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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

 

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(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/

 

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(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/

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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.

Nobel Peace Prize 2017: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)

8 Oct

 

Finally, the committee in Oslo that picks a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize each year selected in 2017 an awardee that is a true embodiment of the intended legacy of Alfred Nobel when he established the prize more than a century ago. It is also a long overdue acknowledgement of the extraordinary dedication of anti-nuclear activists around the planet who for decades have done all in their power to rid the world of this infernal weaponry before it inflicts catastrophe upon all living beings even more unspeakable that what befell the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on two infamous days in August 1945. Such a prize result was actually anticipated days before the announcement by Fredrik Heffermehl, a crusading Norwegian critic of past departures from Nobel’s vision by the prize committee. In making the prediction that the 2017 prize would be given in recognition of anti-nuclear activism Heffermehl prophetically relied on the outlook of the current chair of the Nobel selection committee, a distinguished Norwegian lawyer, Berit Reiss-Andersen, who has publicly affirmed her belief in the correlation between adherence to international law and world peace.

 

 

The recipient of the prize is ICAN, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a coalition of more than 450 civil society groups around the world that is justly credited with spreading an awareness of the dire humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons and of making the heroic effort to generate grassroots pressure sufficient to allow for the adoption of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by 122 UN members on 7 July 2017 (known as the ‘BAN Treaty’). The treaty was officially signed by 53 governments of UN member states this September, and will come into force when 50 instruments of ratifications have been deposited at UN Headquarters, which suggests its legal status will soon be realized as signature is almost always followed by ratification.

 

The core provision of the BAN Treaty sets forth an unconditional legal prohibition of the weaponry that is notable for its comprehensiveness—the prohibition extends to “the developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, possessing, stockpiling and deploying nuclear weapons, transferring or receiving them from others, using or threatening to use them, or allowing any stationing or deployment of nuclear weapons on national territories of signatories, and assisting, encouraging, or inducing any of these prohibited acts.” Each signatory state is obligated to develop “legal, administrative and other measures, including the imposition of penal sanctions, to prevent and suppress” activities prohibited by the treaty. It should be understood that the prohibition contributes to the further delegitimation of nuclear weapons, but it does nothing directly by way of disarmament.

The BAN Treaty no where claims to mandate disarmament except by an extension of the reasoning that if something is prohibited, then it should certainly not be possessed, and the conscientious move would be to seek a prudent way to get rid of the weaponry step by step. In this regard it is notable that none of the nuclear weapons states are expected to be parties to the BAN Treaty, and therefore are under no immediate legal obligation to respect the prohibition or implement its purpose by seeking a disarmament arrangement. A next step for the ICAN coalition might be to have the BAN prohibition declared by the UN General Assembly and other institutions around the world (from cities to the UN System) to be binding on all political actors (whether parties to the treaty or not), an expression of what international lawyers call ‘peremptory norms,’ those that are binding and authoritative without treaty membership and cannot be changed by the action of sovereign states.

 

Standing in opposition to the BAN Treaty are all of the present nuclear weapons states, led by the United States. Indeed, all five permanent members (P-5) of the UN Security Council and their allies refused to join in this legal prohibition of nuclear weapons, and to a disturbing degree, seem addicted sustainers of the war system in its most horrific dimensions. Their rationale for such a posture can be reduced to the proposition that deterrence is more congenial than disarmament. Yet the nuclearism is a deeply discrediting contention that the P-5 provide the foundations of responsible global leadership, and therefore have accorded favorable status.

 

What the BAN Treaty makes clear is the cleavage between those who want to get rid of the weaponry, and regard international law as a crucial step in this process, and those who prefer to take their chances by retaining and even further developing this omnicidal weaponry and then hoping for the best. Leaders like Donald Trump and Kim Jung-un make us aware of how irresponsible it is to hope to avoid the use of nuclear weapons over time when such unstable and impulsive individuals are only an arm’s reach away from decreeing a nuclear Armageddon. What the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 should have taught the world, but didn’t, is that even highly rational governments of the world’s most powerful states can come within a hair’s breath of launching a nuclear war merely to avoid an appearance of geopolitical weakness (the U.S. initial refusal to remove nuclear missiles deployed in Turkey even though they were already scheduled for removal because obsolete as it feared that such a step would be taken as a sign of weakness in its rivalry with the Soviet Union). Further, we know that it was only the unusual and unexpected willingness of an unheralded Soviet submarine officer to disobey a rogue order to fire off a nuclear missile that then saved the world from a terrifying chain of events.

