes no harm to human health nor addiction or altered state, and it is effective in the struggle against obesity, a major problem in many modern societies.
Today, millions of people chew coca in Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and northern Argentina and Chile. The coca leaf continues to have ritual, religious and cultural significance that transcends indigenous cultures and encompasses the mestizo population.
Mistakes are an unavoidable part of human history, but sometimes we have the opportunity to correct them. It is time for the international community to reverse its misguided policy toward the coca leaf.
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'De-Osloizing Palestine is a precondition for the creation of peace with justice.'
By Dr. Haidar Eid - Gaza
"Not only have the whites been guilty of being on the offensive, but by some skilful manoeuvres, they have managed to control the responses of the blacks to the provocation. Not only have they kicked the black, but they have also told him how to react to the kick. For a long time the black has been listening with patience to the advice he has been receiving on how best to respond to the kick. With painful slowness he is now beginning to show signs that it is his right and duty to respond to the kick in the way he sees fit." -- Steve Biko
One of the most important outcomes of the Gaza massacre (2009) has been the unprecedented tremendous outpouring of popular support for the Palestinian cause; something the signatories of the Oslo accords (1993) must have not been happy with. The return of the pre-Oslo slogans of liberation, as opposed to independence, have, undoubtedly, created a new dilemma, not only for Oslo political elites, but also for the NGOized, Stalinist Left.
The process of "Osloization" i.e, a combination of corruption, Ngoization, and a selling-out of revolutionary principles and sloganeering, fused with the fiction of the two-prison solution, has been dealt a heavy blow in the 2006 elections. Judging from statements made, not only by PA officials, but also by the Left, and even the Hamas government, the ultimate goal of the current river of blood has become the establishment of a Palestinian state in any dimension, i.e. the two-state solution. The contradiction between the tremendous international support, the revival of the BDS campaign, the outpouring of demos against Apartheid Israel and its war crimes against the Palestinians of Gaza, and the reiteration, by most political orgs, of the two state mantra is a strong indication of the need for an alternative program that makes the De-Osloization of Palestine its first priority.
In order to understand the Oslo Accords and the extreme damage they have caused to the Palestinian cause, one needs a historical contextualization of the so called "peace process", or rather what many critical thinkers have called the peace industry. This understanding is a necessary step towards a process of De-Osloization, a term I will get back to at a later stage.
The Oslo accord was claimed to be the first step towards self-determination and an independent state. But it is clear now, 16 years after the famous hand shake on the White House lawn, that no state in the short run will be established because of the mere fact that Oslo simply ignored the existence of the Palestinian people as a people. In other words, these accords have offered Zionism what it has always been striving for. Golda Meir's infamous statement that there are no Palestinians is a case in point here.
And yet, to claim that ‘Oslo' and ‘Camp David' were great missed opportunities and ‘breakthrough', and that the so-called ‘peace process' was in track until the Palestinians (i.e. colonized victims) blew it is a deliberate ideological distortion of reality claimed in order to prepare Palestinians for more concessions. Real comprehensive peace was not created in Oslo and Washington; rather what was created is an American/Israeli plan to resolve the conflict after the destruction of Iraq and the collapse of the Soviet Union and their attempt to construct a "new Middle East"—to use Condoleezza Rice's words--a Middle East characterized by imperialist-Zionist hegemony and supported by despotic regimes. The Oslo accord was born dead because it did not guarantee the minimum national and political rights of 10 million Palestinian. As long as there are refugees, cantons, detainees, blockade, settlements, ‘legal torture' of prisoners, dispossession, assassinations and occupation, comprehensive peace cannot be achieved. It is an illusion in the minds of those who signed the Oslo accords.
These accords have led to the creation of a limited "administrative autonomy" in the Gaza Strip and some parts of the West Bank. The local population was given "the right" to form an authority that they could call "national." Now the question is what makes the PNA (Palestinian National Authority) beyond questioning? What is the ‘legitimate' ground upon which it was established? Very simple: The Oslo Accords. It has now become very obvious that despite the famous hand shakes on the White house lawn and in Annapolis, and the optimistic talk of the ‘New Middle East,' these accords, in contradistinction with UN and Security Council resolutions, have not guaranteed the establishment of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state, or the return of the refugees, nor even the demolishment of the Jewish settlements, and compensation for those Palestinians who have lost—and still losing—their homes, lands and properties; nor the release of all political prisoners, or the opening of all checkpoints, which have become daily nightmares for residents of the WB and GS; ...etc. In spite of all the hand shakes, kisses, and friendly press conferences, Israel launched one of the bloodiest wars in the history of the conflict against the civilian population of Gaza, killing in 22 days more than 1400 people, including 438 children, 120 women, 95 old people, 16 medics, 5 journalists, 5 foreign women, and in which it destroyed more than 40,000 institutions and houses, leaving many families homeless. That, of course, was not mentioned as an objective of the Oslo Accords, but nothing either was mentioned in them that would prevent such bloodletting from taking place.
