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Contra Israeli Apartheid

1 Dec

[Prefatory Note: The text below is a modified version of remarks made at the opening plenary session of the “1st Global Conference on Israeli Apartheid: Dimensions, Repercussions and the Means to Combat It,” 29-30 November 2019, Istanbul. The conference was held under the joint auspices of the Global Organization against Racial Discrimination & Segregation and the Union of NGOs of the Islamic World, with opening statements by the respective presidents of the two organizations, Rima Khalaf (who was the director of ESCWA at the time the apartheid study, “Israeli Practices toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” was commissioned by ESCWA in 2016, and written by Professor Virginia Tilley and myself) and by Ali Kurt. The conference was loosely structured around the theme of updating our report since its release on March 15, 2017. The Conference Program is appended at the end of my remarks. The undertaking of the conference was also to launch a new NGO as named above, and formally established in Geneva, headed by Rima Khalaf, and devoted to opposing racism worldwide, with priority given to opposing Israel/Palestine apartheid.]

 

Contra Israeli Apartheid

 

Introductory Observations

Our experience with the Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) as authorts of the Report owes so much to the courage, dedication, and vision of Rima Khalaf, and this conference is itself a testimonial to the leadership she exhibited. She had the audacity to treat the UN as if it were what it was meant to be– an independent body representing the peoples of the world that seeks truth, respects law, and promotes peace and justice. In the age of Trump to act honorably in this manner is obviously ‘politically incorrect,’ that is, daring to act in the most admirable possible way from the perspective of human interests.

 

The firestorm that greeted the release of our report, what might be described as a ‘HalleyStorm’ exceeded the hostile pushback we expected after the report was formally released by ESCWA. I thought such an academic study would go largely unnoticed except by the most ardent Zionist watchdogs, especially since the text was preceded by a very visible disclaimer distancing the UN and ESCWA from our analysis and recommendations. By overreacting our high-profile attackers at the UN seemed to miscalculate, or maybe putting it better, contented themselves with scoring points in the short game, while giving away many more points in the long game that will ultimately determine the outcome of the Palestinian struggle for basic rights.

 

The attention given at UN Headquarters in New York City by the defamatory attacks launched by Ambassadors Halley & Danon greatly increased interest in our report, especially in civil society circles. What has happened in the two plus years since the ESCWA release in March 2017 has been to normalize the use of ‘apartheid’ to describe the Israeli/Palestine relationship, and governing structure, particularly in civil society circles. More than this, the apartheid discourse has influentially eroded, if not altogether superseded, the emphasis on ‘ending occupation’ as the clarion call of those seeking a sustainable and just peace for Israel and Palestine. In illuminating contrast, the report exerted little influence on the inter-governmental or formal UN discourse, which continued the zombie practice of dwelling on the occupation and placing hopes and bets on the two-state solution. I think there exists a growing consensus among pro-Palestinian activists that ending Israel apartheid as doctrine and practice now constitutes the one and only path to a sustainable peace. Of course, total ethnic cleansing or genocide is an outcome too distasteful to contemplate, leading to what should be termed an ‘unjust peace’ or ‘imposed peace’ and certainly not ‘a peaceful solution.’ Unfortunately, it has historical resonance whenever the context is one of settler colonialism. Resistance encountered in several settler colonial settings including the United States, Canada, and Australia resulted in the suppression, marginalization, and dispossession of the native people, and on occasion by genocidal means.

 

Conceptually and existentially our report revealed the links between allegations and findings relating to apartheid as a criminalized form of racism in international criminal law to a sinister politics of fragmentation and dispersal by which Israel has victimized and subjugated the Palestinian people in a variety of ways. What made this linkage of fragmentation and apartheid so important was that it was an inclusive way of understanding the scope of the distinctiveness of Israeli apartheid, embracing refugees, exiles, minority, and occupied Palestine in a single indivisible framework of victimization by way of racist domination of one ethnicity over another. This meant that if apartheid, as thus understood, were to be credibly dismantled, it would have to give equal status to Palestinians formerly marginalized or ignored by the long prevailing peace formula of expectations arising from an emphasis on the ‘land for peace’ slogan. In this manner our study privileges ‘people’ as distinguished from ‘territory’ as the core of the challenge of finding that elusive path leading to sustainable and just peace, as distinguished from the geopolitically manipulated Oslo peace process, which could never have achieved, even if an agreement had somehow emerged, more than a ceasefire disguised by being proclaimed by the negotiating parties as a permanent solution, or even worse, as ‘the deal of the century.’

