Archive | Crimes of State RSS feed for this section

Jurisprudential Notes Toward Empowering and Liberating International Law and the United Nations

2 Jun

Jurisprudential Notes Toward Empowering and Liberating International Law and the United Nations

 

  1. Two recent exceptional books, Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine (2019) by Noura Erakat and For the Love of Humanity: The World Tribunal on Iraq (2018) by Ayça Çubukçboth reject the liberal trope of assuming international law is an ally with respect to their passion for justice. Law as such is a neutral instrument, historically invented to serve the purposes of the strong, and more recently seen as useful for the weak in certain settings. When law is aligned with injustice it gives rise to resistance, which historically is associated with the hallowed tradition of civil disobedience, influential with Tolstoy, Gandhi, and more recently, Martin Luther King, Jr.. In these contexts civil disobedience can involve the nonviolent transgression of any legal norm that calls attention to the specific injustice. For instance, a refusal to pay taxes or trespass on a military base are illustrative. Armed struggle may also achieve law-generating legitimacy as was the case in the decades after World War II for anti-colonial wars or wars of national liberation. So far, there is no traditional of internationalor globalcivil disobedience. In a globalizing world, transnational activism needs such a means to protest injustice. Perhaps, the purported criminalization of the BDS Campaign directed at Israel in some Western countries gives this option to activists

 

  1. David Kennedy earlier developed the argument, if I read him correctly, that a principal value of international law in war/peace contexts is to provide a familiar and accepted discoursethat facilitates communication between representatives of governments, diplomats, and other actors. This assertion is more innovative than it appears at first glance. Most of us believe the main function and test of law’s effectiveness is whether it achieves restraints on behavior on the basis of legal prohibitions. Kennedy is skeptical of the ability of international law to shape the behavior of sovereign states in war/peace contexts, yet affirms the relevance of international law to the conduct of international relations. Instead of stressing the regulation of behavior of sovereign states, Kennedy believes that international law is primarily useful for purposes of intra-governmental and inter-governmental communication, helping policymakers determine how policy should be framed and justified. The challenge for most moderate governments is to exercise their discretion in ways responsive to a range of concerns, including humanitarian, security, and strategic. For overall discussion see Kennedy, Of War and Law (2006). There is a further point. In effect, language being inherently malleable, it is always possible to interpret the law to conform to preferred policy options reflecting societal roles and normative background. For this reason, in matters that challenge major state interests law serves mainly to communicate and clarify, but lacks the political traction to restrain. Law does allow the strong to vindicate their claims of belligerent rights as in war crimes trials of the leader(s) of defeated countries. A recent instance is the trial and execution of Saddam Hussein orchestrated by the victorious law-violating aggressor.

 

  1. By contrast, in Revisiting the Vietnam War (2018) I contend that American policies in Vietnam after 1954 were unlawful in various ways, with a special stress on the U.S. extension of the combat zone in South Vietnam to North Vietnam after 1964. In effect, international law, as well as the UN Charter, sought to be regulative with respect to behavior, as well as the incidental benefit of offering a framework for discourse among diplomats. Further, that regulative intentions giving rise to such legal norms were seeking to restrict recourse to international force to situations of self-defense strictly defined. The overriding goal of the. UN Charter is war prevention. The Nicaragua Casedecided by the World Court in 1986 confirmed the view that international law governing recourse to force was regulated in a manner entirely consistent with the UN Charter core concepts of unconditional prohibition (Article 2(4)), coupled with an exception for validclaims of self-defense made dependent on the existence of “a prior armed attack” across an international boundary. (Article 51). History is relevant. When the grief and tragedy of war remained an active memory restraint followed, not only because the law so decreed but as a reflection of the psychological anti-war mood that then briefly prevailed. 

 

  1. Such a regulative view of international law rests on a premise that there are correct and incorrect (or better and worse) modes of interpretation with respect to theapplicationof legal norms. This premise does not entail a positivist approach that restricts the meaning attributed to legal norms to the language used in formal texts or customary rules. A more appropriate interpretative approach can be adopted, enlarged to take account of context, including ethical, sociological, and historical considerations. When a country has recourse to force, claimint to act in accord with its right of self-defense or contends that its uses of force are proportional and discriminate a regulative approach can disagree by offering contrary factual and interpretative evidence. The absence of authoritative interpreters of international law make theses assessments rest to a greater degree on supposedly neutral scholarly or expert opinion, which is deemed more trustworthy as not forthcoming from a partisan source. Of course, scholars disagree just as judges disagree. For this reason the selection of judges or the appraisal of scholarly merit is crucial and often determinative of ‘the law.’ The significant differences between Brett Kavanaugh and Ruth Bader Ginsberg are not vocational or analytical as much as they are normative and subjective.

 

  1. Myres McDougal in collaboration with Harold Lasswell addressed this issue of ‘normative ambiguity.’ They attempted. to resolve the challenge of authoritativeness by reference to ‘reasonable expectations’ as assessed by reference to the values at stake in a free society. As their work was rooted in the global setting of the Cold War their inclinations were to find that American foreign policy was in most instances compatible with international law as it was assumed guided by a commitment to promote free world values and by reliance on capabilities able to bring effective power to bear on the behavior of political actors. See McDougal & Florentino Feliciano, Law and Minimum World Public Order: The Legal Regulation of International Coercion(1961); see also McDougal & Harold D. Lasswell, “The Identification and Appraisal of Diverse Systems of World Order,” American Journal of International Law53:1 (1959). Such a jurisprudential perspective regards international law as a geopolitical instrument evaluated as good or bad by reference to the normative credentials and material capabilities of political actors. These credentials are given concrete significance by assessing the degree of adherence of a domestic public order system to the values of a free society. The West, from this point of view supposedly adhered to such values, while the Soviet bloc did not. Such a framework was deeply ideological as in contested situations, for instance, Vietnam, where the differences between the Soviet and American forms of government should not have affected the legal assessment of violations of the sovereign rights of Vietnam.

 

  1. Çubukçu explores the relevance of international law in the informal setting of a people’s tribunal established to assess the legality of the Iraq War, including the subsequent occupation of Iraq. The tribunal was charged with determining whether political leaders, military commanders, and corporate officers should be held personally accountable under international criminal law. Admittedly, this is a somewhat misleading way to conceive of the central mission of the Iraq War Tribunal. This appropriation of law by those acting on behalf of civil society are doing so on the basis of already formed judgments that reflect moral convictions. Such a peoples’ tribunal is tasked with documentingviolations of international law and international crimes, and is expected to justify conclusions of criminality, which were presumed, and motivated the effort to create such a tribunal. Such a ‘judicial’ undertaking is not motivated by a search for the proper mode of interpretation. The Tribunal’s ‘jury of conscience’ did not rest its authority on the basis of having legal experts pass judgment, although it was permissible to have such individuals participate, but only to the extent that their politics are right and their reputation as exemplary citizens is high. Putting the point differently, these kinds of civic initiatives are undertaken because of anti-war sentiments being considered applicable to the judgment of belligerent behavior being challenged and the failure of formal institutions, including the United Nations, to protect a sovereign nation, in this case Iraq, from military attack and occupation. It is not an inquiry as generally understood, but a gathering of evidence and interpretative argument to mount a challenge directed at a controversial policy of a government, usually a government that enjoys impunity with respect to its wrongdoing. The conclusions of such a tribunal is ultimately an appeal to international public opinion, but usually falls short of its goals because of limits on funding available to disseminate results and antipathy of mainstream media to these activities. These tribunals are portrayed by the media as usurping the role of formal institutions and are constituted without any acceptable constitutional mandate. The underlying question is whether civil society has any lawmaking authority deserving respect. As such tribunals challenge the new political norms of post-truth society, some view their role as benevolent, others as irrelevant if not malevolent. There is no doubt that civil society exerts an influence on public opinion with respect to issues of war/peace, including accountability for war crimes. Such influence tends to be more evident in democratic societies. Yet modern democratic states rely on extensive claims of secrecy, nationalist ideology, money, and militarism to marginalize those citizens who seek to engage more fully and critically with public policy, especially the war/peace agenda, than by voting periodically. Tribunals established by citizens is a dissident mode of participatory democracy, and more important for this reason than as a contribution to upholding the rule of law.   

 

  1. Academic international law specialists rarely acknowledge any legal, moral, and political relevance to civil society initiatives that claim a residual authority to act when governments and the UN fail to do so. In this sense, the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War II also proceeded on the basis of predetermined results, but because constituted by sovereign states as represented by governments, their undertaking was generally viewed as deserving of respect. The documentation of criminality was widely regarded as an invaluable form of political education. What little criticism of these legal initiatives by academic specialists did occur focused on the fact that the crimes of the victors, including the atomic bombing of Japanese cities, were excluded even from inquiry, much less accountability. In other words, since international law is treated as subject to the statist framework of world order, non-statist initiatives to pronounce on the wrongdoing of states are dismissed as without legal relevance.

 

  1. We are confronting various kinds of partisan scholarship, some overt, some hidden. Çubukçu and Erakat are notable because they make their partisanship explicit, whereas the mainstream jurisprudential traditions, whether positivist, realist, or sociological, claim an objective approach premised on the mystique of ‘the majesty of the law.’ Or as in recent debates about the Trump presidency, rhetorical flourishes such as ‘no one is above the law’ are common yet non-operational. Even before the banner of ‘fake news’ was waved so defiantly, it was obvious that law and legal order depend more on the political and ethical outlook of the interpreter than on legal training and analytical skills or even on the aura of legitimacy surrounding governmental institutions. It is usually more helpful to know the viewpoints of the judges on the U.S. Supreme Court than knowing all about the substantive ins and outs of a legal controversy being addressed.

 

  1. Shall we also admit that the law in the books will not necessarily matter unless it is accompanied by a sufficient political willto seek and achieve implementation? In international life this political will depend heavily on the attitudes of leading geopolitical actors. In domestic society the political will is shaped by what the 20thcentury Austrian sociologist of law, Eugen Erlich, called ‘the living law,’ the values and expectations of the people as the crucial indicator of effective law.For routine matters such as tourism, diplomatic representation, maritime safety governments comply because it is convenient for them to do so, or reciprocity creates mutual benefits. When war/peace is at stake, then law tends to be sidelined by geopolitics, invoked when it serves interests, evaded or refuted when it contradicts interests. The hope after the devastating war that ended in 1945 and generated a well-founded fear that a future war would involve nuclear devastation was that it would incline the most powerful state to abandon war as an instrument of policy as a matter of law reinforced by political will. Instead geopolitical actors, above all the United States and the Soviet Union opted more for prudence than prevention, continuing to advance their interests by investing heavily in military capabilities and by pragmatic recourses to international force. This post-nuclear militarism was tempered by strong efforts to limit the scale and stakes of conflict to avoid a major war that could lead to the use of nuclear weaponry.

 

  1. The substantive context matters. The state, if corruption and incompetence can be minimized, can be relied upon to act lawfully if the subject-matter is What is treated as routine shifts with time, and reflects to some extent the ebb and flow of political outlook, but generally coincides with behavior that reflects reciprocal interests as is the case with diplomatic immunity, maritime safety, and often even treatment of prisoners of war. Geopolitical actors generally have a strong interest in stability for purposes of trade, investment, travel, and communications that depends on reliable international legal frameworks. Law collapses when there is absent a political will to implement the legal norms as is the case with respect to economic and social rights. Such norms come into existence because of widely shared moral aspirations, but lack political traction to challenge entrenched private sector interests that benefit from non-compliance as with the ‘right to food’ or the ‘right to health.’ Beyond this, the absence of an international community dedicated to human interestsas distinct from national interests makes it evident that despite economic and social rights anchored in treaty law, any sense of meaningful internationalresponsibility is almost non-existent. What international relief is forthcoming in response to famine and natural disasters is invariably voluntary, a matter of good will, rather than an expression of an obligatoryresponse.

 

11.Where asymmetries of power exist, as in competing claims of sovereign rights, with respect to the delimitation of territorial boundaries or upholding the right of self-determination, law validates grievances, motivates resistance, but cannot shape political outcomes. Asymmetries of power are conventionally associated with relative military capabilities, but this has been demonstrated to be misleading in post-1945 international relations. A major recent prominent example is the overall success of the anti-colonial movement. In case after case a mobilized popular resistance of the nation overcame the superior military capabilities of the colonial power. The exceptions to this pattern involve settler colonial societies in which the native population was exterminated or marginalized as in North America, Australia, New Zealand, or somewhat assimilated as in most of Latin America. Relative military power is still highly relevant in conflicts between states, but not in their subsequent occupation. In the instances of aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq, the military superiority of the United States prevailed in the attack phase of warfare, yet during the subsequent occupation phase it endured a political defeatthat basically nullified the military victory. In the post-colonial world, popular sovereignty when effectively mobilized as resistance can often challenge geopolitical maneuvers, upholding basic rights, but at great human cost. Legitimating resistance through law as occurred in the course of the great anti-colonial struggles of the last half of the 20thcentury may have been the greatest contribution of the United Nations to peace and justice.   

 

 

12.I will end where I began, celebrating the publication of the recent books by Çubukçu and Erakat. Çubukçu helps us better understand the complex interplay of law and war from the perspective of movement politics; the geopolitical state is the target of disapproval for its behavior—trampling on the sovereign rights of the Iraqi people by waging an unprovoked war. Erakat, in contrast, explores how law has been twisted by governments to serve geopolitical interests at the expense of basic Palestinian rights, and yet normative discourse nevertheless currently serves the struggle of the Palestinian people and strengthens the political will of transnational civil society to challenge Israel.  

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Julian Assange: Criminal or Benefactor?

14 Apr

Julian Assange: Criminal or Benefactor?

 

I suppose it is of interest that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have found something to agree about—the criminal indictment of Julian Assange.  Trump is acutely vulnerable to the exposure of truth and Clinton blames her electoral defeat in 2016 partly on what WikiLeaks disclosed about her improper use of a government computer to send private emails. Such are the perverse ways of the deeply unjust.

 

The liberal media is not happy with this indictment, although it also wants to distance itself from justifications for Assange’s claims of journalistic privilege, viewing him as a lone wolf with rogue traits. There are solemn assessments evaluating the narrowly framed government indictment charging cyber-crime, that is, publishing illicitly obtained classified documents from a digital source, apparently an apolitical everyday occurrence for government employees. What is apparently at legal issue is deciding whether or not Assange should be protected by reference to freedom of expression or prosecuted as a cyber-criminal without reference to his motivation.