 

The nuclear weapons states, governed by political realists, basically have no trust in law or morality when it comes to national security, but base their faith in the hyper-rationality of destructive military power, which in the nuclear age is expressed in the arcane idiom of deterrence, an idea more transparently known in the Cold War Era as Mutually Assured Destruction (or MAD!!). It is impossible to grasp the essential links between geopolitical ambition and security without understanding the complementary relationship of deterrence and the nonproliferation regime (its geopolitical implementation to avoid the disarmament obligation of Article VI).

 

In essence, the grandest Faustian Bargain of all times is contained within the confines of the Nonproliferation Regime, which is a geopolitical instrument of control by permanently dividing the world between those that have the bomb and decide who else should be allowed to develop the capability and those who are without the bomb but also without any way to secure a world in which no political actor possesses a nuclear weapons option. In a central respect, the issue between the militarized leadership of the nuclear weapons states and the peoples of the world is a question of trust—that is, a matter of geopolitics as practiced versus international law if reliably implemented.

 

Everything in the human domain is contingent, including even species survival. This makes it rational to be prudent, especially in relation to risks that have no upper limit, and could produce massive suffering and devastation far beyond tragedies of the past. Of course, there are also risks with a world legally committed to prohibit the possession, threat, and use of nuclear weapons, although if nuclear disarmament were to carry forward the overriding intent of the BAN Treaty, a disarming process would seek with the greatest possible diligence to minimize these risks. A world without nuclear weapons would almost certainly be a safer, saner, more humane world than the one we now inhabit.

 

Beyond that it would move national and international policy away from the gross immorality of a security system premised on mass destruction of civilian life along with assorted secondary effects of ‘nuclear famine’ caused by dense smoke blockage of the sun, potentially imperiling the wellbeing of all inhabitants of the planet. The dissemination of toxic radiation as far as winds will carry is an inevitable side effect with disastrous consequences even for future generations. Such an ecocidal gamble is not only a throw of the dice with respect to the human future but also in relation to the habitability of the planet by every living species. As such, it profiles an aggravated form of Crimes Against Nature, which while not codified, epitomize the peak of anthropogenic hubris.

 

It with these considerations in mind that one reads with consternation the cynical, flippant, and condescending response of The Economist: “This year’s Nobel peace prize rewards a nice but pointless idea.” Such a choice of words, ‘nice,’ ‘pointless’ tells it all. What is being expressed is the elite mainstream consensus that it is the height of futility to challenge conventional realist wisdom, that is, the Faustian Bargain mentioned earlier. The challenge is declared futile without even considering the dubious record of geopolitics over the centuries of war upon war, which in the process has deprived humanity of untold resources wasted on generations of deadly weaponry that have inflicted massive suffering and could have been put to many far better and necessary uses.

 

Of course, the BAN Treaty as an expression of faith in the path of international law and morality radically diverges conceptually and behaviorally from the political path of nuclearism, hard power, and political realism. It will require nothing less than a passionate and determined mobilization of peoples throughout the world to get rid of nuclear weapons, and its accompanying deep ideology of nuclearism. This is a far preferable alternative than passively waiting for the occurrence of a traumatizing sequence of events that so jolt political consciousness as to topple the power structures that now shape security policy throughout the world.