 

We understand our task at this conference to be partly one of updating our ESCWA study in light of what has transpired since March 15, 2017 and partly to draw some interpretative perspectives and policy implications that derive from the study but were not contained in it. We have submitted separate updating papers that summarize our understanding of the changes relevant to the apartheid discourse as applied to Israel. In the papers we express somewhat differing understandings on some secondary issues, although in complete agreement on the core issue of the evidence support. Yet more significant is our shared acceptance of the basic apartheid framework as indispensable for useful analysis and policy formation, which is joined to our belief that dismantling apartheid, as we have conceptualized it, is the one and only gateway to sustainable peace between these two peoples. Underneath this conviction is my somewhat counterintuitive  view that Israeli Jews would also be beneficiaries of the ending apartheid in Israel just as the white South Africans were 25 years ago.

 

 

Problematics of Ethnocracy and Partition: Decoding the Zionist Project

Although not part of the original study, understanding the development of the dominant tendencies in the Zionist movement is crucial for the changing character of the relationship between Zionism and the relevance of the right of self-determination to the particular circumstances in Palestine. Of central relevance is the specific nature of Zionist opportunism when it comes to shaping policy. It changes through time, and is most basically expressed by grasping at what is available at each stage, without considering what was sought at prior stages or treating an acceptance of what was being offered in the present as the end of the road. From seeming to settle for a homeland, rather than a state in the Balfour/League formulations to the reluctant acceptance of the partition approach foisted on Palestine after World War II, to the current posture of, in effect, calling for Palestinian surrender in their own homeland, Zionism has kept raising its expectations ever closer to its underlying ambitions and its interpretation of the relevant balances of power and influence internally, regionally, and globally.

 

In many ways, and less often articulated, the Palestinian national movement for understandable reasons has taken what seems an opposite approach to that of the Zionist Project and later Israeli leadership. Palestinians quite reasonably rejected as unacceptable what was being offered to them at every stage of the conflict, which had they accepted it would have been seen as a political defeat. And somewhat ironically, the White House handshake between Rabin and Arafat symbolizing the mutual acceptance of the Oslo framework to resolve the conflict, which was portrayed at the time as a dramatic breakthrough leading to peace, turned out to be a disastrous tactical move by the Palestinian leadership. Oslo diplomacy allowed Israeli propagandists to portrays the Palestinian leadership as rejectionist as it seemed to be insisting on demands that were non-negotiable when what it was actually doing was trying to do was to avoid further encroachments on Palestinian land and rights, which were being continually diminished on the ground and by way of partisan brokered diplomacy. As Israelis consistently looked ahead on the basis of ever higher expectations, Palestinians looked backward in time ready to settle at a later stage for what they had rejected as a previous stage. Illustratively, when partition gave Palestinians 45% of the territory it seemed like and was treated as a totally unacceptable external fracturing of the unity of Palestine as a territorial polity and a disregard of the most elemental rights of its majority population, but later on the Palestinian leadership seemed ready to accept even 22% of Mandate Palestine as the boundaries of their greatly shrunken state. By then Israel, in contrast, was insisting on the total control of Jerusalem, a variety of security infringements on Palestinian sovereignty, including border control and permanent Palestinian demilitarization, as well, of course, as retention of the unlawful settlement blocs established on territory occupied in 1967. The Palestine Papers, document disclosing later secret direct peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, involve a portrayal of this clash between Palestinian expectations then lowered even below the 22% threshold as Israeli actions and demands were no longer content with a mere 78% of the land, positing demands in various devastating ways on the Palestinian territorial remnant, including even diverting the water aquifers of the West Bank. It is worth noting that what Israel seemed to be demanding in its pre-Trump diplomacy was the Gazaization of any future Palestine entity, that is, Gaza after the Sharon disengagement plan was put into operation in 2005 that did involve the withdrawal of IDF occupation force, really their redeployment and even the dismantling of Israel settlements.