 

A few commentators have noted that the main reason to go after Assange is to discourage whistleblowing of the sort most prominently associated with the disclosures of Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden. Here Assange is accused of conspiring with another heroic American whistleblower, Chelsea Manning, in obtaining the documents that featured 800 Guantanamo Bay ‘detainee assessment briefs’ and more than 400,000 cables and documents relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A particularly damaging document was a video showing deliberate bombing of civilians in Iraq by American pilots, clear evidence of a serious war crime.

 

WikiLeaks, co-founded by Julian Assange in 2006, has been dedicated all along to the ideal of transparency in state/society relations as promoted by civil society initiatives. As such, it can be viewed as a service institution of robust democracy, a needed contemporary check on gross misuses of governmental secrecy. We know from a reading of the Pentagon Papers that what made publication so provocative was the degree to which the truths about the Vietnam War were being hidden from the American people through the misuse of classification protocols. There was little in the original twelve volumes of the Pentagon Papers that the Vietnamese ‘enemy’ did not know already. The inflammatory message of the Papers was how and why the war in Vietnam was going badly while the government was disseminating to the world a rosy picture of how well things were proceeding, which had the political effect of extending an unlawful war by years at the cost of tens of thousands American and Vietnamese lives. I remember hearing George Ball speak off the record a few days after he resigned as LBJ’s Under Secretary of State for Economic and Agricultural Affairs in the late 1960s about why he dissented from the Vietnam policies. He started his talk by saying “I only began to understand the Vietnam War when I stopped reading the cables from Saigon.” In other words, the patterns of deception were withinthe government as well as betweenthe government and the public.

 

We are up against a basic challenge posed by the digital age where the government operates as a citadel of surveillance, collecting meta-data on its own citizenry as well as on masses of foreigners, threatening dissent, privacy, and theessence of freedom itself. It was these concerns that led Snowden to do what he did a few years ago, and yet be pursued around the world as if a dangerous criminal, and not at first by the Trumpist right, but by the moderate center that was in political control of the government during the Obama presidency.

 

The republican idea of governance, that is, the founding principles of the American system of constitutional governance, relied on ‘checks and balances’ and ‘separation of powers’ to restrain excesses and abuses of power by the state. Such governance was reinforced by the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution that conferred an array of rights on the citizenry both as protection against an overreaching state and as protection against various manifestations of ‘the tyranny of the majority.’

 

The WikiLeaks role is especially important in the war/peace context as war-mongering governments tend to exaggerate, if not lie, to mobilize public support. This vital dimension of republicanism, designed to distinguish the American political undertaking from monarchies where war was often regarded as ‘the sport of kings,’ was entrusted to Congress, the legislative branch of government most directly connected with the people. The modern security state has moved away from restraints on war making as Congress has virtually abandoned its initially vital constitutional role of authorizing recourse to war. To revitalize this kind of republican democracy requires new instruments of transparency and validation of truth telling public servants. Otherwise, as in the Trump era, democratic constitutionalism can succumb to pre-fascist demagoguery.

 

A reinforcing observation in the American context arises from the corporatization of the media, as well as an appreciation of the unseemly recent closeness of the media to the intelligence and security governmental establishment. This has definitely weakened the independent and watchman role of journalism, especially TV, as part of the checks and balances framework in relation to the war/peace agenda, including the most trusted media outlets. Listeners of CNN, let alone FOX, know too well how debate on controversial foreign policy issues is almost exclusively entrusted to ex-generals,  admirals, CIA officials, and think tank hawks. It is rare to have the opportunity to hear the views of a civil society progressive or an articulate critic of global militarism, American style.

 

In contrast, WikiLeaks is independent of corporations, media, and governments, and has since its inception been devoted to the publication of materials incriminating governments and their private sector allies. We need to affirm WikiLeaks and whistleblowing as part of the legitimate architecture of constitutional democracy in the digital age. By criminalizing anti-war or human rights whistleblowing the political system is ratifying the suicide of substantive democracy.

 

Admittedly, this generalized endorsement of such transparency assumes that the government or the private sector have no legitimate secrets. I think there should be protection of legitimate state secrets wherein the criminality of unauthorized disclosures would require the government to sustain a burden of truth beyond a reasonable doubt that the material released was not in the public interest. This is bound to be a controversial line to draw conceptually and in practice. In quite different circumstances the release of the full Mueller Report tests whether transparency will lose out to those anti-democratic forces trying to hide, or at least obscure by redaction, the extent of wrongdoing by the Trump administration.

 

In the background should be the realization that whistleblowers rarely, if ever, act without a deeply felt sense that information crucial for the public to know about is being wrongfully withheld. Even without legal repercussions there are often high costs incurred by whistleblowers in relation to career and reputation. You are forever feared as the opposite of ‘a team player,’ so important for the morale and standard operating procedures of almost all bureaucracies, but especially those of government. I know this the personal experience of friends. Dan Ellsberg and Tony Russo, the Pentagon Papers whistleblowers were forever non-legally tainted by their brave acts of true patriotism. They realized at the time that they were taking big risks of prison and would in any event pay a high price though informal dynamics of exclusion, and yet acted out of their profound feelings of loyalty to America’s professed values. And it is true that Ellsberg, in particular, has been ‘compensated’ by being lionized in civil society as an offset to being permanently invalidated as a high-level civil servant.

 

What is mainly forgotten in relation to these whistleblowing incidents is the truly incriminating content of the disclosures. In each of these prominent instances the material released there was exposed criminal conduct by the government of a kind that threatens millions of lives and confirms the most shocking suspicions about government conduct in war zones or through malicious encroachments on public liberty.

 

It seems apt to recall President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1944 message on German war crimes directed at the German people in the midst of World War II: “Hitler is committing war crimes in the name of the German people. I ask every German and every man everywhere under German domination to show the world by his action that in his heart he does not share these insane criminal desires. Let him hide the victims, help them to get over their borders, and do what they can to save them from the Nazi hangman. I ask him also to keep watch and to record the evidence that will one day be used to convict the guilty.” (emphasis added) Is this not precisely what Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange have been doing?

 

As the U.S. Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Robert H. Jackson, reminded the world in his opening statement at the trials, if prosecution,  conviction, and punishment of the defendants is “to serve a useful purpose” it must in the future condemn similar lawlessness by others “including those who sit in here in judgment.” In effect, if the rule of law is to govern human behavior with respect to war crimes and crimes against humanity, the sort of ‘victors’ justice’ applied to the German and Japanese losers must in the future be replaced by ‘justice,’ that is, the application of law to all who violate it. Of course, this Nuremberg Promise has been repaeatedly broken in spirit and substance, and most defiantly by the Trump/Bolton attacks on the very existence of the International Criminal Court.

 

The UN Membership unanimously affirmed that the Nuremberg Judgment was a desirable development of international law in General Assembly Resolution 95(I). In addition, the International Law Commission, the most authoritative body entrusted with the codification and development of international law formulated

The Nuremberg Principles in 1946 to formalize the impact of the trials on international criminal law. Of particular relevance is final Principle VII: “Complicity in the commission of a crime against the peace, a war

crime, or a crime against humanity..is a crime under international law.” Fairly read, this proposition would suggest that the U.S. Government moves to prosecute Assange are themselves crimes, while the acts of Assange are commendable efforts to prevent international crimes from continuing.

 

Such reasoning should also be relevant to the British judicial response to the formal American request for extradition. Of course, extradition should be denied because ‘political crimes’ are by treaty arrangement not extraditable, and if there ever was a political crime it is this apparently failed attempt by Assange to hack the password of a government computer so as to hide the identity of the whistleblower, Chelsea Manning.

 

In the context of antiwar activism during the Vietnam War I made the argument that there existed a ‘Nuremberg Obligation’ that had moral, if not legal authority. In effect, the Nuremberg Obligation in light of the material discussed above means that every person has the rightand is subject to the dutyto contribute to the exposure of violations of international criminal law in war/peace and human rights contexts. Additionally, this moral right/duty could be reasonably construed as a legal obligation.

 

Julian Assange should be judged against this background. This applies not only to the underlying criminal charge, but to withdrawal of asylum status by the government of Ecuador that led to Assange’s unseemly arrest London and to the judicial treatment of the extradition request by the British judiciary.

On My 88thBirthday: A Reflection

13 Nov
  • [Prefatory Note: I took part in a stirring program here in Berlin earlier this evening in support of three activists from Palestine and Israel
  • who face criminal charges for disrupting a meeting featuring Zionist denials of Israeli crimes against humanity. Two of the three who face these charged are Jews born in Israel, and one a Palestinian born in Gaza, whose family was in audience, including his father who was in an Israeli
  • prison for 18 years. It was an inspirational event that discussed with depth and insight the obstacles to support for Palestinian rights encountered in Germany because of the persistence of German guilt about the Nazi past. In my remarks I tried to convey the understanding that the only true way to erase that sense of the past is to oppose the ongoing Israeli crimes of states rather than be complicit by choosing to be silent in the face of evil. I post a poem that I wrote earlier today, and read at the end of my talk, perhaps a self-indulgent conceit on my part, but I share it here as a way of thanking so many friends near and far who sent me the most moving birthday greetings throughout the day, which made me feel that we who are supporting the Palestinian struggle are part of a growing community that will prevail at some point, and the two peoples now inhabiting Palestine can finally live in peace, and with dignity and equality. All of us agreed that peace can only happen once the apartheid structure of the present Israeli state is fully dismantled and a spirit of true equality for Palestinians and Jews is affirmed and implemented, not only for those living under occupation, but for Palestinians confined to more than 60 refugee camps, to those millions long victimized by involuntary exile, and by the Palestinian minority in Israel.]
  • On My 88thBirthday: A Reflection 

    To be almost 90

    And happy

    With good health

     

    Feels criminal

    Amid Satanic happenings

    Raising Images too dark

    To be real

     

    Children in Gaza

    Are shot to death

    Friday after Friday

    By official assassins

     

    Khashoggi’s murder

    An unspeakable crime

    Yet no more than a problem

    For hard men of power

     

    Events so dark

    And so numerous

    Casting shadows

     

    Will despair be our fate?

    Is this truly our world?

    Are we even meant to survive?

     

    My hope– to live

    Long enough to shout

    An everlasting ‘No’

     

    And may so affirming

    Become my last word

    Become my testament

    Of hope for all beings

     

     

     

    Richard Falk

    Berlin

    November 13, 2018

     

    ]

 

 

The Great March of Return: The Gaza Sniper Massacre  

10 Jun

The Great March of Return: The Gaza Sniper Massacre

 

“No country would act with greater restraint than Israel.”

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. Ambassador to the UN

 

 

 

[Prefatory Note: The Gaza Sniper Massacre in response to the Great Return March is one more  milestone in Palestinian resistance and yet another frightening episode in the Israeli apartheid narrative of cruel and excessive violence, a shameful sequel of crimes for which there exists no adjudicative tribunal available to the victimized party to pursue justice. The post that follows consists of juxtaposing news items, a searing opinion piece by the courageously uncompromising Israeli journalist Gideon Levy and a wide-ranging brilliant commentary by my friend, Jim Kavanaugh. The post and is dedicated to the memory of Razan al-Najjar, the brave 21year old paramedic mortally shot while tending Palestinian demonstrators wounded at or near the Gaza fence. This young woman epitomized the purity of nonviolent yet heroic resistance, an identity given historical depth by her joy for life and her supreme sacrifice imposed by sniper brutality.

 

The Israeli political leadership and military commanders must be presumed to have chosen such a display of excessive and vindictive violence for a clear political objective, which will remain undisclosed. It would seem to be taking advantage of having unlimited support from the Trump presidency and the most favorable regional political situation of their history, but we may still ask ‘to what end?’ My best guess is that the effort was designed to convince the people of Gaza, more than Hamas, that resistance, and especially unarmed resistance was futile. Without a diplomatic path and with the annexationist path wide open, Israel would benefit from a Palestinian acknowledgement that the struggle is over, and they have lost. The Great March of Return was a defiant refusal to concede defeat, no doubt angering Israel, and inflicting a major defeat in the other war—the Legitimacy War being fought for hearts and minds on the basis of seizing the high moral and political ground.

 

Finally, we need to understand that the problem of winning the Legitimacy War is mostly a struggle to have the truth heard, to have it understood on all the major issues in dispute, law and morality are aligned with the Palestinian demands, but this has so far proved politically irrelevant as geopolitics and military capabilities strongly lean in an Israeli direction. Can Palestinian resistance as reinforced by a growing global solidarity movement overcome these Israeli

advantages? Time will tell. So far the corporatized media has sided with Israel, which is a battlefield in the Legitimacy War where the Palestinians have mainly fared badly.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1) The Free Gaza Movement

 

Please share this news with everyone you can think of. The only way we have a hope that these brave sailors will be safe is if the news gets out. There has been very little coverage so far. This is what we have found in the past day.

 

Quds News Network·

For the first time, #Gaza will attempt to break the 12-year-long siege by sea

On Tuesday morning, ships will set sail with a number of injured Gazans and patients abroad, carrying the hopes and dreams of the Palestinian people for freedom.

Tuesday’s Gaza flotilla will coincide with the 8th anniversary of an Israeli attack on the Turkish “Mavi Marmara” flotilla, in which nine Turkish activists were killed when the Israeli navy attacked the vessel in international waters. A tenth activist died nearly four years later, succumbing to injuries sustained during the raid.

 

 

https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180527-gaza-boats-will-attempt-to-break-israel-navy-siege-on-tuesday/

 

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-palestinians-violence/israeli-air-strikes-target-boat-moored-in-gaza-residents-idUSKCN1IO06T

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/05/boats-carrying-gaza-patients-set-bid-break-israel-blockade-180527150238689.html

 

 

 

Greta Berlin, Co-Founder, the Free Gaza movement

 

**************************************************************************************************************************

(2) Jonathan COOK ‘LETTER FROM NAZARETH”

The flames that killed Fathi Harb should make us all burn with guilt and shame

27 May 2018

The National – 27 May 2018

Fathi Harb should have had something to live for, not least the imminent arrival of a new baby. But last week the 21-year-old extinguished his life in an inferno of flames in central Gaza.

It is believed to be the first example of a public act of self-immolation in the enclave. Harb doused himself in petrol and set himself alight on a street in Gaza City shortly before dawn prayers during the holy month of Ramadan.