This is the political reality that Palestinian officials who signed the agreement do not like to be reminded of. In fact, what has been created in parts of Gaza and the West Bank is a very strange entity—an apartheid-type Bantustan endorsed by the international community. Gaza 2009, therefore, is the mirror-image of Oslo. When we bear in mind that 75-80% of Gazans are refugees, the results of 2006 elections become more comprehensible not only in its anti-colonial context, but also in socio-political terms. What Oslo has created in Gaza, and the West Bank for that matter, is literally two different worlds, both of which have been led by undemocratic institutions, many security apparatuses, a Third Worldish military court (commended by the Clinton administration), corruption, mismanagement, inefficiency and nepotism—to mention but few (neo)colonial qualities.
By winning the 1948, 1956 and 1967 wars, and by getting international, Arab and Palestinian recognition, Israel--as an Apartheid settler-colonial state—has hoped to move into a new stage; a stage that requires the formation of ‘new consciousness' amongst colonized Palestinians. Herein lies the danger of Oslo; Osloization, within this neo-Zionist context, means the creation of a new paradigm through which you wash out the consciousness of your supposed enemy-the ‘Other'-and replace it with a one-dimensional mentality, through the construction of a fiction (two states for two peoples) whose end is unattainable. Even the fascist Lieberman has started singing the same song.
Put differently, to aim at creating the two-state Palestinian is to aim at creating false consciousness led by assimilated intelligentsia, some of whom have a revolutionary past record. Singing the slogans of "the two state solution," "two states for two peoples," "return to the 1967 borders,"--or even "a long-term Hudna" (as proposed by Hamas) -- is intended to guarantee the subordination and conformity of the Palestinians, especially those with revolutionary ideas. Gone are the right of return of 6 million refugees and their compensation, and the national and cultural rights of the indigenous population of Palestine 1948.
This goal, however, never sees the antithesis it creates as a result of displacement, exploitation, and oppression; it ignores the revolutionary consciousness that has been formulated throughout the different phases of the Palestinian struggle. Nor does it take into account the legacy of civil and political resistance that has become a trademark of the Palestinian struggle. Hence the necessity of the formulation of Palestinian alternative politics. To be conscious of the corruption of the Palestinian Authority, and of the huge class gape that the Oslo Accords have created has definitely been the beginning of De-Osloization represented in the Al-Aqsa uprising and the outcome of the 2006 elections. This is an oppositional consciousness that the signatories of Oslo did not take into account. Both events represent an outright rejection of the Oslo Accords and their consequences.
The Gaza Strip, however, is seen by the PA as one of three building blocks of an independent state, although it is geographically separated from the second block, i.e. the West Bank. The third block is, Jerusalem, is under total Israeli control. None of the Palestinians in the occupied territories believe that the ‘semi-autonomous' zones in the GS and the WB -that is, the ones that fall under category A—can lay the foundation for an independent state. What Oslo has led to is, in fact, a South Africa. When black South Africans needed to move from their townships to big ‘white' cities, they needed to get a ‘pass'. During ‘peace time,' Palestinians, not only those who work in Israel, but also those who wanted to visit the WB form Gaza, or vice versa, needed to apply for a ‘permit'. Beside the permit, Palestinians needed a so-called ‘magnetic card,' which is a computer card that has a password to its holder's security file. No one could work in Israel, or visit the WB, or even go to a hospital inside the ‘green line' without a ‘permit' and a ‘magnetic card'. If one was granted such invaluable cards, one was still not allowed to visit any other area except the one s/he was entitled to visit. If one was ‘caught' at another area, one's permit and card were confiscated immediately, not to mention the torture one was exposed to. Nowadays, no one is even given such luxurious ‘permits' and cards. How was apartheid South Africa different?