 

In addition to Zionist opportunism and this distorted picture of Palestinian rejectionism in relation to respective diplomatic postures, there are two other features of Zionist practice that have undermined the Palestinian pursuit of basic rights. First, the hegemonic political discourse used at any given time is calibrated by Israel to fit changing external circumstances of constraint and opportunity. In recent times, without Trump, and possibly lacking Saudi approval, for instance, it is doubtful that Israel would have moved to annex the Golan Heights or engaged in actions to treat the settlements as incorporated into Israel as a matter of law, although both moves were undoubtedly featured on the actual long-range Zionist agenda even if not  realizable under present conditions. Secondly, the disclosed changing Israeli policy agenda at each stage in the evolution of the struggle never corresponded with the actual, and relatively fixed, agenda. Perhaps, very recently this dual agenda is no longer part of the Zionist tactical approach as the Netanyahu/Kushner victory scenario is being quietly and misleadingly promoted as a. strategic endgame for the struggle. This coming into the open is coupled with an insidious suggestion that Israel tighten even further the apartheid screws to compel a Palestinian surrender, or as phrased by its advocates, the unfinished Zionist business being to convince the Palestinian leadership of the reality of their ‘lost cause.’

 

The apartheid discourse seems useful in demonstrating that this kind of Israeli endgame will not finish the struggle but merely prolong it, at most, generating yet another ceasefire that is almost certain to be followed by yet another intifada, or some other expression of resurgent Palestinian resistance. The world might is currently ignoring the significance of the sustained and innovative resistance under the most difficult circumstances of the Great March of Return. Palestinians and their supporters understand this dramatic form of resistance for what it is, a decisive repudiation of ‘the lost cause’ endgame, which is itself the more discreet form of describing the victory scenario. This scenario has been given its most forthright formulation by the Zionist extremist, Daniel Pipes, which can be viewed in all its crass ugliness on the pages of his website vehicle, Middle East Forum. The essential argument put forth by Pipes is that diplomacy has been tried and failed, and now is the time to end the conflict by its coercive resolution, which means making clear that Israel has won and Palestine has lost. All that remains to be done is to make the Palestinians see this reality, and since they stubbornly refuse to do, apply force and various types of soft power aggression until they finally give into the pain, and accept their defeat by a formal acknowledgement of surrender.

 

I believe this context makes the apartheid diagnosis and prescription more important than ever, first to grasp the full existential scope of the Palestinian ordeal, and then to envision that despite everything that has transpired, peaceful coexistence on the basis of realizing a regime of ethnic equality remains a possibility, and indeed it is the only positive alternative to permanent conflict or further ethnic cleansing.

 

We know that the present arrangement of forces, regionally and geopolitically will not last forever. It currently appears extremely favorable to Israel, but if the next phase of Arab awakening brings to power leaders more receptive to the views and values of their own people, the Arab politics of accommodation and appeasement would likely be quickly repudiated, and replaced overnight by a more confrontational approach. And even the current hyper-partisan support of the United States is not assured. If the Republicans are defeated in 2020 presidential elections, the policy toward Israel is likely to revert to its earlier posture of partisanship rather than its present absurd hyper-partisanship. This means, in more concrete terms, a revival of mainstream ‘liberal Zionist’ advocacy of a two-state solution and a diplomacy based on a supposed need for mutual political compromise. It was the approach most clearly articulated and promoted in the American presidencies of Clinton and Obama. Of course, without changes within Israel this revival of liberal Zionism as the basis of American foreign policy will not reverse or diminish Israeli expectations or end the Palestinian ordeal. For this reason, whether Trumpism persists or is replaced by a more moderate presidency, the responsibility for a sustainable peace will depend on the growth and deepening of global solidarity with the Palestinian struggle in all societal settings, which include governments, the UN, and above all, civil society.