In part, Harb was driven to this terrible act of self-destruction out of despair.

After a savage, decade-long Israeli blockade by land, sea and air, Gaza is like a car running on fumes. The United Nations has repeatedly warned that the enclave will be uninhabitable within a few years.

Over that same decade, Israel has intermittently pounded Gaza into ruins, in line with the Israeli army’s Dahiya doctrine. The goal is to decimate the targeted area, turning life back to the Stone Age so that the population is too preoccupied with making ends meet to care about the struggle for freedom.

Both of these kinds of assault have had a devastating impact on inhabitants’ psychological health.

Harb would have barely remembered a time before Gaza was an open-air prison and one where a 1,000kg Israeli bomb might land near his home.

In an enclave where two-thirds of young men are unemployed, he had no hope of finding work. He could not afford a home for his young family and he was about to have another mouth to feed.

Doubtless, all of this contributed to his decision to burn himself to death.

But self-immolation is more than suicide. That can be done quietly, out of sight, less gruesomely. In fact, figures suggest that suicide rates in Gaza have rocketed in recent years.

But public self-immolation is associated with protest.

A Buddhist monk famously turned himself into a human fireball in Vietnam in 1963 in protest at the persecution of his co-religionists. Tibetans have used self-immolation to highlight Chinese oppression, Indians to decry the caste system, and Poles, Ukrainians and Czechs once used it to protest Soviet rule.

But more likely for Harb, the model was Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in late 2010 after officials humiliated him once too often. His public death triggered a wave of protests across the Middle East that became the Arab Spring.

Bouazizi’s self-immolation suggests its power to set our consciences on fire. It is the ultimate act of individual self-sacrifice, one that is entirely non-violent except to the victim himself, performed altruistically in a greater, collective cause.

Who did Harb hope to speak to with his shocking act?

In part, according to his family, he was angry with the Palestinian leadership. His family was trapped in the unresolved feud between Gaza’s rulers, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. That dispute has led the PA to cut the salaries of its workers in Gaza, including Harb’s father.

But Harb undoubtedly had a larger audience in mind too.

Until a few years ago, Hamas regularly fired rockets out of the enclave in a struggle both to end Israel’s continuing colonisation of Palestinian land and to liberate the people of Gaza from their Israeli-made prison.

But the world rejected the Palestinians’ right to resist violently and condemned Hamas as “terrorists”. Israel’s series of military rampages in Gaza to silence Hamas were meekly criticised in the West as “disproportionate”.

The Palestinians of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where there is still direct contact with Israeli Jews, usually as settlers or soldiers, watched as Gaza’s armed resistance failed to prick the world’s conscience.

So some took up the struggle as individuals, targeting Israelis or soldiers at checkpoints. They grabbed a kitchen knife to attack Israelis or soldiers at checkpoints, or rammed them with a car, bus or bulldozer.

Again, the world sided with Israel. Resistance was not only futile, it was denounced as illegitimate.

Since late March, the struggle for liberation has shifted back to Gaza. Tens of thousands of unarmed Palestinians have massed weekly close to Israel’s fence encaging them.

The protests are intended as confrontational civil disobedience, a cry to the world for help and a reminder that Palestinians are being slowly choked to death.

Israel has responded repeatedly by spraying the demonstrators with live ammunition, seriously wounding many thousands and killing more than 100. Yet again, the world has remained largely impassive.

In fact, worse still, the demonstrators have been cast as Hamas stooges. The United States ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, blamed the victims under occupation, saying Israel had a right to “defend its border”, while the British government claimed the protests were “hijacked by terrorists”.

None of this can have passed Harb by.

When Palestinians are told they can “protest peacefully”, western governments mean quietly, in ways that Israel can ignore, in ways that will not trouble consciences or require any action.

In Gaza, the Israeli army is renewing the Dahiya doctrine, this time by shattering thousands of Palestinian bodies rather than infrastructure.

Harb understood only too well the West’s hypocrisy in denying Palestinians any right to meaningfully resist Israel’s campaign of destruction.

The flames that engulfed him were intended also to consume us with guilt and shame. And doubtless more in Gaza will follow his example.

Will Harb be proved right? Can the West be shamed into action?

Or will we continue blaming the victims to excuse our complicity in seven decades of outrages committed against the Palestinian people?

 

 

 

(3) The Israel Massacre Forces

 

The shooting on the Gaza border shows once again that the killing of Palestinians is accepted in Israel more lightly than the killing of mosquitoes

 

Gideon Levy

https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-the-israel-massacre-forces-1.5962852

 

 

The death counter ticked away wildly. One death every 30 minutes. Again. Another one. One more. Israel was busy preparing for the seder night. TV stations continued broadcasting their nonsense.

 

It’s not hard to imagine what would have happened if a settler had been stabbed – on-site broadcasts, throw open the studios. But in Gaza the Israel Defense Forces continued to massacre mercilessly, with a horrific rhythm, as Israel celebrated Passover.

 

If there was any concern, it was because soldiers couldn’t celebrate the seder. By nightfallthe body count had reached at least 15, all of them by live fire, with more than 750 wounded. Tanks and sharpshooters against unarmed civilians. That’s called a massacre. There’s no other word for it.

 

Comic relief was provided by the army spokesman, who announced in the evening: “A shooting attack was foiled. Two terrorists approached the fence and fired at our soldiers.” This came after the 12th Palestinian fatality and who knows how many wounded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharpshooters fired at hundreds of civilians but two Palestinians who dared return fire at the soldiers who were massacring them are “terrorists,” their actions labeled “terror attacks” and their sentence – death. The lack of self-awareness has never sunk to such depths in the IDF.

 

As usual, the media lent its appalling support. After 15 deaths Or Heller on Channel 10 News declared that the most serious incident of the day had been the firing by the two Palestinians. Dan Margalit “saluted” the army. Israel was brainwashed again and sat down to a festive meal in a spirit of self-satisfaction. And then people recited “Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations that know Thee not,” impressed by the spread of plagues and enthusing at the mass murder of babies (the killing of the first-born Egyptians, the 10th plague).

 

Christian Good Friday and the Jewish seder night became a day of blood for the Palestinians in Gaza. You can’t even call it a war crime because there was no war there.

The test by which the IDF and the pathological indifference of public opinion should be judged is the following: What would happen if Jewish Israeli demonstrators, ultra-Orthodox or others, threatened to invade the Knesset? Would such insane live fire by tanks or sharpshooters be understood by the public? Would the murder of 15 Jewish demonstrators pass with silence? And if several dozen Palestinians managed to enter Israel, would that justify a massacre? The killing of Palestinians is accepted in Israel more lightly than the killing ofmosquitoes. There’s nothing cheaper in Israel than Palestinian blood.If there were a hundred or even a thousand deaths Israel would still “salute” the IDF. This is the army whose commander, the good and moderate Gadi Eisenkot, is received with such pride by Israelis. Of course, in the holiday media interviews, no one asked him about the anticipated massacre and no one will ask him now either.

But an army that prides itself on shooting a farmer on his land, showing the video on its website in order to intimidate Gazans; an army that pits tanks against civilians and boasts of one hundred snipers waiting for the demonstrators is an army that has lost all restraint. As if there weren’t other measures. As if the IDF had the authority or right to prevent demonstrations in Gaza, threatening bus drivers not to transport protesters in territory where the occupation has long ended, as everyone knows.

 

Despairing young men sneak in from Gaza, armed with ridiculous weapons, marching dozens of kilometers without hurting anyone, only waiting to be caught so as to escape Gaza’s poverty in an Israeli jail. This doesn’t touch anyone’s conscience either. The main thing is that the IDF proudly presents its catch. Palestinian President Mahmous Abbasis responsible for the situation in Gaza. And Hamas, of course. And Egypt. And the Arab world and the whole world. Just not Israel. It left Gaza and Israeli soldiers never commit massacres. The names were published in the evening. One man was rising from his prayers, another was shot while fleeing. The names won’t move anyone. Mohammed al-Najar, Omar Abu Samur, Ahmed Odeh, Sari Odeh, Bader al-Sabag. This space is too small, to our horror, to list all their names.

 

(4)Sacrificing Gaza: The Great March of Zionist Hypocrisy

 

By Jim KavanaghOn June 4, 2018

 

 

Photo by Jordi Bernabeu Farrús | CC BY 2.0

The Great March of Return is a startling, powerful expression of Palestinian identity and resistance. Thousands of Palestinians have come out, bravely and unapologetically, to say: “We refuse to remain invisible. We reject any attempt to assign us to the discard pile of history. We will exercise our fundamental right to go home.” They have done this unarmed, in the face of Israel’s use of deadly armed force against targets (children, press, medics) deliberately chosen to demonstrate the Jewish state’s unapologetic determination to force them back into submissive exile by any means necessary. By doing this repeatedly over the last few weeks, these incredibly brave men, women, and children have done more than decades of essays and books to strip the aura of virtue from Zionism that’s befogged Western liberals’ eyes for 70 years.

 

What the Israelis have done over the past few weeks—killingat least 112and wounding over 13,000people (332 with life-threatening injuries and 27 requiring amputation)—is a historical crime that stands alongside the Sharpeville Massacre(69 killed), Bloody Sunday(14 killed), and the Birmingham Fire Hoses and Police Dog Repressionas a defining moment in an ongoing struggle for justice and freedom. Like those events, this month’s slaughter may become a turning point for what John Pilger correctly calls“the longest occupation and resistance in modern times”—the continuing, unfinished subjugation of the Palestinian people, which, like apartheid and Jim Crow, requires constant armed repression and at least occasional episodes of extermination.

 

The American government, political parties, and media, which support and make possible this crime are disgraceful, criminal accomplices. American politicians, media, and people, who feel all aglow about professing their back-in-the-day support (actual, for some; retrospectively-imagined, for most) of the Civil-Rights movement in the American South and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa but continue to ignore the Palestinian struggle for justice against Zionism, because saying peep one about it might cost them some discomfort, are disgraceful, cowardly hypocrites.

You know, the millions of ant-racist #Resistors who are waiting for a quorum of Natalie Portmans and cool elite, preferably Jewish, personalities to make criticism of Israel acceptable before finding the courage to express the solidarity with the Palestinian people they’ve always had in their hearts. Back in the day, they’d be waiting for Elvis to denounce Jim Crow before deciding that it’s the right time to side with MLK, Malcolm, and Fred Hampton against Bull Connor, George Wallace, and William F. Buckley.

 

Dis/Ingenuity

 

The bankruptcy of purportedly anti-racist and humanitarian liberal-Zionist ideology and ideological institutions reached an apogee with the eruption of various apologia for Israel in the wake of this crime, not-so-subtly embedded in mealy-mouthed “regret the tragic loss of life” bleats across the mediascape. All the usual rhetorical subjects were rounded up and thrown into ideological battle: “Israel has every right to defend its borders” (NYT Editorial Board);  the “misogynists and homophobes of Hamas” orchestrated the whole thing (Bret Stephens); the protestors are either Hamas “terrorists” or Hamas-manipulated robots, to be considered “nominal civilians” (WaPo). And, of course, the recurring pièce de résistance: Human Shields!

 

Somewhere in his or her discourse, virtually every American pundit is dutifully echoing the Israeli talking pointlaid down by Benjamin Netanyahu during the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2014: that Hamas uses the “telegenically dead” to further “their cause.” The whole March of Return action is “reckless endangerment, bottomlessly cynical” (Stephens). Women and children were “dispatched” to “lead the charges” although they had been “amply forewarned…of the mortal risk.” It’s a “politics of human sacrifice” (Jonathan S. Tobinand Tom Friedman), staged by Hamas, “the terrorist group that controls [Gazans’] lives,” to “get people killed on camera.” (Matt Friedman, NYT Op-Ed). The White House, via spokesman, Raj Shah, adopts this line as its official response“The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas,” which “intentionally and cynically provoke[ed] this response” in “a gruesome… propaganda attempt.”

Shmuel Rosner takes this “human shields” trope to its ultimate “no apologies” conclusion in his notorious op-edin the NYT, “Israel Needs to Protect Its Borders. By Whatever Means Necessary.” Feeling “no need to engage in ingénue mourning,” Rosner forthrightly asserts that “Guarding the border [or whatever it is] was more important than avoiding killing.” They want human sacrifice, we’ll give ‘em human sacrifice!

 

He acknowledges that Gazans “marched because they are desperate and frustrated. Because living in Gaza is not much better than living in hell,” and that “the people of Gaza … deserve sympathy and pity.” But the Palestinians were seeking“to violate [Israel’s] territorial integrity,”so “Israel had no choice” but to “draw a line that cannot be crossed,” and kill people trying to leave that hell. It was “the only way to ultimately persuade the Palestinians to abandon the futile battle for things they cannot get (“return,” control of Jerusalem, the elimination of Israel).”The alternative ismore demonstrations — and therefore more bloodshed, mostly Palestinian.”

 

Though he acknowledges that “the interests of Palestinians are [not] at the top of the list of my priorities,” Shmuel nonetheless feels comfortable speaking on their behalf. He sincerely “believe[s] Israel’s current policy toward Gaza ultimately benefits not only Israel but also the Palestinians.”Following the wisdom of “the Jewish sages” (featuring Nick Lowe?) he opines: “Those who are kind to the cruel end up being cruel to the kind.”

 

Fear not, Shmuel, for the pitiable people of Gaza: Knesset member Avi Dichter reassuresus that the Israeli army has enough bullets for everyone. If every man, woman and child in Gaza gathers at the gate, in other words, there is a bullet for every one of them. They can all be killed, no problem.”For their ultimate benefit. Zionist tough love.

There is nothing new here. Israel has always understood the ghetto it created in Gaza. In 2004, Arnon Soffer, a Haifa University demographer and advisor to Ariel Sharon, said: “when 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. … The pressure at the border will be awful. … So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day….If we don’t kill, we will cease to exist.” And when challenged again in 2007about “Israel’s willingness to do what he prescribes… – i.e., put a bullet in the head of anyone who tries to climb over the security fence,” Soffer replied with a shrug:. “If we don’t, we’ll cease to exist.”

 

Soffer’s only plaint: “The only thing that concerns me is how to ensure that the boys and men who are going to have to do the killing will be able to return home to their families and be normal human beings.” A reprise of Golda Meir’s “shooting and crying” lament; “We can never forgive [the Arabs] for forcing us to kill their children.” Ingénue mourning, anyone?