The tribal chiefs of the South African Bantustans used to believe that they were the heads of independent states. Luckily, the ANC, despite its many compromises with the National Party, had never accepted the idea of separation and Bantustans. The official Palestinian leadership on the other hand, at the end of the millennium, boasts of having laid the foundation for a Bantustan, claiming it to be an independent state in the make. Undoubtedly, this is the ultimate prize Zionism can offer to its ‘Other' after having denied her/his existence for a century, and after that same ‘Other' has proved that she is human. For Zionism's continued presence in Palestine, the ‘Other' must be assimilated and enslaved without her/ him being conscious of her/his enslavement. Hence the granting of ‘semi-autonomous' rule over the most crowded Palestinian cities, and hence the logic driving the Oslo Accords.
Oslo, then, brought an unprecedented level of corruption into Palestine; and security coordination with Israel, under the supervision of—irony of ironies—an American general, has become the norm. Repeating the two-state mantra, carrying the Palestinian flag, singing the national anthem and— more importantly—recognizing Israel, regardless of the rights of two thirds of the Palestinian people, are what Oslo is all about.
The lesson we learn from Gaza 2009 is to harness all effort to fight the outcome of the Oslo Accords, and to form a United Front on a platform of resistance and reforms. This cannot be achieved without dismantling the PA and realizing that ministries, premierships, and presidencies in Gaza and Ramalah are a façade not unlike the South African Independent Homelands with their tribal chiefs. The classical national program, created and adopted by the Palestinian bourgeoisie has reached its end unsuccessfully. Most political forces, including the governing party in Gaza, fail to explain how 6 million Palestinian refugees will return to the Israeli State of the Jews and an independent Palestinian state will be created at the same time.
Hence the necessity for an alternative paradigm that divorces itself from the fiction of the two-prison solution, a paradigm that takes the sacrifices of the people of Gaza as a turning point in the struggle for liberation, one that builds on the growing global anti-apartheid movement that has been given an impetus by Gaza 2009. De-Osloizing Palestine is, therefore, a precondition for the creation of peace with justice.
- Haidar Eid is an independent political commentator. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
This entry was posted on Mar 15, 2009 at 07:56:57 am and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment, Human Rights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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Activists set up a mock Israeli checkpoint outside the AIPAC fundraiser. (Roxane Auer) Press release, Ad-hoc Coalition for Justice in the Middle East - Los Angeles, 11 March 2009
Dozens of Los Angeles-area Jews, Palestinians and other allies erected a mock checkpoint at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) annual Valley Fundraiser in protest of AIPAC's attempt to steer US policy makers to ignore recent Israeli war crimes in Gaza and the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Cars were confronted by people dressed as Israeli soldiers and those attending the event were "allowed to pass through" after receiving a new program for the event that exposes AIPAC support for Israeli policies which contravene international law. A boisterous crowd also chanted "Angelenos choose a side, human rights or Apartheid!" at AIPAC donors as they approached the hotel entrance.
"At a time when President Obama's administration seeks to restart peace talks with Palestinians and Israelis, AIPAC advocates a one-sided US policy of supporting Israel at any cost," said Julie Hey, a graduate student. "As a Jewish American, I am particularly appalled that my tax dollars are funding Israel's apartheid policies."
AIPAC is self-described as "America's leading pro-Israel lobby," and as such has supported Israel's occupation of Palestinian land, including the use of military checkpoints and the erection of a 450-mile-long wall that has encircled entire communities, leaving Palestinians prisoners in their own land. The South African apartheid regime broke the country into 10 noncontiguous Bantustans made of 13 percent of the total land --"homelands" for the black population. Israel's "separation wall" and settlements have broken the Palestinian territories into 12 noncontiguous cantons representing only 12 percent of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
"Tonight we are exposing AIPAC's support of Israel's Apartheid system and are letting the high-donors and political leaders of Los Angeles know that is it unacceptable to support Israel's separate and unequal treatment of Palestinians," said Lisa Adler, an LA-based community organizer and Jewish leader. "Just as the movement for end South African apartheid required boycott, divestment and sanctions, people of conscience around the world are increasingly supporting the Palestinian struggle for freedom and self-determination by boycotting all things Israeli."
AIPAC also supported Israel's recent offensive in Gaza, which killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and wounded more than 5,000, the vast majority civilians. "We found strong evidence that Israel committed war crimes during its 22-day offensive," said human rights attorney Radhika Sainath, who recently returned from a fact-finding mission to the Gaza Strip. "Israeli forces repeatedly violated international law by targeting civilians, blocking medical access to the wounded, and using weapons that cause needless suffering."