 

Even if we achieve a civil society consensus on this apartheid analysis, it will not be enough to produce change. We need also to act on the basis that ending Israeli apartheid is the one and only path to peace. In the present setting, it is also evident that neither diplomacy nor the UN will endorse the apartheid analysis unless pushed very hard from below, and even many segments of the Palestinian leadership and movement are reluctant to do so. In this sense, work remains on the level of ideas organization as it is crucial to achieve a higher degree of doctrinal and organizational unity than presently exists.

 

For action, with the notable exception of South Africa and a few other governments, this burden of action principally falls on civil society at this stage. We can hope that with an expanding movement of people more governments and the UN may be gradually led to join the effort. What the South African precedent tells us is that what seemed impossible until it happened, became possible all of a sudden because sufficient pressure had been brought to bear over time by robust resistance within and militant solidarity efforts without. Over time this combination of pressures exerted sufficient pressures on the Afrikaner leadership to bring about its tactical transformation. There was no change of heart, but a recognition that the cost of maintaining apartheid were too high, and that many of the white privileges of apartheid could be retained by negotiating the replacement of political and legal apartheid by a multi-racial constitutional order. It goes without saying that Israel is not South Africa, and that Palestinians remain disunited with respect to representation and lack the sort of inspirational leadership that proved to be so valuable in the South African anti-apartheid movement. At the same time, we should never forget that the anti-colonial flow of history remains the dominant international trend of our time, and may yet bring the Israeli elite to their senses. A genuine post-apartheid peace will benefit Jews and Palestinians alike—this is the affirmation of peace and justice that follows from the negation of apartheid.

 

On the basis of present analysis and past experience we know what needs to be done, and so now the main challenge needs to be met in the doing, with a vigilant eye toward ever changing circumstances of struggle, constraints as well as opportunities.

 

Conf Program, 6Nov,2019

1st Global Conference on Dimensions, Repercussions of Israeli Apartheid And the Means to Combat it

Istanbul, 29-30 November 2019

DAY 1: Friday 29 November 2019

3:00-3:45 (p.m.) Opening Session

4:00-6:00 Plenary session I: The Israeli Apartheid Regime and its Impact on our Understanding of the Conflict and the Paths to its Resolution.
Chair: Dr. Nadim Rouhana

  1. Israeli policies and practices and the question of apartheid (Apartheid Report launch).

Professor Richard Falk

  1. Implications of the apartheid paradigm: rethinking the conflict, its origins and its resolution. Professor Virginia Tilley
  2. Denial of Palestinian refugees’ and exiles’ the right to return: the most overtly racist policy. Professor Joseph Massad

Open discussion

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Conf Program, 6Nov,2019

DAY 2: Saturday 30 November 2019

09:00-11:00 Plenary session II: Dimensions, tools and repercussions of Israeli Apartheid

Chair: Dr. Kamel Hawwash, Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, UK

  1. Palestinian citizens of Israel: institutionalized discrimination and the struggle for equality. Dr. Muhannad Mustafa, General Manager of Mada Al-Carmel
  2. Israeli Apartheid in the earlier years (1948-1966): its objectives and tools, and the Palestinian Struggle to survive it. Prof Adel Manna, Palestinian history Professor
  3. Palestinians in the territories occupied since 1967 in the face of direct military occupation and racial discrimination. Prof. Zekeriya Kursun
  4. Palestinians in Jerusalem and the overt displacement policies. Prof Rasem Khamaisi, CPS Center for Planning and Studies
  5. Policies of impoverishment and economic dependency for control and domination in Palestine. Mohammed Samhouri

Open discussion

11:00-11:30 BREAK

11:30 – 13:30 Plenary session III: Consequences of Apartheid and Implications for the region and the World