 

What the BAN Treaty achieves, and the Nobel Prize recognizes, is that the cleavage is now clear between international law and geopolitics with respect to nuclear weapons. The BAN Treaty provides likeminded governments and animated citizen pilgrim throughout the world with a roadmap for closing the gap from the side of law and morality. It will be an epic struggle, but now at least there are some reasons to be hopeful, which should itself strengthen the political will of the global community of anti-nuclear militants. It is helpful to appreciate that this BAN Treaty was achieved despite the strenuous opposition of the geopolitical forces that run the world order system. Just as Nehru read the outcome of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 as a decisive sign that European colonialism was vulnerable to national resistance, despite military inferiority, so let us believe and act as if this occasion of the Nobel Peace Prize is another tipping point in the balance between morality/legality on one side and violent geopolitics on the other.

 

Apartheid and the Future of Israel/Palestine

20 Sep

 

[Prefatory Note: There has been lots of discussion prompted by the release of a report jointly authored with Prof. Virginia Tilley, a study commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), and given by us the title, “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid.” The interview, associated with my current visit to Belgium and France to speak on various aspects of the analysis and implications of the report, brings up to date the controversy generated at the UN by its release a few months ago, and by the willingness of the UN Secretary General to bow to U.S. pressure and order the removal of the report from ESCWA website. The interview questions were posed by veteran Middle East correspondent, Pierre Barbancey, and published in l’Humanité, Sept. 6, 2017.]

 

 

 

1 YOU HAVE PUBLISHED A REPORT: WHO ASKS FOR THAT AND WHY?

 

The Report was commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia in 2016 at the request of its Council, which has a membership of 18 Arab states. Professor Virginia Tilley and I were offered a contract to prepare a report on the applicability of the crime of apartheid to the manner in which Israeli policies and practices affected the Palestinian people as a whole, and not as in previous discussions of the applicability of apartheid, only to those Palestinians living since 1967 under Israeli occupation. The originality of the Report is to extend the notion of apartheid beyond the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and investigate its applicability to Palestinians living in refugee camps in neighboring countries, to those Palestinians enduring involuntary exile abroad, and to those existing as a discriminated minority in Israel.

 

2) What are the conclusions of the ESCWA Report?

 

The most important conclusion of the Report was that by careful consideration of the relevant evidence, Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid as defined in the 1976 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid with regard to the Palestinian PEOPLE AS A WHOLE, that is, Palestinians living under occupation as refugee and in involuntary exile, and as a minority in Israel are all victimized by the overriding crime. The Report also found that Jews and Palestinians both qualify as a ‘race’ as the term is used in the Convention, and that Israel to sustain a Jewish state established by ‘inhuman acts’ a structure of oppressive and discriminatory domination by which the Palestinians were victimized as a people.

 

A second conclusion of importance is that the Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court considers apartheid to be one type of ‘crime against humanity,’ which does not necessarily exhibit the same features as pertained to the apartheid regime in South Africa, the origin of the concept and crime, but not a template for its subsequent commission.

 

A third conclusion is that given the existence of apartheid, sustained to maintain a Jewish state in Palestine, all sovereign states, the UN, and civil society all have a legally grounded responsibility to take all reasonable steps of a nonviolent character to bring the commission of the crime to an end.

 

A fourth conclusion is that the Report is an academic study that draws conclusions and offers recommendation on the basis of a legal analysis, but it is not a duly constituted legal body empowered to make formal findings with respect to the allegations that Israel is guilty of apartheid.

 

 

 

3) WHAT WAS THE REACTIONS?

 

We experienced two contradictory sets of reactions.

 

From ESCWA the report was received with enthusiasm. We were told it was the most important report that ESCWA had ever published, with by far the largest number of requests for copies.

 

At the UN, the report and its authors were strongly attacked by the diplomatic representatives of the United States and Israel, with the demand the UN acted to repudiate the report. The Secretary General instructed the Director of ESCWA to remove the report from its website, and when she refusing, she tendered her principled resignation explained in an Open Letter to the Secretary General. It should be appreciated that this was an academic report of international law experts, and never claimed to be an official reflection of UN views. A disclaimer at the outset of the Report made this clear.

 

4) WHAT HAPPENED NOW WITH THE REPORT?

 

The status of the report within ESCWA is not clear. As far as I know the report itself has not been repudiated by ESCWA. In fact, it has been endorsed in a formal decision of the 18 foreign ministers of the ESCWA countries, including a recommendation to other organs of the UN System that the findings and recommendations of the Report be respected. Beyond this, the report has altered the discourse in civil society and to some extent, in diplomatic settings, making the terminology of ‘apartheid’ increasingly displace the emphasis on ‘occupation.’