 

We can point out the factual errors and concrete cruelties that all these apologias rely on.

We can point out that Hamas did not “orchestrate” these demonstrations, and that the thousands of Gazans who are risking their lives are not instruments. “You people always looked down at us,” one Gazan toldAmira Hass, “so it’s hard for you to understand that no one demonstrates in anyone else’s name.”

 

We can point out that the fence the Israelis are defending is not a “border” (What country are the Gazans in?), but the boundary of a ghetto, what Conservative British PM David Cameron calleda giant “prison camp” and Israeli scholar Baruch Kimmerling called“the largest concentration camp ever to exist.” It’s a camp that tens of thousands of Palestinians were forced into by the Zionist army. The right of those families (80% of Gaza’s population) to leave that confinement and go home is a basic human right and black-letter international law.

 

We can point out that Gazans aren’t just trying to cross a line in the sand, they are trying to break a siege,and that: “The blockade is by definition an act of war, imposed and enforced through armed violence. Never in history have blockade and peace existed side by side. …There is no difference in civil law between murdering a man by slow strangulation or killing him by a shot in the head.” Those were, after all, thewords ofIsraeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, when he was justifying Israel’s attack on Egypt in 1967. And they are confirmed today by New York judge Mary McGowan Davis, who says: “The blockade of Gaza has to be lifted immediately and unconditionally.”

 

We can point out that there can be no excuse in terms of modern international law or human rights principles for Israel’s weeks-long “calculated, unlawful” (HRW) mass killing and crippling or unarmed protestors who were standing quietly, kneeling and praying, walking away, and tending to the wounded hundreds of meters from any “fence”—shootings carried out not in any “fog of war” confusion, but with precise, targeted sniper fire (which, per standard military practice, would be from two-manteams).

As the IDF bragged, in a quickly deleted tweet:  “Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.” Indeed, as Human Rights Watch reports, senior Israeli officialsorderedsnipers to shoot demonstrators who posed no imminent threat to life, and many demonstrators were shot hundreds of meters, and walking away, from the fence.

 

We can point out that the IDF’s quick deletion of that tweet indicates its consciousness of guilt awareness, in the face of proliferating images of gruesome, unsupportable casualties, of how bad a Rosner-like “no apology, no regrets” discourse sounds. After all, it’s hard, since they “know where every bullet landed,” not to conclude the Israelis deliberately targeted journalists and medical personnel, who were never threatening to “violate [Israel’s] territorial integrity.” There have been at least 66 journalists wounded and 2 killedwearing clearly marked blue “PRESS” flak jackets. And everyone should see the powerful interviewwith Canadian doctor, Tarek Loubani, who was shot in the leg, describing how, after six weeks with no paramedic casualties, suddenly:

“in one day, 19 paramedics—18 wounded plus one killed—and myself were all injured, so—or were all shot with live ammunition. We were all… away during a lull, without smoke, without any chaos at all, and we were targeted…So, it’s very, very hard to believe that the Israelis who shot me and the Israelis who shot my other colleagues… It’s very hard to believe that they didn’t know who we were, they didn’t know what we were doing, and that they were aiming at anything else.”

 

It was on another day that this 21-year-old “nominal civilian” nurse, Razan al-Najjar, was killedby an Israeli sniper while tending to the wounded.

 

Of course, pointing all this out won’t mean anything to these apologists or to those who give them a platform. Everybody knows the ethico-political double standard at work here. No other country in the world would get away with such blatant crimes against humanity without suffering a torrent of criticism from Western politicians and media pundits, including every liberal and conservative Zionist apologist cited above. Razan’s face would be shining from every page and screen of every Western media outlet, day after day, for weeks. Even an “allied” nation would get at least a public statement or diplomatic protest; any disfavored countries would face calls for punishment ranging from economic sanctions to “humanitarian intervention.” Israel gets unconditional praisefrom America’s UN Ambassador.

Indeed, if the American government “defended” its own actual international border in this way, liberal Zionists would be on the highest of moral saddles excoriating the Trump administration for its crime against humanity. And—forgetting, as is obligatory, the thousands of heavily-armed Jewish Zionists who regularly force their way across actual international borders with impunity—if  some Arab country’s snipers killed hundreds and wounded tens of thousands of similarly unarmed Jewish Zionist men, women, children, and paraplegics who were demonstrating at an actual international border for the right to return to their biblical homeland, we all know the howling and gnashing of morally outraged teeth that would ensue from every corner of the Western political and media universe. No “Guarding the border was more important than avoiding killing” would be published in the NYT,or tolerated in polite company, for that scenario.

 

Nathan J. Robinson got to the bottom line in his wonderful shreddingof Rosner’s argument, it comes down to: “Any amount of Palestinian death, however large, was justified to prevent any amount of risk to Israelis, however small.” Western governments and media have fashioned, and are doing their utmost to sustain, an ethico-political universe where Israel canlay siege to a million people, ‘bomb them occasionally,’ and then kill them when they show up at the wall to throw rocks.”

 

Is there a way anymore of not seeing the racism of Zionism? Can we just say, once and for all, that the interests of Palestinians—not as pitiable creatures but as active, fully, enfranchised human beings—are not anywhere on the list of Soffer’s or Dichter’s or Rosner’s (or the Western media’s or governments’) priorities, and refuse any of their pitifully disingenuous expressions of concern for the Palestinians’ benefit? Nobody gets to put “For your own benefit,” in front of “Surrender or I’ll put a bullet in your head.” The onlyconcern any of these commentators have for the people of Gaza is that they submissively accept their forced displacement and imprisonment in “the largest concentration camp ever to exist.”

 

Does the vulgarity of it shock you?

 

The “human shields, human sacrifice” trope, which all these apologias hang on, is particularly mendacious and hypocritical as used by Zionists. It’s also a classic example of projection.

This is a “human shield”:

It is Israel which has repeatedly used the specific, prohibitedtactic of using children as “human shields” to protect its military forces. According tothe U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, Israel is guilty of the “continuous use of Palestinian children as human shields and informants.” Besides this namby-pamby UN Committee that no red-blooded American/Zionist would pay any attention to, the High Court of Justice in Israel identified and denounced the “human shield” procedures the IDF acknowledged and defended using 1,200 times. These include “the ‘neighbor procedure,’ whereby neighbors of wanted Palestinians are forced to go into the wanted man’s house ahead of troops, in case it is booby-trapped,” andIsraeli “soldiers forcibly position[ing] members of [a] family, including the children, at the windows of [a] home and proceed[ing] to fire from behind them.”

So, when Zionists use a “human shields” argument as a moral cudgel against unarmed civilian protestors, and a moral justification for a powerful army, which brazenly uses children to shield its own soldiers, killing scores of those protestors by the day—well, it’s not a stretch to see this charge is a projection of Zionists’ own pattern of thought and behavior.

 

Besides being an ongoing tactic of today’s Israeli army, “human shields” and the “human sacrifice” they imply were an integral element of the Zionist narrative—expressly articulated and embraced, with no apology, as a necessity for the establishment of a Jewish State.

 

Take a look at what Edward Said in 2001 called: “the main narrative model that [still] dominates American thinking” about Israel, and David Ben-Gurion called“as a piece of propaganda, the best thing ever written about Israel.” It’s the “’Zionist epic’…identified by many commentators as having been enormously influential in stimulating Zionismand support for Israelin the United States.” In this piece of iconic American culture, an American cultural icon—more sympathetically liberal than whom there is not—explains why he, as a Zionist, is not bluffing in his threat to blow up his ship and its 600 Jewish refugees if they are not allowed to enter the territory they want:

 

–You mean you’d still set it [200 lbs. of dynamite] off, knowing you’ve lost?…Without any regard for the lives you’d be destroying?…

Every person on this ship is a soldier. The only weapon we have to fight with is our willingness to die.

–But for what purpose?”

Call it publicity.

Publicity?

Yes, publicity. A stunt to attract attention….Does the vulgarity of it shock you?

More Zionist tough love.

 

In the face of the scurrilous “human shield” accusation against Palestinians now being used to denigrate the killed, maimed, and still-fighting protestors in Gaza, we would do well to recall Paul Newman’s Zionist-warrior, “no apology,” argument for 600 telegenically deadJewish men, women, and children as a publicity stunt to gain the sympathy of the world.

 

Lest we dismiss this as a fiction, remember that Paul Newman’s fictional boat, Exodus, is based on a real ship, the SS Patria. In 1940, the Patriawas carrying 1800 Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe whom the British authorities refused entry into Palestine. While the Patria was in the port of Haifa, it was blown up and sunk by Munya Mardoron the orders of the Haganah, which did not want Jewish refugees going anywhere but Palestine. At least 267 people were killed. The Haganah put out the story that the passengers had blown up the ship themselves – a story that lasted 17 years, nourishing the imagination of Leon Uris, author of the Exodus fiction. This wasn’t a commander or leading organization urging people to knowingly take a deadly risk in confronting a powerful enemy; it was “their” self-proclaimed army blowing its people up with no warning—and then falsely claiming they did it to themselves! Nobody who wouldn’t use “bottomlessly cynical” to denigrate the Haganah should be using it to denigrate Gazans.

 

At a crucial moment in history, it was Zionists who practiced a foundational “human shield” strategy, holding the victims of Nazism “hostage” to the Zionist “statehood” project – as none other than the publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, recognized and criticized:

I cannot rid myself of the feeling that the unfortunate Jews of Europe’s D. P. [Displaced Persons] camps are helpless hostages for whom statehood has been made the only ransom. …[W]hy in God’s name should the fate of all these unhappy people be subordinated to the single cry of Statehood?

 

The Exodus/Patria/Paul Newman/Haganah willingness to blow up hundreds of Jewish refugees in order to force their way into a desired territory was an attitude endemic to the Zionist movement, and enunciated quite clearly by its leader, David Ben-Gurion, as early as 1938: “If I knew it was possible to save all [Jewish] children of Germany by their transfer to England and only half of them by transferring them to Eretz-Yisrael, I would choose the latter.” You want human sacrifice?…

 

(Sulzberger, by the way, “opposed political Zionism not solely because of the fate of Jewish refugees because he disliked the ‘coercive methods’ of Zionists in this country who use economic means to silence those with differing views.” Yes, the NYT!  So change is possible.)

 

What’s Right Is Wrong

 

And here’s the thing: You want to call what the Gazans did—coming out unarmed by the thousands, knowing many of them would be killed by a heavily-armed adversary determined to put them down by whatever means necessary—a “politics of human sacrifice”? You are right.

Just as you’d be right to say that of the Zionist movement, when it was weak and faced with much stronger adversaries. And just as you’d be right to say it of the unarmed, non-violent Civil Rights Movement, when it faced the rageful determination of the immensely more powerful American South, to preserve the century-old Jim Crow apartheid that wasits identity, by whatever means necessary.

 

Princeon Professor Eddie Glaude, Jr. nailed it when, to the visible discomfort of his MSNBC co-panelists, he respondedto the invocation of the White House line that it’s “all Hamas’ fault and that they’re using them as tools for propaganda,” with: “That’s like saying to the children in the Children’s March of Birmingham it was their fault that Bull Connor attacked them.”

 

Civil-rights activists did put children on the front lines, and put their own and those children’s lives in danger to fight and defeat Jim Crow. They knew there were a lot of people armed and willing to kill them. And children, as well as activists, were killed. And those actions weresupported (but by no means “orchestrated”) by “extremist” organizations—i.e., the Communist Party. At the time, conservatives attacked Freedom Riders with the same arguments that Zionists are now using to attack Gaza Return Marchers.

All unarmed, non-violent but disruptive, Gandhian strategies to eliminate entrenched systems of colonial-apartheid rule will knowingly sacrifice many lives to attain their victory. Call it a politics of human sacrifice if you want. I won’t make any ingénue objections. But it’s not a sign of the subjugated people’s cynicism; it’s a result of their predicament.

“Human sacrifice” defines the kind of choices a desperate and subjugated people are forced to make in the face of armed power they cannot yet overcome. A militarily-weak insurgent/liberation movement must use an effectively self-sacrificing strategy of moral suasion. That is now a standard and powerful weapon in political struggle. (Though moral suasion alone will not win their rights. Never has. Never will.)

 

For Gazans, it’s the choice between living in a hell of frustration, misery, insult, confinement, and slow death, or resisting and taking the high risk of instant death. It’s the choice faced by people whose “dreams are killed” by Israel’s siege and forced expulsion, and who are willing to risk their lives  “for the world’s attention.” Young men like Saber al-Gerim, for whom, “It doesn’t matter to me if they shoot me or not. Death or life — it’s the same thing.” Or the one who told Amira Hass: “We die anyway, so let it be in front of the cameras.” Or 21-year-old Fathi Harb, who burned himself to death last Sunday. Or Jihadi al-Najjar, who had to make the choice between continuing to care for his blind father (“He was my sight. He helped me in everything, from going to the bathroom to taking a shower to providing for me…I saw life through Jihadi’s eyes.”) or being killed by an Israeli sniper while, as his mother Tahani says “defending the rights of his family and his people.”

 

Tough choices, to get the world’s attention. This is the kind of choice imposed on the untermenschen of colonial-apartheid regimes. The only weapon they have is their willingness to die. But Gazans won’t get the sympathetically-anguished Paul Newman treatment. Just “bottomlessly cynical.”

 

Paul’s choice, Sophie’s choice, is now Saber’s and Jihad’s and Fathi’s, and it’s all bad. Maybe some people—comrades and allies in their struggle—have a right to say something about how to deal with that choice. But the one who doesn’t, the one who has no place to say or judge anything about that choice, is the one who is forcing it. Those who are trying to fight their way out of a living hell are not to be lectured to by the devil and his minions.

So, yes, in a very real sense, for the Palestinians, it is a politics of human sacrifice—to American liberals, the gods who control their fate.

 

By choosing unarmed, death-defying resistance, Palestinians are sacrificing their lives to assuage the faux-pacifist conscience of Americans and Europeans (particularly, I think, liberals), who have decreed from their Olympian moral heights that any other kind of resistance by these people will be struck down with devastating lightning and thunder.

 

Funny, that these are the same gods the Zionists appealed to to seize their desired homeland, and the same gods the civil-rights activists appealed to to wrest their freedom from local demons of lesser strength. Because, in their need to feel “sympathy and pity,” the sacrifice of human lives seems the only offering to which these gods might respond.