Chair: Dr. Elias Khoury

  1. Repercussions of Israeli apartheid on the value system in Palestine/Israel, and the region. EliaZureik,ProfessorEmeritusofSociologyatQueen’sUniversityinOntario, Canada
  2. Research and knowledge gaps on Israeli Apartheid. Haider Eid, Associate Professor at al-Aqsa University, Gaza, (will join through skype or send a recorded speech)
  3. Israel’s new Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People, and its implications on the peace treaties and agreements signed by Israel with Jordan, Egypt, and the PLO. Dr. Anis Kassim
  4. Racial discrimination and segregation in Palestine, from the perspective of international human rights law. Av. Suleyman Arslan – Lawyer, Turkey
  5. Apartheid is a Crime, Victims and Witnesses in Palestine. Mats Svensson

Open discussion

 

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Conf Program, 6Nov,2019

13:30-3:00

Lunch break

3:00-5:30 Plenary session IV: Strategies and Paths for the Struggle Against Israeli Apartheid

Chair: Prof Refik Korkusuz, Dean of Humanities Faculty, Turkey

  1. Apartheid, occupation, and settler colonialism: Palestinian strategies for liberation and attaining justice. Ali Abu Nimah, co-founder and executive director of The Electronic Intifada
  2. Countering Israel’s racist policies against Palestinians in Jerusalem. Receb Songul
  3. Role of civil society organizations and youth movements around the world in combating the Israeli apartheid regime. Marie Crawley, Chair of the Ireland Palestine Alliance, Sadaka
  4. Role of the Palestine Liberation Organization in dismantling the Israeli apartheid regime. Hani Al-Masri, director general of Masarat, the Palestinian Centre for Policy Research and Strategic Studies.
  5. BDS and the role of advocacy in the struggle to combat apartheid. Tisetso Magama, BDS SA Board Member.
  6. Dismantling the Israeli Apartheid Regime as a precondition for justice, equality, and peace for all. Haneen Zoabi, former Arab member of the Israeli Knesset.

Open discussion

5:30-6:30 Concluding Session and Press Conference

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

 

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Health and Human Rights in Gaza: Shame on the World

27 Nov

[Preliminary Note: This post devoted to health and human rights in Gaza. It is based on a video presentation some weeks ago to a conference on this theme held in Gaza. It makes no effort to update by reference to the latest cycle of violence sparked by the targeted assassination of Baha Abu-Ata, an Islamic Jihad military commander, on November 12. I feel strongly about the issues raised by this post not only because I have witnessed living conditions in Gaza and have friends in Gaza who have endured hardship and injustice for so long without losing their warmth or even their hope. My contacts with Gaza and Gazans over the course of many years has been at once inspirational and deeply dispiriting, a deep insight into the deficiencies of the human condition coupled with an uplifting glimpse at the spiritual courage of those so severely victimized.

Reflecting on the terrifying destiny bestowed upon the people of Gaza I became ashamed of stultifying silences, especially of those governments and their leaders in the region and those countries with a historical responsibility (the UK) and with geopolitical leverage (the US). I also take alarmed note of the refusal of the mainstream media to accord attention to the misery so long endured by the people of Gaza. If ever the norm of ‘the responsibility to protect’ was applied according to humanitarian need, Gaza would be at the top of the list, but of course there is no list, and if ever there were one, given the present international atmosphere, Gaza would remain among the unlisted! This neglect of the people of Gaza is so acute as to extend the web of criminal complicity far beyond the borders of Israel.]

 

 

Health and Human Rights in Gaza: Shame on the World

 

I want to begin by offering my greetings to all those here today. I dearly wish that conditions in Gaza were different, enabling me to share the experience of the conference directly with you by taking part directly and actively. The theme of the conference touches the policies and practice of Israeli abuse that have been victimizing the people of Gaza for such a long time. The population of Gaza already faced a lamentable situation ever since the occupation began in 1967, but it has grown far worse since the Gaza elections of 2006, as reinforced by the changes in political administration that occurred in the following year. Israel’s policies have been systematically cruel and abusive, disregarding the legal standards and moral values applicable to the behavior of an Occupying Power. These standards and values are embodied in International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL).