 

 

5) ISRAEL SAYS THAT THE BDS MOVEMENT IS ANTI-SEMITIC. WHAT IS YOUR ANSWER?

 

This is an inappropriate and even absurd allegation. The BDS Campaign is directed against Israeli policies and practices that violate international law and cause great suffering to be inflicted on the Palestinian people. It has nothing whatsoever to do with hostility to Jews as persons or as a people. The allegation is clearly designed to discredit BDS and to discourage persons from lending it support or participating in its activities. It is an unfortunate and irresponsible use of the ‘anti-Semitic’ label designed to manipulate public opinion and government policy, and inhibit activism.

 

6) IN FRANCE YOU CAN BE PUT IN COURT IF YOU ACT FOR BDS, LIKE A CRIME. DO YOU HAVE ANY KNOWLEDGE OF SIMILAR SITUTIONS IN OTHER COUNTRIES?

 

I know there have been efforts in Europe and North America to criminalize support for BDS, but so far as I know, no formal laws have yet been brought into existence, and no indictments or prosecutions, outside of Israel and France, have taken place. I am not entire clear as to what has happened in Israel along these lines, although I know that Israel has been denying BDS supporters from abroad entry into the country.

 

7) WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE AS SPECIAL REPORTEUR OF THE UNITED NATIONS IN THE PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES AND IN ISRAEL?

 

My experience as UN Special Rapporteur in Occupied Palestine on behalf of the Human Rights Council was both frustrating and fulfilling. It was frustrating because during my six years as SR the situation on the ground and diplomatically worsened for the Palestinian people despite the documented record of Israeli human rights abuses. It was fulfilling because it enabled a forthright presentation of Israeli violations of basic Palestinian rights, which had some influence on the discourse within the UN, building support for corporate responsibility in relation to commercial dealing with Israel’s unlawful settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as shifted some of the discourse within the UN from ‘occupation’ to ‘settler colonialism’ and ‘apartheid.’

 

It was also something of a personal ordeal as I was constantly subject to defamatory attacks by UN Watch and other ultra Zionist NGOs and their supporters, also organizing efforts to have me dismissed from my UN position and barred from lecturing on university campuses around the world. Fortunately, these efforts failed by and large, but they did have the intended effect of shifting the conversation from substance to auspices, from the message to messenger.

7) 70 YEARS AFTER THE DIVISION OF PALESTINE BY THE UNITED NATIONS  HOW DO YOU SEE THAT DECISION?

 

The1947 partition resolution [GA Res. 181] was part of the exit strategy of the British colonial administration in the mandate period that controlled Palestine after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the conclusion of World War I. This approach was flawed in several basic respects: it neglected the will of the majority Arab and non-Jewish domestic population, and imposed a solution to the conflict without consulting the inhabitants; it also within its own terms failed to secure Palestinian rights or its sovereign political community, or even to uphold international humanitarian law. The UN never effectively implemented partition, and thus gave Israel the de facto discretion to impose its will on the entire territory of Palestine, including the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians in the 1947 War, which overcame the demographic imbalance, and allowed itself to be branded to this day as ‘a democracy,’ even being hailed as ‘the only democracy in the Middle East.’ The US and Europe played a crucial geopolitical role in producing these developments, which rested on an Orientalist mentality lingering in the West.

8) IS THERE A SOLUTION FOR THE PALESTINIAN TO RECOVER THEIR RIGHTS AND TO LIVE IN THEIR OWN STATE?