 

The Nakba Is Now

 

The Israelis and their defenders are right about something else: They cannot allow a single Gazan to cross the boundary. They know it would be a fatal blow to their colonial-supremacist hubris, and the beginning of the end of Zionism—just as Southern segregationists knew that allowing a single black child into the school was going to be the beginning of the end of Jim Crow. Palestinians gaining their basic human rights means Israeli Jews losing their special colonial privileges.

 

As Ali Abunimah points out, Arnon Soffer was right, when he said: “If we don’t kill, we will cease to exist,” and Rosner, when he said the Gazans threatened the “elimination of Israel.” To continue to exist as the colonial-apartheid polity it is, Israel must maintain strict exclusionist, “noright of return,” policies. Per Abunimah: “the price of a ‘Jewish state’ is the permanent and irrevocable violation of Palestinians’ rights…If you support Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state” in a country whose indigenous Palestinian people today form half the population, then you… must come to terms with the inevitability of massacres.”

 

What’s happening in Gaza is not only, as Abunimahsays, a “reminder… of the original sin of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the creation of a so-called Jewish state,” it is a continuation of that unfinished work of the devil. The Nakba is now.

 

 

I’m all for everybody on both sides of the issue to be aware of the stakes and risks in this struggle, without any disingenuous denials.

 

 

Whether you sympathize with, or denigrate, the choices of people who put their own, their comrades’, and even their children’s, lives at risk is not determined by whether some tactical choices can be characterized as “human shields, human sacrifice”; it’s determined by what they’re fighting for, and what and whom they are fighting against, anwhere your solidarity lies.

 

 

Stage Left

 

Here’s the core of the disagreement about Gaza (and Palestine in general): There are those—they call themselves Zionists—who think the Palestinians deserve to have been put in that concentration camp, and who stand in solidarity with the soldiers who, by whatever means necessary, are forcing them to stay there. And there are those—the growing numbers who reject Zionism—who stand in solidarity with every human being trying to get out of that camp by whatever means necessary.

 

There’s a fight—between those breaking out of the prison and those keeping them in; between those seeking equality and those enforcing ethno-religious supremacism; between the colonized and the colonizer. Pick a side. Bret Stephens, Shmuel Rosner, and Tom Friedman have. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Breitbart have. ABC, CBS, (MS)NBC, and Fox have. The Democrats and Republicans and the Congress and the White House have. And they are not shy about it.

 

It’s past time for American progressives to clearly and unequivocally decide and declare which side they are on. It’s time for professedly humanitarian, egalitarian, pro-human rights, anti-racist, and free-speech progressives to express their support of the Palestinian struggle—on social media, in real-life conversation, and on the street.

 

It’s time to firmly reject the hypocritical discourse of those who would have been belittling any expression ofsorrow and outrage over Emmet Till, Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, and the four black schoolgirls killed in Birmingham, while “ingénue mourning” the terrible moral quandary in which those disrupters had put Bull Connor’s boys. Don’t shrink from it, talk back to it—every time.Make them ashamed to be defending colonialism and apartheid with such patently phony arguments.

 

Politically? At a minimum, demand of any politician who seeks your vote: End the blockade of Gaza, immediately and unconditionally. Support BDS. Refuse any attempt to criminalize BDS and anti-Zionism. Stop blocking UN and ICC actions against Israeli crimes. Restrict arms sales to Israel. Reject the hypocritical Zionist apologetics. Refuse any attempt to censor or restrict the internet. (This last is very important. Nothing has threatened Zionist impunity more than the information available on the internet, and nothing is driving the demand to censor the internet more than the Zionists’ need to shut that off.)

 

This is a real, concrete, important resistance. What’ll it cost? Some social discomfort? It’s not sniper fire. Not human sacrifice. Not Saber’s choice.

 

Are we at a turning point? Some people think this year’s massacre in Gaza will finally attract a sympathetic gaze from the gods and goddesses of the Imperial City. Deliberately and methodically killing, maiming, and wounding thousands of unarmed people over weeks—well, the cruelty, the injustice, the colonialism is just too obvious to ignore any longer. And I hope that turns out to be so. And I know, Natalie Portman and Roger Waters and Shakira, and—the most serious and hopeful—the young American Jews in groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and IfNotNow. There are harbingers of change, and we must try.

I also know there is nothing new here. Thirty years ago, a doctor in Gaza said: “We will sacrifice one or two kids to the struggle — every family. What can we do? This is a generation of struggle.” It was obvious thirty years ago, and forty years before that. TheNakbawas then. The Nakbais now. Was it ever not too obvious to ignore?

My mother was an actress on Broadway, who once came to Princeton University to share the stage, and her professional skills, with Jimmy Stewart and other amateur thespians. She played the ingénue. Me, I’m not so good at that.

By all means, regarding Palestine-Israel and the sacrifices and solidarity demanded: No more ingénue politics.

 

Article printed from http://www.counterpunch.org: ‪https://www.counterpunch.org

URL to article: ‪https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/06/04/sacrificing-gaza-the-great-march-of-zionist-hypocrisy/

 

************************************************************************************

 

 

(5) Israeli army frames slain medic Razan al-Najjar as ‘Hamas human shield’

 

 

 

Mondoweiss7 June 2018 by Jonathan Ofir –

 

Just when you thought Israel couldn’t get any lower… The Israeli army has just released an incitement video, titled “Hamas’ use of human shields must stop”, in which it frames the slain medic Razan al-Najjar as a “Hamas human shield”– a day after it claimed she was killed by accident. This is more than adding insult to injury. This is adding malice to crime. The propaganda effort is based on twisting al-Najjar’s own words. I have consulted with three Arabic experts, who have looked at the original Arabic interview from which the IDF took the “human shield” text, and it is clear to them beyond a doubt that the IDF was knowingly and cynically manipulating Razan’s words to mean something other than what she said. Bear with me, this requires close analysis: First the video features Razan throwing away a gas grenade in the field.  Obviously, this is one of the tear gas grenades fired by the Israeli army, which she is taking up and throwing to a safe distance. By this visual, the IDF is trying to create the impression that Razan is a kind of ‘combatant’. Then comes the short clip from an interview. The original interview has been found to be from Al Mayadeen News, a channel based in Beirut. The IDF video runs subtitles, saying: “I am Razan al-Najjar, I am here on the frontlines and I act as a human shield…” That’s all the IDF needs. Now, with the ominous music in the background, the IDF text states: “Hamas uses paramedics as human shields”. But the IDF cut out a very significant part of the sentence. Razan actually says: “I the Paramedic Razan al-Najjar, I am here on the Front Line acting as a human shield of safety to protect the injured at the Front Line. No one encouraged me on being a Paramedic, I encouraged myself. I wanted to take chances and help people…” (my emphasis)….

http://mondoweiss.net/2018/06/israeli-frames-najjar/

########

 

 

 

 

__._,_.___

 

 

Indonesian Impressions

28 Apr

Impressions from a Third Visit to Indonesia

 

 

Indonesia Visits

 

This was my third visit to Indonesia. The first visit was very brief. It consisted of two stops on a Princeton allumni cruise to South Asia in 1992.  I was invited to go along as ‘ a guest.’ In exchange, I was expected to give a few lectures on the political dimensions of our trip, especially pertaining to Indochina. Another academician, Ainslee Embree, an erudite comparative religion scholar, recently retired from Columbia, informed the 80 or so participants, mainly affluent Princeton alumni, about cultural and religious issues.

 

The notable highlights of the Indonesian phase of the trip included a stop at the world’s largest Buddhist temple at Borobudur in central Java. It is a spectacular structure, with nine levels, 504 Buddha statues, with 72 Buddha statues each encased in a stupa surrounding the central dome.  Climbing around the pyramidal structure in Indonesian humidity was a struggle, but a memorable one. I can only wonder at the immense effort of many hundreds of anonymous workers who produced such a timeless monument to ‘detachment’!  Our small ship also made a short stop at Bali, where several of the more luxury-addicted passengers, not content with the rather spacious staterooms on board, arranged to stay overnight at a splendidly expensive new hotel in the center of the island. They paid at least $1,000 per night; for the rest of us an elegant lunch on land more than sufficed as we happily retreated to the waiting ship.

 

Besides Indonesia, the cruise included on its itinerary several other countries. We started from Singapore, and made stops at Saigon and Pnom Penh on the Mekong, going inland to see magnificent Angkor Wat temple complex near Siem Reapin the dawn light, regarded as the largest religious monument in the world. It was surprising to learn that Angkor Wat was originally built as a Hindu place of worship, dedicated to Vishnu, and gradually became a Buddhist site in the 12thcentury. The more one is exposed to Asian culture and history, the more we come to realize that power shifts from one culture to another, but the symbols of cultural greatness and religious devotion are interchangeable. The countries of Asia are strikingly different from one another in almost all respects, and yet there is a civilizational commonality that makes it possible for the religious tradition to merge and overlap in ways inconceivable in the West where the dyadic logic of either/or continues to prevail, making it mandatory to distinguish ‘this’ from ‘that.’

 

 The thrilling cultural experience at Angkor Wat was followed by a sobering visit to ‘the killing fields” of Cambodia.  We were given a guided tour of the accompanying memorial museum that documented the decimation of the Cambodian population, portrayed in the Western Cold War media as genocide (Cambodian deaths estimated at between one point five and two million) in the period about between 1975 and 1979. The brutal Khmer Rouge policies of ‘re-education, forced communes, and anti-Westernism under the rigid Communist leadership of Pol Pot, so-called Brother #1, were blamed for the humanitarian catastrophe. What is held less remarked upon, if noticed at all, is the relevance of Nixon’s extension of the Vietnam War to Cambodia to the genocide. This extension included saturated bombing of the Cambodian countryside forcing the peasant population to seek refuge in Phnom Penh where food shortages did much of the damage. Our cruise passengers, generally on the political right, seemed interested in my remarks on these contested events, becoming almost receptive and unexpectedly friendly. One rather opinionated Princeton middle-aged alumnus ‘confessed’ that before embarking he had ‘pictured me with horns’ and almost withdrew from the cruise for that reason alone. Despite such forebodings, he admitted to being pleasantly surprised by my demeanor and approach. I did not altogether reciprocate these heartwarming sentiments as such a cruise attracts wealthy and snobbish individuals who are often spoiled and greedy, never humble, and generally dogmatically reactionary when commenting on the issues of the day. In this vein, among our passengers were several leading ‘junk bond’ operatives who survived the scandal of the 1980s seemingly unscathed and a pre-Trump NYC real estate mogul who were forever complaining that the fringe luxuries didn’t meet their standards (while I must admit it was exceeding mine!) As with many ambivalent experiences, I was glad to have been part of this cruise, but would never do it again unless the itinerary was limited to Antarctica!

 

 

 

Second Indonesian Visit

 

My second visit to Indonesia was more personally satisfying. I came in 1998 as an invited guest of the newspaper Kompass, with lectures in several cities in Java preceded by a week of vacation in Bali where we stayed at an eco-tourist inn (Sua Bali) run by a German expatriate and his Indonesian partner, an anthropologist. Meals were eaten communally with the other guests and plumbing was pre-modern. Nearby Ubud was a culturally vibrant local community where expatriate writers and artists gathered to live a life away from the pressure of markets and critics. Bali exceeded even our highest expectations in all respects accept for the consistently high levels of humidity.

 

I came to Indonesia with Hilal. We were assisted and guided throughout by an extremely engaging and sensitive young former student activist leader, Taufik Rahzan, who greatly enriched our experience. During our three weeks in the country the Indonesian currency was hard hit by a volatile speculative market, which seemed inflamed by hedge fund traders in the West betting on the falling value of the Rupiah, and doing their best to make it happen! Mahathir Mohamed, then leader of Malaysia, made headlines by blaming the currency crisis in the region on George Soros, and lauding his own efforts to steer clear of neoliberal globalization, which he contended helped minimize the adverse impacts of the currency manipulations.

 

Recalling Indonesia means above all remembering my most cherished Australian friend, Herb Feith, who devoted his too short life to the study of Indonesia, and was probably responsible for my invitation to visit and speak. Herb was wonderfully strange in his intense innocence that led people to overlook his moral passion, exceptional intellectual capacity, and significant scholarly achievements. I will never forget his inexplicable practice of eating the meat on chicken bones left as garbage on their plates by others at several dinners we had together. Herb died far too soon while riding his bike in Yogyakarta where he also did some teaching. I first met Herb, and his advance student protégé, Richard Tanter, years earlier when they sought me out at Princeton in the 1970s, apparently looking for an anti-war activist hiding behind Ivy Walls. They were doing research at Cornell, which had a highly regarded academic program on Indonesia, and we instantly bonded for life.

 

Another human highlight for me was a long meeting with Indonesia’s extraordinary literary figure, Pramoedya Ananta Tuer, whose novels I had been reading with great admiration in preparation for the visit. I requested the meeting, and it was arranged for me to visit this left author/activist who had languished in terrible prisons for much of his life, having opposed and fought against Dutch colonialism, Japanese occupation, and Suharto’s reactionary regime, and been imprisoned by each.

 

Perhaps, the most remarkable feature of Pramoedya’s life was the story behind his literary masterwork, the Buro Quartet, four novels strung together by way of the life story of Minke, an Indonesian journalist and activist who became a resistance fighter during the last phase of Dutch colonial rule. Adding to the literary quality of these novels is the amazing story of their composition. While in the miserable prison on the arid island of Buro for seven years Pramoedya was denied paper and pen, but refused to be silenced. Instead, each evening he would tell Minke’s story of hardship and struggle  to his fellow prisoners. How this oral transmission was transcribed and converted into a gripping series of novels is not clearly established.

 

Politically, Pramoedya was on the left, paying a heavy price, being arrested and hustled off to prison in the aftermath of the anti-Communist massacre that led to the arrest of thousands more Indonesians. He supported Sukarno, who led the Indonesian independence struggle, and held General Suharto in contempt, and even after Suharto’s retirement, Pramoedya found no good things to say about the way the country was governed even though its democratically elected leader, Megawati Sukarnputri, was the daughter of his national hero, Sukarno. In his harsh words,”[a]fter Sukarno there have only been clowns who had no capability to run the country.”