 

Upholding the right to health is among the most fundamental of human rights, first articulated in the 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization: “The right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” This right is further articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially in Article 25, and then put in a treaty form by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1966. The deliberate interference with the right to health is among the worst imaginable collective abuses of a people subject to belligerent occupation. Israel, which relies on an apartheid regime to maintain control over the Palestinian people in the face of their internationally protected right of resistance, has been particularly guilty of behavior that hasflagrantly, consistently, and intentionally encroached upon and violated the right to health of the entire civilian population of Gaza in a variety of ways.

 

The Great March of Return epitomizes the brutalities of Israeli occupation policy, which include a shocking disregard of the physical and mental health of the Palestinian civilian population taking part in the demonstrations. It also offers us a metaphor for the abuses of the right to health and other rights of the Gaza population regarded as a collective entity. This pattern of abuse occurs in the context of persistent and courageous Palestinian acts of resistance in support of their right of return to their homeland, a right affirmed at the UN and clearly established in international law, which Israel has refused to uphold for seven decades, that is, ever since the Nakba. In the face of such a failure of international procedures to uphold Palestinian rights, a recourse to a politics of self-reliance seems reasonable, and in fact the only path presently capable of yielding positive results. The people of Gaza have waited long enough, indeed too long, without having their most basic international rights protected by the organized world community.

 

A preliminary matter is whether, as Israel alleges, it is relieved of all international legal obligations to the people of Gaza as a result of its supposed ‘disengagement’ from Gaza in 2005. From an international law perspective, the physical removal of IDF occupying troops from the territory of Gaza and the dismantlement of unlawful Israeli settlements did not affect the legal status of Gaza as ‘occupied Palestinian territory.’ Israel has maintained tight control over Gaza, which has included massive military attacks in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014, as well as frequent uses of excessive force, unlawful weapons and tactics, and disregard of the constraints of law. Despite ‘disengagement’ Israel maintains effective and comprehensive control over Gaza’s borders, air space, and offshore maritime waters. In fact, as a result of the blockade in existence since 2007, the occupation is more intense and abusive than was the oppressive form of occupation that existed in Gaza prior to disengagement. From the perspective of IHL and IHRL, Israel is fully obligated under international law in exercising its role as an occupying power, and its claims to the contrary are legally irrelevant. Unfortunately, due to geopolitical realities and the weakness of the UN, these Israeli claims continue to have a political relevance as Israel’s obligations are unenforced and mostly ignored, creating an unacceptable situation in which Israel enjoys de facto impunity and escapes from all procedures of accountability provided by recourse to international law and international judicial institutions.

 

It is also important, in our view, to understand the significance of the findings of the 2017 ESCWA report prepared by Virginia Tilley and myself. We concluded after examining the evidence that Israel maintains an apartheid structure of control over the Palestinian people as a whole, which of course includes the population of Gaza. Our main point is that Israel uses a variety of means to subjugate and victimize the Palestinians so as to establish and sustain an exclusivist Jewish state in which, according to Israel’s Basic Law of 2018 gives only Jews authority to claim a right of self-determination. To circumscribe the right of self-determination by exclusionary racial criteria is a virtual acknowledgement of an apartheid ideology.

 

It needs to be more widely appreciated that apartheid is a Crime Against Humanity, according to Article 7(j) of the Rome Statute that governs the operations of the International Criminal Court. The criminal character of apartheid had been previously confirmed by the 1973 UN Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. If apartheid is indeed present then all governments have themselves legal and moral obligations to join the effort to suppress and punish. As with IHL and IHRL, the criminalization of apartheid is not acted upon by formal intergovernmental mechanisms due to roadblocks erected by geopolitics and the related weakness of the UN, but this does not mean that the designation is politically and morally insignificant. Since governments refuse to act, the responsibility and opportunity for law enforcement falls on the peoples of the world to do what the formal framework of world order is incapable of doing.