 

It is difficult to envision the future at this stage, yet it is clear that the Palestinian national struggle is continuing both in the form of Palestinian resistance activities and by way of the international solidarity movement, of which the BDS Campaign is

by far the most important undertaking. In my judgment until there is exerted enough pressure on the Israeli government to change course drastically, signaled by a willingness to dismantle the laws and procedures associated with the current apartheid regime used to subjugate the Palestinian people, there is no genuine prospect for a political solution to the conflict. Such a change of course in South Africa occurred, against all expectations at home and abroad, and partly in response to pressures generated by this earlier version of an international BDS campaign. My hope is that as the Palestinian people continue to win the ongoing Legitimacy War, this pattern will eventually be repeated, leading after a prolonged struggle to a sustainable peace between these two peoples based on the cardinal principle of equality. This will not happen, tragically, until there is much suffering endured, especially by Palestinians living under occupation, in refugee camps and involuntary exile, and as a discriminated minority within Israel. This Palestinian ordeal has gone on far too long. Its origins can be traced back at least a century ago when in an undisguised colonial gesture of the British Foreign Office pledged its support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in historic Palestine to the World Zionist Movement in the form of the Balfour Declaration (1917). The competing national narratives of what transpired over the subsequent century tell different stories, each with an authentic base of support in the relevant community, but only the Palestine narrative can gain present comfort from the guidelines of international law, above all, the inalienable right of self-determination

 

 

THE PALESTINIAN HUNGER STRIKE: “Our chains will be broken before we are..”

16 May

 

 

On April 17th at least 1500 Palestinian prisoners launched a hunger strike of indefinite duration, responding to a call from Israel’s most famous Palestinian prisoner, Marwan Barghouti. It also happens to be that Barghouti is the most popular political leader, far more liked, trusted, and admired that the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Barghouti is serving a series of lifetime terms for his alleged role in directing an operation during the Second Intifada in which five Israelis were killed.

 

Barghouti who has been in prison for fifteen years, gave his reasons for the strike as “torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and medical negligence,” as well as a failure to abide by international legal standards pertaining to prison conditions during a military occupation. Even the normally timid International Committee of the Red Cross acknowledged prisoner demands by issuing a public statement asserting that the denial of family visits and moving Palestinian prisoners and detainees outside of the occupied territory to Israeli jails were violations of international treaty norms set forth in the Fourth Geneva Convention governing belligerent occupation.

 

Because Barghouti expressed his grievances in an article somewhat surprisingly published by the NY Times on April 16th. Surprising because the Times, an influential media outlet, has over the years been reliably deferential to the Israeli rationalizations for Israeli contested policies and behavior. It turns out that the newspaper was nervous about this departure from its normal operating mode. Barghouti’s piece only appeared in its international edition, and had a qualifying editorial note appended: “This article explained the writer’s prison sentence but neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offenses of which he was convicted. They were five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization. Mr. Barghouti declined to offer a defense at his trial and refused to recognize the Israeli court’s jurisdiction and legitimacy.” [italics in the original]

 

In retaliation for daring to publish this opinion piece Barghouti was severely punished. He was immediately placed in solitary confinement, has not been allowed to change his clothes for the past month, and is inspected by prison guards four times a day.

 

The notorious Canadian ultra Zionist media watchdog, Honest Reporting, explains on its website that its goal is “defending Israel from media bias.” Honest Reporting expressed its outrage by condemning the NY Times for opening its pages to a convicted Palestinian ‘terrorist.’ It is Orwellinan to so describe Barghouti, a political leader courageously defending his people against an unlawful and oppressive occupation that is approaching its 50th anniversary, and is now best understood as a crime against humanity taking the form of apartheid victimizing the Palestinian people as a whole, and not just those living under occupation. If the Honest Reporting was indeed honest it would expose the pronounced media bias in the West shielding Israel from international accountability and obscuring the severity of Palestinian grievances under international law and morality.

 

The world media treatment of this massive Palestinian strike is typical, although nevertheless disappointing. It gives meager attention to the dramatic character of such a prison protest that has continued for over a month, stimulating many solidarity demonstrations throughout occupied Palestine, a sympathy 24-hour hunger strike by South Africans including the prominent Deputy President Cyril Rhamaposa, and widespread shows of support throughout the Palestinian diaspora. The reaction of the Palestinian Authority has been evasive, with Abbas giving a token show of public support for prisoner goals, while letting it be known privately that he hopes the strike will end as soon as possible.