AIPAC wants Obama to agree to almost $3 billion in new military aid to Israel. US law forbids assistance to governments that engage in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights
Mostly recently, AIPAC, praised the Obama Administration's decision to boycott the World Conference Against Racism in Geneva next month, unless its final document drops all references to Israel and reparations for slavery. In 2001, Bush administration diplomats walked out of the conference in Durban, South Africa after delegates proposed a resolution likening Zionism to racism.
Many of the same participants in today's demonstration also were part of an ad-hoc group of Los Angeles Jews that shut down the Israeli consulate for three hours on 14 January 2008 during Israel's invasion of Gaza.
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Members of parliament from Italy and Greece are expected to meet Meshaal next week
Four members of the British parliament have met Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and urged their government to end its boycott of the Palestinian group "to achieve just peace".
Clare Short, an MP of the governing Labour Party, told reporters after the meeting in Damascus on Saturday: "We need to talk to Hamas to make progress (toward peace) because they represent a big proportion of the Palestinians."
Short said that opening up discussions with Hamas immediately would "move things forward in the hope that we in the end achieve just peace".
Britain, along with the European Union and the United States, has said there can be no dealing with Hamas until it recognises Israel, renounces armed struggle and accepts interim peace accords.
The meeting was publicised, in contrast to several European politicians who met Meshaal in the last few months away from the spotlight.
The delegation included a second Labour member of the House of Commons and two Liberal Democrat members of the upper chamber, the House of Lords.
One Irish parliamentarian and one member of the Scottish parliament were also present.
Parliamentarians from Italy and Greece are expected to visit Damascus to meet Meshaal next week.
Calls have increased in the West to deal with Hamas after the Israeli invasion of Gaza which was halted in January.
Meshaal had urged the West lift its boycott of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
'Open to talks'
Hamas won a parliamentary election in 2006 and drove its Fatah rivals from Gaza by force in 2007.
The two groups are currently holding talks on a Palestinian unity government under Egyptian auspices in Cairo.
Britain said this month it was open to hold talks with the political wing of Hezbollah after the group joined a unity government last year.
France, which played a role in halting the Gaza war, has indicated that it might be prepared to hold talks with Hamas even if Hamas did not recognise Israel.
Leaders of Hamas have said they are not prepared to recognise Israel but would accept establishment of a Palestinian state on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war in return for a truce with Tel Aviv lasting decades.
This entry was posted on Mar 14, 2009 at 10:27:48 pm and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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Friday, March 13, 2009
RAMALLAH - Israeli soldiers critically wounded an American peace activist after launching a tear-gas canister at his head and shot four Palestinians with rubber-coated bullets in the West Bank village of Ni’lin, west of Ramallah, on Friday.
“He had a large hole in the front of his head, and his brain was visible,” one protester said of the injuries to the American activist.
Dozens of others choked on tear gas at an otherwise peaceful demonstration against the Israeli separation wall. The protest is a weekly event attended regularly by international peace activists, many affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement.
In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel's Wall and all of its West Bank settlements on illegally occupation Palestinian lands are illegal and in violation of International law.
Demonstrators marched through the streets of Ni’lin toward the Israeli separation wall chanting slogans calling for Palestinian national unity and for resistance to the occupation. Then “the Israeli soldiers attacked the peaceful demonstration using rubber-coated bullets gas and stun grenades.”
The coordinator of the anti-wall Popular Committee in the village, A’hed Al- Khawaja, added, “Four were injured [and] others choked after inhaling gas.”
Later in the day the AP reported that one ISM activist, Tristan Anderson of Oakland, California, was in critical condition at a Tel Aviv hospital. The agency quoted one hospital official as saying “he's in critical condition, anesthetized and on a ventilator and undergoing imaging tests.”
According to Teah Lunqvist, another protestor, "Tristan was shot by the new tear-gas canisters that can be shot up to 500 meters."
“I ran over as I saw someone had been shot, while the Israeli forces continued to fire tear-gas at us. When an ambulance came, the Israeli soldiers refused to allow the ambulance through the checkpoint just outside the village. After five minutes of arguing with the soldiers, the ambulance passed," she said.
In 2003 Rachel Corrie, another ISM peace activist, was crushed by a bulldozer as she stood protecting the home of a Palestinian family from Israeli demolition.
This entry was posted on Mar 13, 2009 at 07:53:26 pm and is filed under Arts, Culture & Entertainment, Human Rights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed, or leave a response (below) , or trackback from your own site .
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