 

Such an anti-apartheid grassroots surge occurred with respect to the South African regime of apartheid, producing an entirely unexpected reversal of approach by the Afrikaner leadership of the country resulting in the release of Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years of captivity followed by the largely peaceful transition to a multiracial constitutional democracy with human rights promised to all regardless of race. Such an outcome was considered impossible across the entire political spectrum in South Africa until 1994 when it actually happened.

 

We cannot guarantee, of course, that history will repeat itself and liberate the Palestinian people from their century-long ordeal, but neither can we foreclose the possibility that the combination of Palestinian resistance and global solidarity will have an empowering, liberating effect. In part, the Palestinian national movement is the last great unfinished struggle against European settler colonialism. Looked at in this way, the Zionist Project through the establishment of Israel temporarily reversed the flow of history in Palestine for a series of complicated reasons, but the final fate of Palestine remains in doubt so long as Palestinian resistance is sustained and solidarity robust. In this regard, the Great March of Return is a powerful sign that Palestinian resistance here in Gaza continues to offer inspirational energy to those of us throughout the world who believe that this particular struggle for individual and collective justice by an oppressed people is what human rights are most fundamentally about.

 

The Great March is a perfect metaphor for both the theme of this conference and of the struggle that motivated the defenseless residents of Gaza to demand this most basic right to return to their homeland from which they have been wrongfully and forcibly displaced. This demand was impressively reasserted every Friday for more than a year in the face of Israel’s vindictive reliance on excessive force since its inception in March 2018. Israel from the very beginning of the protests adopted an approach of excessive force based on terrorizing the demonstrators by resorting to lethal violence in an harsh effort to punish and destroy this formidable creative challenge to Israeli apartheid/colonial control. Israel’s aim seems to be a vain and unlawful effort to undermine the Palestinian will to resist that has survived decades of confinement, discouragement, and unspeakable abuse.

 

At the same time, such a criminal response by Israel to this anguished claim of right by the people of Gaza was also the culminating expression of Israel’s assault on the physical and mental health of the civilian population of Gaza. It is hardly surprising that the burdens created by 20,000 injured Gazans have overwhelmed Gaza’s already stressed medical capabilities. Many of those injured received life and limb threatening gunshot wounds, causing serious infections and frequently requiring amputation. This crisis situation in health care was aggravated by shortages of needed antibiotic medicines, and by the dismal experiences of those injured Gazans requiring specialized attention that could be obtained only outside of Gaza. Those so desperately in need of medical treatment external to Gaza faced almost impossible difficulties obtaining required exit and entry permits that Israel often even withheld under normal circumstances. In relation to those wounded at Great March events the situation was far worse. Israel was more unwilling to grant exit permits to those wounded in the Great March, discriminating against any Palestinian who dared to protest peacefully against the denial of the rights to which every human being on earth is entitled. Such an abuse is criminally escalated in relation to Gazans who are supposed to be especially protected by virtue of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, and IHL more generally. Instead of protection, the Israeli approach has been one of imposing prolonged collective punishment not only on Palestinian resistors but on the entire population of Gaza in direct violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and not for a short interval associated with special circumstances, but over the course of decades.

 

Beyond these exceptional conditions associated with the medical fallout from the Great March, Israel by failing to protect the civilian population of Gaza under conditions of rightless prolonged occupation is guilty of several additional forms of collective punishment each of which has an adverse impact of Gazan health. These adverse effects consequences result from its maintenance of a vindictive blockade, the periodic application of excessive force well beyond any reasonable security justifications, and the application of policies and practices reflective of the apartheid/colonial character of its approach to the Palestinian people, which has long assumed a sinister form in Gaza. The health results are disastrous as confirmed by reliable statistical measures of the physical and mental condition of the population, as exhibited by the unavailability of safe drinking water, the existence of untreated open sewage, the frequency of long power outages that interfere with the operation of hospitals and medical equipment, and by studies documenting the high incidence of severe trauma experienced by many residents of Gaza, including young and particularly vulnerable children. For those of us who have visited Gaza even under what could be described as ‘normal’ conditions, we came away wondering how anyone could endure such stress without experiencing a traumatic reaction.