 

When I visited Pramoedya he was frail (he died from health issues a few years later, in 2006), somewhat hesitant to talk much about his past, and seemingly worried about who was listening and watching. I had the sense of someone suffering from post-prison traumatic stress disorder or

PPTSD. I was glad I made this pilgrimage as it did give me the sense of someone brave and principled who lived his life and did his work in conformity with his beliefs, and yet despite enduring extreme deprivation and punishment managed 30 books, and created a legacy of distinguished achievement that has gavin the Indonesian people a national narrative detailing their struggles against the external and internal enemies of Indonesian self-determination and democratic legitimacy.

 

I cannot now remember even the themes of my talks to local groups of intellectuals. I also gave several lectures within university settings to students, stressing human rights. These activities provided stimulating contact with local personalities in three cities: Yogyakarta, Bandung, and Jakarta.

 

Unquestionably, for all of us, the enduring drama of this illuminating visit arose from a humbling incident occurring at the end of our last day in Indonesia. I had the temerity to disturb the local gods at dusk by losing my balance as I jumped from the pier to the ship moored below that was to take around the Jakarta harbor for a sunset tour. I fell rather deeply and uncontrollably into the scummy waters, prompting Taufik to dive in after me, losing his glasses in the process, and creating big fears of disease and infection for both of us as the water was extremely polluted. My fall was an event, attracting hundreds of local onlookers several of whom rushed me to a nearby shower, and while they were warmly empathetic they were also appropriately amused by my plight borne of awkwardness. The shower was on a moist stone floor in a broken down shack. It was as forbidding as the harbor water. With a genuine Good Samaritan spirit these local people who were obviously very poor provided me with a simple sarong to replace my infected clothes. Nothing happened to confirm these fears, but it has made me careful never again to anger the gods at dusk!

 

A Third Visit

 

My third trip to Indonesia was in early April of 2018. This time I was accompanying Hilal on a UN mission trip in her role as UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food, a position established some years ago by the Human Rights Council in Geneva. As I was not part of the mission team, I was able to pursue an independent line of activity, spending much time in our various hotels trying to write, but still managing to gather impressions that convinced me that Indonesia is not only an important and distinctive country, but an exciting place to be due to its deep, vibrant, and plural cultural identity and its warm traditions of hospitality.

 

Important because of a population of 260+ million, the largest Muslim country in the world, rich in a variety of resources, and exhibiting a strong record of economic growth and poverty reduction in recent years, as well as seeming to be evolving in democratizing and humanistic directions via elections, leadership, civil liberties, and social & economic rights. At the same time the country is beset by problems, old and new, arising from a variety of sources. A major problematic set of issues is connected with the rapidly expanding palm oil production causing harmful environmental and cultural side effects, some Islamic extremism, corruption, urban blight, weak infrastructure, and various dimensions of inequality, as well as some lingering dark shadows from past traumas whose memory has not yet faded away, and may never.

 

Indonesia is distinctive (with some comparison to the Philippines) as an island archipelago dominated by a single island, Java (comparable to Luzon’s dominance in the Philippines) spread over great distances. Within its many semi-autonomous communities there are numerous languages, separate ethnicities and traditions, a variety of ways of being Islamic, and overall, a bewildering complexity that make all generalizations suspect..

 

 

Remembering Sukarno, Forgetting Suharto

 

I made it point of asking a variety of persons I encountered during the ten days about their feelings toward the two dominant political personalities in Indonesian political history since it won political independence from The Netherlands in 1949 after four years of armed struggle. In short, those I spoke to remembered Sukarno favorably as the father of the country who was politically victimized by the malevolently tragic events of 1965, a massive anti-Communist national blood bath, abetted by the United States and reflecting the passions that overwhelmed morality during the height of the Cold War. For an understanding of how these past crimes haunt Indonesian political and moral consciousness I recommend highly the two documentary films of Joshua Oppenheimer: “The Act of Killing” (2013) and “The Look of Silence” (2014).

In contrast to the warmth toward Sukarno, there was disapproval, or at best, a stony silence when asked about their recollections of General Suharto who governed Indonesia with an iron fist in the period 1967-1998.

 

 

New Urbanism: Vitality and Blight

 

Clashing images struck me, especially in Jakarta: many striking examples of high rise contemporary architecture, much more so than in the typical American city, coupled with traffic gridlock. Hilal’s urban logistics would have been totally frustrating had not the government supplied a police motorcycle escort leading her cars from appointment to appointment, or making our way to and from the airports. The way Indonesian police found space to move our cars through the thickest concentration of vehicles was truly amazing, a kind of postmodern magic!

 

We were told that studies of urban life showed that an average Indonesian will spend ten years of his/her life behind the wheel. Such a situation gives rise to innovations. Many Indonesians cope with the traffic ordeal by relying on Go-Jek to get around cities by hired motorcycle, arranging rides by phone similar to Uber. There were abundant Go-Jek drivers all over Jakarta, recognizable by their Green jackets, many working for a company aptly named ‘Grab.’ Go-Jek service, like Uber or Lyft, also includes deliveries of takeout food and a courier service.

 

Jakarta, and its metropolitan surroundings, is estimated at over 20 million, making it the second largest urban center in the world, with ten million in the city, and the other ten million close by where rents are cheaper, and it is possible to have more space.

 

As incomes rise, and the car population grows quicker than the high birth rate what can only wonder whether Indonesian ingenuity can keep pace. Maybe the digitation of work will produce a deurbanizing trend in coming years to avoid having survey in the 2020s finding that an Indonesian spends 20 years getting to and fro work.

 

 

Archipelago Identities

 

Of course, every large country has regional differences, expressed by dialects, distinct language preferences, and food taste and local cuisine, but islands seem to accentuate their separate identities. Island pride often exceeds nationalist sentiments. This was clearly evident during our brief time in Indonesia.

 

There are also significant power/wealth differences within and among islands. For instance, other islands complain about Java’s dominance, which can be grasped through the geography of leadership, development assistances, and a variety of preferential investments, including centers of educational and cultural excellence. The remoteness and ethnic differences of Papua is cited as an example of how such prejudice operates on an inter-island, and in this case, an inter-civilizational basis. On Java there are complaints about inequalities between Jakarta and the rest of this main island, exhibited in the quality of the roads, employment opportunities, and cultural life.  Of course, Bali is a world apart, maybe mostly because it is where the unconverted Hindus retreated (and Buddhists seemed to disappear) when Islam took over the rest of the archipelago starting as early as the  9thcentury, and spreading gradually (with no clear narrative) over the course of the next six centuries until 95% of Indonesia is regarded as Muslim..

 

We went for a few days to Ambon, a glimpse of paradise. The stillness of the place creates sea vistas with the vividness of fine Asian paintings, a sense of lost tradition and eternal ways of living, the marginality of the human presence in the Asian, the primacy of nature, experienced as ‘the exotic other,’ inscribing the depth of pre-modern authenticity.  On the roads, motorcycles dominate the unlit roads, and driving at night feels hazardous as cars with impatient drivers move past slower vehicles on rather narrow roads, heedless of streams of approaching single headlights weaving in and out, without the slightest awareness of separate sides, much less lanes. Fortunately, the skill levels of drivers and bikers is high, the speeds are low; otherwise, fatal accidents would be sure abound.

 

 

Debating Flogging

 

On Java, in particular, devotion to Islam seems low keyed. I don’t recall hearing a call to prayer during our whole time in Indonesia or even seeing many mosques, unlike Turkey where the smallest village community will have a minaret defining its skyline, and city views will usually display several minarets wherever one is positioned. Also, again unlike Turkey, notable is the seeming non-issue arising from head scarves worn by many Indonesian women, worn with a strong sense of color and feminine grace, and freely mingling with girls and women who have their hair uncovered. This kind of pluralism, unselfconsciously a form of virtuous practice in our world troubled by secular and religious fundamentalisms. In Indonesia living together seemed to flow as naturally as the current in a lively river. Such a sense of harmony creates a calmness that is absent in the West where the atmosphere is stressed by encounters, explicit or not, between Islamophobes and humanists, as well as rigid secularists and their religious counterparts. To avoid being seen as a romantic, I would not that ethnicity can be an issue in

Indonesia as the Chinese minority, punching above their weight in the economy, know only too well.

 

But on the island of Ache things are different. Scarred by the 2004 tsunami disaster (more than 170,00 dead) and by a bloody independence struggle that seems paused if not ended by a peace agreement featuring autonomy in exchange for disarmarment, Ache exisst beneath the thralldom of far stricter Islamic law than elsewhere in Indonesia.

 

While we were in Jakarta, the daily papers were reporting on discussions in Ache about whether flogging of prisoners should be done in public to warn children to behave as they should in the future or behind the secrecy of prison walls so as to spare young Indonesians such gruesome spectacles. As near as I could tell, renouncing flogging as a punitive practice toward prisoners is not on the public agenda in Ache. It is not a question of whetherflogging, but howit is most constructively performed. What lies beneath such religiously vindicated cruelty is culturally specific, yet mysteriously disturbing.

 

 

Airport Security

 

With so much travel, we have become aware that airport security reflects the vagaries of national temperament, and sometimes reflects the personal style of the local administrative official. My bionic knees that set off the inspection alert in even the crudest of detector devices have given me much more extensive experience than I wish in the comparative practice of touch and feel. The Germans, as we might expect, are the most rigorous, with heavy hands leaving no body part untouched. The Indonesians are at the other extreme except when it comes to umbrellas. For Indonesian airports security personnel inspecting the body of strangers seems an embarrassment, even if gendered, and appears situated somewhere between the unpleasant and the unnecessary. But when it comes to umbrellas it is another story. As shown in crime films, umbrellas can be weaponized, and ours was viewed with suspicion, which was the case even though it was a humble umbrella with UN logos as its design motif. Finally, with pleading just short of tears we prevailed, and walked away hoping for rain!

 

 

The Lure of the Feminine

 

Our hotel in Jakarta, The Hermitage, was the embodiment of post-colonial tradition and elegance, with hostesses and staff selected for their charm and beauty, and undoubtedly trained to be conversational and friendly. These Indonesian smiles have a special radiance that is best understood (metaphorically) as the transparency of the soul. Another way of perceiving this lure of the feminine in this pure Indonesian form is as ‘gracious composure’ that is classless, purposeless, and without the taints of a colonial mentality left behind by the Dutch. These qualities also made Hilal’s female team of assistants and interpreters especially engaging, the Indonesian ways of being were contagious enough to reach an Indian regional coordinator and a Korean staff member from the Geneva Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights. It was my pleasure to experience this conviviality in a work-free atmosphere as my only obligation during the trip was to stay out of the way, and indulge my natural inclination for non-obtrusiveness, which happens to be the best way to observe the unfamiliar, whether it be persons or places.  

 

A Concluding Word

 

Nothing better summarizes the experience of another culture or country than whether or not at the time of departure you leave with a strong desire to return as soon as possible. Certainly, despite age and geographic remoteness, I was unrealistic enough to hope that we would return soon to Indonesia, and especially experience that sense of Ambon bliss, perhaps on other islands as well. Indonesians told us that there many Ambons waiting to be visited, bearing a vivid witness to one version of what Derrida had in mind when he spoke so intriguingly of what it means to ‘live well together.’

 

 

Failing the people of Syria during Seven Years of Devastation and Dispossession

13 Nov

 

Failing the people of Syria during Seven Years of Devastation and Dispossession

 

[Prefatory Note: What follows is a wide-ranging interview in November 2017 that that concentrates on the failure of the UN and the world to rescue the people of Syria by a timely and effective humanitarian intervention. The interview was conducted by a Turkish journalist, Salva Amor, and is to be published in a magazine, Causcasus International. The text of the interview has been slightly modified.]

 

A missed chance 

 

  1. You previously referred to Syria as “an ideal case for humanitarian intervention” however, rather than becoming a prime example of positive humanitarian intervention it has turned into one of the greatest humanitarian crises with half of the country becoming refugees or internally displaced. 

 

What turned such an Ideal case for humanitarian intervention into one of the worst humanitarian responses we have seen in recent times?

 

Answer: I do not recall this reference to Syria as ‘an ideal case,’ but I must have meant it in a hypothetical sense, that is, as if ‘humanitarian intervention’ was ever called for, it was in Syria, especially at the early stages of the conflict. And yet I am inclined to think that regime-changing intervention was at all stages a mission impossible. We should keep in mind that the record of actual successful instances of what is labeled as ‘humanitarian intervention’ has been dismal, and when successful the motivation was not predominantly humanitarian, but rather a confluence of strategic interests of one sort or another with a humanitarian challenge. In Syria the strategic interests were not sufficiently strong to justify the likely costs, especially in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

Sometimes, the intervention is a cover for non-humanitarian goals, as in Afghanistan (2002), Iraq (2003), and Libya (2011) and may be effective in attaining its immediate goals of regime change but is extremely costly from the perspective of humanitarianism if assessed from the perspective of prolonged violence, societal chaos, and human suffering.

And only marginally successful strategically given the resilience of territorial resistance and the pressure for long-term occupation if the original gains of intervention are to be preserved.

 

At other times, the humanitarian rationale is present, as in Syria, but there is no strategic justification of sufficient weight, and what is done by external actors or the UN is insufficient to control the outcome, and often ends up intensifying the scale of suffering endured by the population. In effect, humanitarian intervention rarely achieves a net benefit from the perspective of the population that is being supposedly rescued. Perhaps, Kosovo (1999) is the best recent case where an alleged humanitarian intervention enjoyed enough strategic value to be effective, and yet seems to have left the Kosovar population better off afterwards, although even Kosovo is not a clear case.  

 

 

Failures & implications of inaction

 

  1. The humanitarian failures in Syria and for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries including Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq have had far-reaching implications for the EU with millions of refugees choosing to risk their lives in order to enter Europe causing the largest exodus since WWII. 

 

Could the surge of refugees fleeing to Europe have been avoided had a more positive and organized humanitarian intervention taken place?

 

Answer: It is possible that had Syria possessed large oil reserves, the intervention against the Damascus regime would have been robust enough to topple the regime, and create stability before combat conditions prompted massive internal population displacements and gigantic refugee flows, including the European influx. In this sense, Libya with oil, did prompt such an intervention, although it was an easier undertaking, as the Qaddafi regime had much less popular support than did the Assad regime, and was less well equipped militarily and lacked regional allies. In Syria, because of regional and global geopolitical cleavages, the politics of intervention and counter-intervention was far more complicated, and inhibited potential anti-regime interveners from making large commitments. At the early stages of the conflict Turkey and the United States miscalculated the costs and scale of a successful intervention in Syria, supposing that an indirect and low level effort could be effective in achieving regime change, which misunderstood the conditions prevailing in Syria.  