 

The behavior of the Israeli Prison Service is an indirect confirmation of prisoner discontent. In a sadistic taunt, Israeli settlers were allowed to have a barbecue in the parking lot in front of one of the prisons, apparently mocking the hunger strikers with the pungent aroma of meat being grilled. Worse than this, a fake video was distributed by prison official purporting to show Barghouti having a snack in his cell. This effort to discredit the strike and its leader has been angrily denied. Khader Shkirat, Barghouti’s lawyer, explained that there was no way food could be smuggled to someone in solitary, especially with frequent room searches. It was finally conceded by prison officials that food was delivered to Barghouti’s cell by prison guards trying unsuccessfully to tempt him to break the fast. Barghouti on his side responded via his lawyer, “I plan to escalate my hunger strike soon. There is no backtracking. We will continue until the end.” Barghouti, 58, has according to the last report has lost 29 pounds since the start of the strike, and now weighs 119, planning to refuse even water.

 

Even if this dire commitment is not carried through to a potentially grim finality it will not tarnish the significance of what has been undertaken, and the great reluctance of the world to focus its attention on such a display of nonviolent martyrdom. This is not the first Palestinian prison strike motivated by abusive prison conditions and instances of administrative detention, arresting and jailing without any formal charges. But it appears to be the most consequential due to the participation of Marwan Barghouti along with so many other Palestinian prisoners as well as producing many displays of solidarity beyond the prison walls.

 

As Ramzy Baroud has pointed out in an Al Jazeera article published on May 10, 2017, the strike, although putting forth demands relating to prison conditions, is really a reflection of the underlying ordeal, what he refers to as “the very reality of Palestinian life”; it is above all “a call for unity against factionalism and Israeli occupation.” The distractions created by the Trump presidency, Brexit and the rise of the European right-wing, and turmoil in the Middle East have given Israel’s leadership the political space to push their expansionist agenda toward an imposed outcome of one Jewish state imposing its will on two distinct peoples. Such an endgame for this version of colonialist displacement and subjugation of the indigenous majority population will extend Palestinian suffering in the short-run, but will over time undermine Israeli security and stability, and bring the long Palestine nightmare to an end.

 

The British leadership finally appreciated their own interests, forging a political compromise in Northern Ireland in the form of the Good Friday Agreement, which while fragile and imperfect, has mostly spared Catholics and Protestants further bloodshed. Will the Israeli and U.S. leadership grow responsive to the moral and legal imperatives that call for a sustainable and just peace between these two peoples before the political imperative of such an essential outcome assume more menacing forms?

 

Against all expectations, the South African leadership did eventually become so responsive, but only after enough pressure was exerted internally and internationally. The South African leadership produced a new dawn by releasing its prime ‘terrorist’ inmate, Nelson Mandela, from prison, and the rest is history. Marwan Barghouti is clearly available to play such an historical role in relation to Israel. It will be a tragedy if Zionist ambitions and American led geopolitics preclude this from happening! The road to peace for Israel is the similar to the road to peace for apartheid South Africa: dismantle the apartheid regime that now dominates and discriminates against the Palestinian people on a systematic and totalizing basis. Such a projected future may seem a dream, but dreams can be made to come true through the dynamics of a struggle for justice. If so, we may look back on Barghouti’s hunger strike as the beginning of a winning Palestinian endgame.

 

It is important that we appreciate that a hunger strike is not only a pure form of nonviolence, but is also a self-inflicted sacrifice by those who seek to exhibit their opposition to the existing state of affairs in this manner, hoping to create conditions that produce change. It is an extreme type of resistance that in its essence is an appeal to the conscience and compassion of its opponents and public opinion generally. As Gandhi found out in racist South Africa, if that conscience and compassion are not sufficiently present within a given society such tactics are futile, and violent resistance becomes the only alternative to submission and despair. Israel has been repeatedly challenged by the Palestinians to do the right thing, but responds increasingly by treating all of its adversaries as ‘terrorists’ regardless of their behavior, while itself continuing to defy international law thereby denying the most fundamental rights to the Palestinian people and repeatedly relying on excessive force to safeguard its dominance.