 

 

The best response

 

  1. In your experience, what would have been the ideal humanitarian response to the war in Syria? And who would have been best to implement it? 

 

Answer: As my earlier responses hinted, there is no ideal response, and the current world order system is not reliably capable of handling humanitarian intervention in a situation such as existed in Syria. To have any chance of effectiveness would require entrusting the undertaking to one or more powerful states, but even then the situation that would follow, is highly uncertain. In a post-colonial setting, there is bound to be strong nationalist and territorial resistance to outside intervention and occupation, generally producing serious prolonged chaos. If the country is very small and can be overwhelmed (Granada, Panama) without counter-intervention the undertaking will sometimes work. Iraq serves as a clear example of an intervention that did rid the country of a brutal tyrant, but produced internal violence among competing regions, tribes, and generated extreme sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites, as well as a series of ethnic, tribal, and regional battles.

 

In a better governed world, which is far from existing, the UN would have acted robustly and with the support of the regional governments in the Middle East, the geopolitical actors (U.S. and Russia) would have not pursued their strategic agendas, and a politically neutral intervention would have created the conditions for a post-Assad democratic political transition, including imposing accountability for past crimes. Merely mentioning this desirable scenario is enough to reveal its utopian character. Especially in the Middle East, geopolitics of a regional and global scope badly distort all efforts to fashion a humanitarian response to repression and severe violations of human rights. In the background, but not far in the background, is the relevance of oil. The countries that have experienced massive interventions (Iraq, Libya) possessed abundant oil reserves, while those that have little or no oil have either been ignored or endured prolonged bloody conflict, of which Syria is the worst case, having become the scene of competing and offsetting interventions motivated by political and strategic ambitions with only a thin propaganda rationale associated with alleviating a humanitarian crisis, which at best, was a much subordinated goal of the interveners on both sides.

 

 

Lessons for Future

 

4a. How can the world learn from the humanitarian failures and inaction that occurred in Syria for the past 7 years? What opportunities to protect, defend or support the Syrian people have we missed?

 

Answer: In my view, it is a mistake to speak of ‘inaction’ in the Syrian context. There have been massive interventions of all sorts on both sides of the conflict by a variety of actors, but none decisive enough to end the conflict, and none primarily motivated by humanitarian concerns. Of course, here and there, lives could have been saved, especially if the balance of forces within Syria had been better understood at an early stage of the conflict in the West. What intervention achieved in Syria was largely a matter of magnifying the conflict, and attendant suffering. The conflict itself was surrounded by contradictory propaganda claims making the reality difficult to perceive by the public, and therefore there was political resistance to more explicit and possibly more effective regime changing intervention. 

 

Indifference:

 

4b. Is there any correlation between the rise of Islamophobia and the world’s inaction towards Syrian people’s suffering? Has the ongoing drumming of hatred towards the Islamic religion created a generation of indifference towards those of them who are suffering? Or is such wide indifference a natural response to such overwhelming humanitarian crisis?

 

Answer: The indifference in relation to Syria is mainly a matter of public confusion and distrust. Confusion about the nature of the conflict and distrust as to the motives of political actors that have intervened on either side. The spike in Islamophobia is attributable to the interplay of the European refugee crisis and the occurrence of terrorist incidents that are perpetrated by ISIS and its supporters. Of course, the massive refugee flow was prompted by the violence in the Syrian combat zones, which has made Europe most interested in resolving the conflict even if meant allowing a criminal regime to remain in power.

 

I suppose that the indifference noted in your question is more evident in relation to the plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmar that in response to Syria where, as I have been suggesting, the political context dominates the human suffering, and the Islamic identity of the victimized people is secondary. Also, it is worth recalling the global indifference to genocide in Rwanda (1994) that could have prevented,

or at least minimized, by a timely, and relatively small scale intervention. And on occasion, if the strategic context is supportive, the West will intervene on the Islamic side as in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, and there in opposition to the Christian side.  

 

 

  1. The UN has handed over a large portion of the $4bn of its aid effort in Syria to the Syrian regime or partners who have been approved by Bashar Al Assad. How does the UN justify providing tens of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to one of the worst governments, that has besieged, starved, bombed and killed hundreds of thousands of its own people? 

 

Answer: I suppose the basic justification for this behavior is that from the viewpoint of the UN the Damascus regime remains the legitimate government of Syria representing the country at the UN. This is of course a legalistic justification, and evades the real humanitarian crisis as well as the crimes of Assad’s regime. So far, because there is a geopolitical standoff, regionally (Iran v. Saudi Arabia) and globally (Russia v. the U.S. and Turkey), the UN has tried to remain aloof from the ambit of political controversy to the extent possible while doing what it can to alleviate human suffering. I am not knowledgeable about whether the UN aid is reaching the civilian population as claimed. The language of your question suggests that there should be some mechanism for disqualifying a government that commits repeated crimes against its own people from being treated by the UN as a normal member state, but this is not likely to happen anytime soon, and it is tricky as the UN System is built around state-centric ideas of world order.

 

 

The right to torture

 

  1. The world was shocked in 2015 when the Caesar files were releasedrevealing human stories behind 28,000 deaths in Syrian prisons, most, if not all were tortured prior to their death.Two years later no action has been taken in regards to detainees and torture in prisons. There has been no action or desire to send observers to Syrian Prisons nor to investigate those who were named in the Caesar files for war crimes.What must a dictator have to do for the international community to respond to his crimes? Comparing Libyan intervention with Syria

 

Answer: I took part recently in a ceremony in Nuremberg Germany that awarded a human rights prize to the photographer, whose identity is kept secret for his safety, responsible for the Caesar Report containing photographic images of Syrian prison torture of some 11,000 prisoners, most of whom are reportedly now dead. There is no question that these images are horrifying, but serious issues have been raised as to the authenticity of this photographic archive. It has been authenticated as genuine by Human Rights Watch, but has also been used by persons closely connected with the U.S. Government to build a case for war crimes prosecutions, particularly against Bashar al Assad. I am not in a position to assess the controversy, yet do not doubt that the Damascus regime has committed many atrocities and are responsible for the great majority of civilian deaths over the course of the last six years in Syria. At the same time the anti-regime forces, which are fragmented, have also committed many war crimes.

 

These issues of criminal accountability cannot be reliably answered from a distance, or merely on the basis of media reports. What is required is a credible international fact finding commission of inquiry with adequate access to whatever evidence and witnesses remain available.

 

 

 

  1. Human rights groups have estimated that no less than half a million people have died in the last 7 years in Syria. Although there are many violent factions in Syria, more than 94% of all deaths have been caused by Syrian Government or Russian strikes. In comparison Libya’s Muammer Gaddafi had killed an 257 people including combatants and injured 949 with less than 3% being women and children when UN security council intervened. On March 17, 2011, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1973 (2011) authorizing “regional organizations or arrangements…to take all necessary measures…to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack” in Libya. The resolution was adopted with ten votes for, none against, and five abstentions. In hindsight, many have now questioned whether that intervention was purely to “protect civilians”. Is the UN Security Council still a reliable body that can be relied upon to protect the civilian? The UN’s Responsibility Not – To Protect the Civilian Population

 

Answer: The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) UN norm is interpreted and practice is governed by the UN Security Council, and hence is completely subordinated to the manipulations of geopolitics. In this regard, the lesser humanitarian hazard in Libya led to a UN regime-changing mission because the Permanent Members opposed to intervention (China, Russia) were persuaded not to cast their veto for what was being proposed, which was a limited humanitarian mission to protect the then entrapped civilian population of Benghazi. In fact, the NATO undertaking expanded the mission far beyond the Security Council mandate from its inception, angering Russia and China that had abstained out of deference to pleas relating to the humanitarian claims put forward by the NATO members of the Security Council. They later justified their opposition to a more pro-active UN role in Syria by reference to this failure of trust, the unwillingness of the intervening states to respect the limits of the mandate.

 

What is important to appreciate is that R2P and other UN undertakings must adhere to the constraints of geopolitics. As disturbing as inaction with respect to Syria, is the UN silence with regard to the abuse of the civilian populations of Gaza and Rakhine (Myanmar). It is only when a geopolitical consensus exists, which is quite rare (e.g. failure with respect to Yemen) that it is possible for the UN to play an important humanitarian role in shaping behavior and protecting civilians.

 

 

  1. Why was The UN’s responsibility to protect (R2P ) invisible in the last 7 years in Syria? What must be done now, in order to implement an R2P operation in Syria to avoid further suffering? In past years vetoes have blocked humanitarian intervention.

 

Answer: Part of my response here has already been given in relation to the prior question. I would only add here that the abolition of the veto would be a crucial step, or even an agreement among permanent members of the Security Council to refrain from casting a veto in humanitarian contexts such as Syria. The problem is that the veto powers are extremely unlikely to give up their right of veto, partly because such states do not voluntarily give up power and partly because humanitarian issues are almost always inseparable from diverse and often antagonist geopolitical interests, and therefore the claims are not perceived as humanitarian. This is certainly the case with regard to Syria. The take away conclusion is that the international system as it now functions is rarely motivated by humanitarian considerations when they come into conflict with the strong political preferences and strategic priorities of principal states, and this is true even when the humanitarian crisis is as severe and prolonged as in Syria.

 The most constructive response, in view of these realities, is to advocate global reform, but this will not happen without a major mobilization of people throughout the world or as a frantic response to some earth-shaking catastrophe.

 

 

  1. I understand that there was a veto by Russia and thus a solution was not passed, however, in such cases, when one of the countries that is involved in the atrocities is allowed to veto, does it not raise the alarm?Surely, this situation in Syria and the human cost provides enough of a precedent for (if not the UN, those who care about preventing further atrocities) a new chapter to be drafted and implemented into the UN. –Do you believe that it is time for the UN to adopt a new chapter into itsCharter that would prevent dictators or countries with vested interest in a war from overpowering UN Security Council votes? Normalizing atrocities at the global level.

 

Answer: Yes, there was much criticism of Russia for blocking action on Syria, but Russia was acting in accord with the constitutional structure of the UN. The U.S. uses its veto in a comparable way to protect Israel and other allies, and equally irresponsibly, from a moral or humanitarian point of view. It should be remembered that the League of Nations fell apart because major states would not participate, including the United States. The idea of the veto was designed to persuade all major states to participate, with the goal of universality of membership, but at the cost of engendering paralysis and irresponsible obstructions to action whenever veto powers disagree sharply. Your questions raise the crucial issue if this was too high a price to pay for the sake of maintaining universality of participation. One consequence of this tradeoff between geopolitics and effectiveness is to weaken public respect for the UN as an agency for the promotion of justice and decency in global affairs.

 

As specified in Article 108 of the UN Charter requires the approval of 2/3rds of the entire membership of the UN as well as all five Permanent Members of the Security Council, which means that it will not happen in the foreseeable future in relation to any politically sensitive issue. When World War II ended there was the hope and illusion that countries that cooperated against fascism would continue to cooperate to maintain the peace. As should have been anticipated, it was a forlorn hope.

 

 

  1. The White House accepts Assad’s continued rule in Syria as a “political reality” while European leaders have also taken a soft approach with French president declaring he no longer saw the removal of Assad as necessary. In your view, how do such civilized countries justify good relations with Assad? ISIS the monster that invites intervention: ISIS Affects the West, Assad does not.

 

Answer: Your comment on ISIS is a way of expressing my view that these issues are dominated by geopolitical calculations. ISIS as horrible as it is has not been nearly as responsible for the quality and quantity of suffering inflicted upon the Syrian people by the Damascus regime.

 

At this point, and given the unavailability of humanitarian intervention, the best Plan B for Syria is to seek a sustainable ceasefire, and this would undoubtedly require making some unpalatable compromises, including the possible retention of Assad as head of state. After all, there are many heads of state with much blood on their hands, and yet their legitimacy as rulers is essentially unchallenged. The way the world is organized makes it unable to impose criminal responsibility on the leaders of sovereign states except in special circumstances of total victory as in World War II, or more recently, in relation to the criminal prosecutions of Saddam Hussein and Milosevic, particular enemies of the West.

 

 

  1. Many Syrian groups have released statements to express their dismay at the international community for only intervening to strike ISIS. The Global Coalition’s planes hover over Deir Al Zour and Raqa to target ISIS (often causing civilian casualties) while in the same sky Assad Planes carrying deadly Barrel Bombs hover over nearby towns unperturbed. A) Is there balance in the international community’s actions in Syria? While Assad only kills or affects the lives of Syrians in Syria, ISIS became a threat to western countries. Terrorist attacks in the west killed and injured civilians in the west.
  2. B) Is there an underlying message that the West will “Fight against ISIS in Syria, because it affects people in our countries, but leave Assad because he has no impact on their own people?”

 

Answer: Yes, this is certainly a perceptive observation. When the issue is fairly large scale and internal, and where Muslims are the victims, any effort to intervene is bound to be feeble, at best, which it was in the early stages of 2011-2013 when Turkey and the U.S. cooperated in supporting Friends of Syria, which was mistakenly thought capable of shifting the balance sufficiently in Syria to produce the collapse of the Damascus regime. When that failed, it became obvious that the costs of an effective intervention were viewed in the West as too high and dangerous. Considering the Iranian and Russian alignments with the Syrian government doomed an anti-Damascus intervention.

 

And as you suggest, the West views ISIS as dangerous enemy, and is prepared to take bigger risks and bear higher costs because Western homeland security is at stake. ISIS is a proclaimed enemy of the West that is perceived as responsible for violent acts, Syria is not, being regarded, at most, as an unattractive regime, partly because in the past, hostile toward Israel. Taking account of these circumstances, the political realist seeks a ceasefire in Syria while going all out to achieve the destruction of ISIS.

 

 

  1. Please kindly note any comments, suggestions, opinions, thoughts you have on the Syrian conflict and in particular on the west’s reaction to it and the UN’s role. Also, on what you feel can and should be done from now on. Thanks so much.

 

Answer: From my earlier responses I am skeptical about what can be done beyond the obvious: give up any hope of securing support for an R2P mandate to protect the Syrian people, and pursue a ceasefire so as to end the suffering. This is not justice, but it may at least spare the Syrian people further trauma and bloodshed.

 

What the Syrian tragedy and ordeal reveals vividly is the inability of the international community, as now organized, to deal with a humanitarian crisis unless a geopolitical consensus is present in a relatively strong form, regionally and globally. Such a consensus is not even enough if the difficulties of intervention are seen as producing heavy casualties for the intervening side and would impose burdens of a prolonged occupation to achieve post-intervention political order and security.

 

Europe would benefit at this time from a Syrian ceasefire and the restoration of political normalcy. It would undoubtedly reduce the pressure on European countries created by the Syrian refugee flow, which has given right wing political parties their greatest strength and largest level of popular support since the end of World War II.

The One and Only Path to Palestine/Israel Sustainable Peace

12 Oct

[Prefatory Note: This post is a slightly modified version of my presentation to the Human Rights Commission of the Italian Parliament on October 11, 2017. The Commission is composed of members of Parliament, and chaired by Hon. Pia Elda Locatelli, representing the city of Bergamo. The presentation was followed by a discussion, and a generally favorable response on the central issue of switching from an emphasis on ‘occupation’ to ‘apartheid.’ To access the Report use this link<https://www.scribd.com/document/342202460/Israeli-Practices-Toward-the-Palestinian-People-and-the-Question-of-Apartheid/>%5D

 

 An Overview of Present Realities

 

We meet at a difficult time from the perspective of the Palestinian people: several developments nationally, regionally, and internationally now deprive Palestinians of that glimmer of hope that comes from seeing light at the end of the tunnel; more fully appraised, the situation is not as bleak for Palestinians as the picture of their struggle being painted from a realistic perspective. A series of factors pointing in both directions can be identified, first to highlight the negative developments from a Palestinian perspective, and then to set forth several developments that are positive with regard to the Palestinian national movement aiming for decades to achieve a just and sustainable peace.

(1) the foreign policy priorities of regional and international political actors have increasingly shifted attention away from the Palestinian ordeal; developments internal to Israel have deliberately accentuated this inattention to Palestinian goals and rights; of special relevance in these regards are the ongoing wars and turmoil in Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq, as well as deteriorating relations and rising tensions of the Iran/US relationship; the moves toward normalization of relations with Israel by the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia; and the unsteady diplomatic approach of the Trump presidency that seems accurately interpreted as supportive of whatever the Israeli government chooses to do, including even accelerated settlement expansion and a rejection of the Palestinian right of self-determination;

(2) Israel and Zionist support groups have launched a variety of initiatives designed to convince the Palestinians that they have been defeated, that their struggle is essentially futile at this stage, and they should move on for their own sake, overtly renouncing their struggle and posture of resistance; the pro-Zionist Middle East Forum, founded by Daniel Pipes has even sponsored a so-called ‘victory caucus’ that basically proclaims an Israeli victory as a way of demoralizing Palestinian activism and global solidarity efforts by treating Palestinian goals as a lost cause;

(3) accelerated Israeli settlement expansion without any adverse pushback from Europe or North America, a development that can be regarded as hammering the final nails into the coffin of ‘the two state solution;’

(4) the widespread recognition that more than 20 years of diplomatic effort within the Oslo framework failed miserably, with the Palestinians paying a heavy price in territory and credibility for engaging so avidly in a diplomatic process so heavily weighted against them; Oslo’s failure permitted Israel to encroach on Occupied Palestinian Territory in a variety of unlawful ways including especially extending the settlement archipelago, illegally building the separation wall on Palestinian occupied territory, and manipulating the ethnic balance in Jerusalem to make the city as a whole more Jewish;

(5) confronting a crisis of viability in Gaza, of both a material and psychopolitical character; not only continuing a decade long blockade that itself amounts to a crime against humanity, but stifling the dreams of young talented Gazans who against all odds have earned foreign fellowships and then are either denied exit permits or entry visas to carry on their studies abroad; this kind of acute frustration, long experienced by Gazans in many forms, is contributing to a new turn among Palestinian youth, who increasingly want to leave Gaza and pursue a more normal life for themselves and their families rather than remain under conditions of virtual captivity to resist and carry on the struggle for empowerment and liberation.

 

Despite all these considerations, there are aspects of the situation, often overlooked in mainstream media, which seem favorable to the Palestinian struggle:

(1) the morale boost that resulted from prevailing in the recent Al Aqsa confrontation concerning control of security arrangements at this site sacred for all Muslims, not just for Palestinians who are Muslim;

(2) a more serious renewal of efforts to bring unity to the relationship between Palestinian political tendencies, especially Fatah and Hamas;

(3) the growing global support for the BDS Campaign, achieving some high visibility successes prompting corporate disengagements from commercial projects related to unlawful Israeli settlements—G4S, Viola; and persuading some high visibility cultural figures not to perform in Israel—Pink Floyd

(4) Palestine is definitely winning the Legitimacy War waged to build stronger and more activist support from international public opinion; such support has been understood as far back as Gandhi as capable of neutralizing the superior military capabilities of a foreign political actor; throughout the decolonization era, the political outcome of struggles for control of state power were eventually won by the party on the right side of history, not as in the 19th Century by the party enjoying military superiority, which in the second half of the 20th century continued to make colonized people suffer greatly, but no longer able to impose their political will; Zionist/Israeli reaction to this set of developments relating to legitimacy has been to shift the conversation about Israel/Palestine relations from the defense of Israeli practices and policies and away from the substance of Palestinian grievances and rights to mount an attack on the motives of those criticizing Israel’s policies and practices, alleging that Israel’s critics are motivated by anti-Semitism, a smear tactic that also is encroaching on academic freedom, but exposing the weakness of Israel’s position on the merits. Internally, the Israeli public discourse is much more focused on the opportunity of fulfilling the maximalist Zionist goal of incorporating the whole of ‘the promised land’ of biblical Israel into the modern state of Israel;

(5) It is my judgment that the biggest development favorable to the Palestinians has been a shift in the public discourse and the articulation of Palestinian demands of peace and solidarity activists from the slogan ‘End the Occupation’ to a clarion call to ‘End Apartheid.’ This shift has been recently legally validated by a UN-sponsored academic study of whether the claim that Israel is an apartheid state stands up to scholarly scrutiny.

 

 

 

The ESCWA Report

 

The UN Report of the Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) entitled “Israeli Practices and the Question of Apartheid” issued a few months ago, and co-authored by myself and Virginia Tilley, a renowned world expert on apartheid and a political scientist on the faculty of the University of Southern Illinois. ESCWA is a regional commission of the UN composed of 18 Arab states, with headquarters in Beirut. The Report was requested by the member states, and we were invited to prepare the report in accordance with academic standards by the Secretariat of ESCWA. The Report was never intended to become an official UN document, but rather the presentation of the views of two scholars with a background presumed relevant for the preparation of such a study:

–the issuance of the report had two immediate effects: first, it immediately became the most widely read and requested report in the history of ESCWA, and secondly, it produced a firestorm at the UN due to harsh criticisms by the U.S. and Israeli representatives who demanded that the Report be formally repudiated, attacking its authors, and insisting that the UN take prompt action or face the defunding consequences;

–the new UN Secretary General, Antonio Gutterez, dutifully responded by instructing ESCWA to remove the Report from its website; the director of ESCWA, Rima Khalaf, refused to follow such an order, believing in the contents and propriety of the Report; in the end she chose to resign rather than submit to UN censorship, explaining her position in an Open Letter to the SG;

–at this point it is not clear what the status of the Report is within the UN System; it has not been officially repudiated, and in fact the 18 foreign ministers representing the members of ESCWA endorsed the conclusions and recommendations of the Report, and urged their acceptance within the UN; I have no idea as to whether such a response will have any impact;

–as indicated the Report was an academic study, although of an admittedly controversial character; prior to its release, the Report was anonymously vetted by three world class scholars each of whom strongly recommended publication; as well, the report contained a disclaimer that stated that the recommendations and conclusions of the Report were those of the authors alone and did not represent the opinions of the UN or ESCWA; and in fact, the Report has to date received no substantive criticism from those who mounted the UN attack or otherwise; it was a pure show of geopolitical leverage that exposed the weakness of international law and the fragility of open discussion of sensitive issues at the UN;

–it is my judgment that the Report is significant for three distinct reasons:

         <(1) The Report considers whether the allegation of Israeli apartheid is backed by sufficient evidence and persuasive legal reasoning in relation not just to the West Bank, as has been frequently alleged in the past, but in relation to the Palestinian people as a whole; such an inquiry means that if apartheid is declared to exist it applies to Palestinians living in Jerusalem, as a minority in Israel, and in refugee camps in neighboring countries as well as to Palestinians living in occupied Palestine or as involuntary exiles throughout the world; the central legal finding is that Israel has established an integrated matrix of control over the Palestinian people as a people so as to maintain the Israeli state as ‘a Jewish state’ in the face of continuous Palestinian resistance for the entire period of Israel’s existence;

         <(2) The Report reaches its conclusions by relying on scholarly methods of analysis, and by examining and interpreting the evidence of Israeli policies and practices in relation to the relevant norms of international law as contained in the 1973 International Apartheid Convention. The essential finding we reached was that Israel intentionally and continuously was responsible for ‘inhuman acts’ as the means by which to subjugate the Palestinian people as a subordinated ‘race.’ This enabled Israel to govern in a discriminatory fashion as ‘a Jewish state;’ in our judgment the Palestinian people were deliberately fragmented so as to facilitate the maintenance of control over a resisting, initially majority non-Jewish population; this ambition to control Palestine was complicated by the additional Zionist objective of seeking to be and be seen as ‘a democratic state;’ such an objective, given the demographic imbalance, virtually necessitated at the inception of Israel as a state, the expulsion of several hundred thousand Palestinians and the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages to discourage any prospect of Palestinians returning after the war to reclaim their places of residence and way of life; such exclusion was seen as vital if Israel was to achieve and maintain a Jewish majority population within its borders; the Zionist puzzle, tragic for both peoples, was that only apartheid structures could provide a solution to this three-sided challenge—that is, establishing Israel as simultaneously Jewish, democratic, and hegemonic;

         <(3) this Report has been widely used since its publication, and especially to provide political support and intellectual guidance mandating a civil society shift in tactics and commentary from a focus on ‘ending occupation’ to ‘ending apartheid;’ in my view, this is a crucial and timely shift as international law and the UN had been long ignored by Israel, diplomacy and armed struggle had been tried futile and utterly failed, and Palestinian leadership, such as it is, has faced both a series of stone walls and the humiliation of the notorious separation wall declared contrary to international law by 14 of 15 judges of the International Court of Justice. In effect, there is no serious alternative for Palestinians (and even Israelis) committed to a peaceful future than to rid the Israeli/Palestinian relationship of its present apartheid character.

 

 

Clearing the One and Only Path to a Just and Sustainable Peace

–peace between these two peoples can only be achieved by a credible acknowledgement of their equality of rights with respect to national self-determination; the apartheid structures that currently subjugates Palestinians epitomizes a relationship of inequality; the core obstacle to peace is apartheid, and once this obstacle is removed a productive diplomacy will become possible so long as it proceeds at all stages on the basis equality, keeping in mind that Oslo diplomacy collapsed because it encoded inequality into every aspect of its framework (U.S. as intermediary, excluding international law) and by adopting a bargaining process that favored Israel due to disparities in power and influence;

<the overriding political challenge is how to clear this path to peace, given Israeli firm control and resistance to even the acknowledgement of apartheid as descriptive of the current relationship between the two peoples; Israeli apartheid cannot be ended without a reformulation of Zionist goals; Israel must be persuaded to become content with an existence within a secular state hosting a Jewish homeland; such an altered stance would require abandoning the insistence on being a Jewish state; such a downsizing of Zionist objectives would actually be consistent with the scope of the original British pledge as set forth in the ultra-colonialist Balfour Declaration (recent archival research evidently establishes that a Jewish homeland was actually the longer term intention of Lord Alfred Balfour, as if this matters a century later); Israeli apartheid will not be dismantled until there is significant further growth of the Palestinian global solidarity movement, including the backing of some governments, especially several key governments in the global South; there would need to be sufficient, sustained global pressure to induce Israeli leaders and citizens to recalculate their interests, leading enough to decide to base their future on cooperation and coexistence with the Palestinians rather than their domination and exploitation; at this point, such an outcome seems unlikely and even utopian, but history has a strange way of staging dramatic surprises, and in such cases where an abrupt reversal of policy takes places, it will be only be admitted as a possibility after it has already been decided upon;

<The South African ending of apartheid was precisely such a surprise; it was totally unexpected in the 1990s that the combination of African resistance and the global anti-apartheid campaign would produce a peaceful transition to a multi-racial constitutional democracy presided over by Nelson Mandela, who until his release was serving a long-term prison sentence as an alleged terrorist; what changed so abruptly in South Africa was not the moral stance of the white elite that had invented and cruelly imposed the apartheid structure as a supposedly permanent solution to race relations in the country, but rather a cold recalculation of interests, and especially a comparison of the balance of advantages and disadvantages of continuing to exist as a pariah state in the world and abandoning apartheid, thereby risking African governance and possible retaliation, yet by so risking, taking a course that would alone restore the international legitimacy of the South African state;

<Of course, there are many differences in the Israeli situation, including Israel’s disavowal of apartheid as relevant to its management of the relationship between the two peoples, as well as Israel’s considerable success in avoiding pariah status within the international community through the practice of sophisticated diplomacy and public relations, backed by an aggressive arms sales program, and above all, by being the beneficiary of the geopolitical muscle of the U.S., as well as enjoying the quieter support of Europe;

<By adopting the apartheid paradigm as descriptive of the Palestinian situation it becomes possible to align civil society activism with international law, and even more important, encouraging the Palestinian national movement to concentrate its efforts on the one and only path that could produce an acceptable peace agreement. Any other approach seems doomed to some kind of appalling continuation of the present oppressive daily circumstances that has been fate of the Palestinian people for far too long. We should all reflect on the excruciating reality that this is the 50th anniversary of the Occupation and the 70th year in which Palestinians and their descendants have lived as refugees. No people should be compelled to endure such a fate.

 

 

Conclusion

 

It requires no great wisdom to observe that the future is a black box. We know that achieving peace and justice for these two peoples will require a lengthy struggle that needs to place its trust in ‘a politics of impossibility,’ or as the poet W.H. Auden once put it: “We who are about to die demand a miracle.” And while awaiting such a political miracle, we should accept our human responsibility to aid and abet the Palestinian struggle for rights, self-determination, and a just peace. The attainment of such goals would also inevitably reshape the destiny of Israeli Jews toward a more humanistic and benevolent future.