 

This severe infringement on the right to health of the people of Gaza should be the occasion of outrage in the international community, and receive appropriate media attention, but Israel’s deliberate and massive violations of IHL and IHRL are shielded by geopolitics from censure and sanctions on the part of governments and at the UN, a reality further obscured by a compliant mainstream Western media that is misled and manipulated by a carefully orchestrated Israeli propaganda campaign that presents its criminally unlawful conduct as reasonable behavior undertaken to uphold the national security of a sovereign state, an aspect of its legal right to defend itself against what it labels as a terrorist enemy. Such Israeli propaganda falsifies the realities of the situation in multiple ways, but creates enough confusion outside of Gaza to divert attention from the suffering imposed upon the Palestinian people as a whole, and the civilian population of Gaza in particular.

 

Against this background, it becomes clear that grassroots solidarity efforts to expose these truths and exert nonviolent pressures on Israel by means of the BDS Campaign and other initiatives are essential contributions to the ongoing resistance struggles of the Palestinian people. And unlike the South African response, Israel with its sophisticated global outreach has tried by every means to discredit such global solidarity work, even going to the extent of using its leverage overseas to criminalize participation in BDS activity by encouraging the passage of punitive laws and the adoption of restrictive administrative policies in Europe and North America.

 

Let me end these remarks by saying that despite the seeming imbalance of forces on the ground, history remains strongly on the side of the Palestinian struggle against this Israeli apartheid regime. Much of the world realizes that the brave people of Gaza have long been in the eye of a dreadful and seemingly endless storm. It is my honor to support as best I can your struggle for the realization of the right of self-determination. Despite present appearances to the contrary, I am confident that justice will prevail, that Palestinians will achieve their rights, and surprise the world as did the opponents of South African apartheid a generation ago. It is my hope that I will live long enough to visit Gaza in the future at a time of liberation and celebration.  In the meantime, I wish you a successful conference.

 

 

.A New Cycle of Gaza/Israel Violence

22 Nov

[Prefatory Note: What follows is a slightly modified interview conducted by Daniel Falcone on the theme of ‘The Renewal of Violence—Gaza/Israel’ in Jacobin, Nov. 2019. This latest cycle of transborder violence initiated by a targeted assassination of a well-known military commander in Islamic Jihad in Gaza, leading to a rocket barrage directed at southern and central Israel, followed by many air strikes and artillery shells fired at Gaza targets. Whether this latest cycle of violence has ended as of now is difficult to assess, and it should not be confused with the violence at the Gaza Fence as a result of weekly demonstrations of Palestinians at the Gaza fence in the course of the Great March of Return, a civil society initiative (later joined by Hamas as unarmed demonstrators) that has continued since March 30, 2018, a remarkable exhibition of sumud on the Palestinian side and of excessive lethal force—where no imminent threat existed—on the Israel side.]

 

A New Cycle of Gaza/Israel Violence

 

 

Q: how has the mainstream press been treating this renewed violence?

 

Mainstream media, as well as even the UN, is treating this renewal of violence in a highly misleading way as if the only truly valid issue is whether a sovereign state, in this case Israel, has the right to defend itself against Palestinian terrorism. The events unfolding between Israel and Gaza are misrepresented in two principal ways: by treating Israel as defending itself without taking account of the deliberate surrounding provocations on Israel’s part; and by using language in media coverage to weight perceptions of readers to believe that Israel as a state is fully entitled to use force to uphold security as opposed to its terrorist adversary that has no rights whatsoever except to be hunted down. This is a perversion of law and justice as the Palestinians are treated as interlopers in their own homeland while the Israeli settler colonial authority is being regarded as the sole legitimate political authority in the whole of Palestine. In the case of Gaza, to resist sustained, severe, collective, and comprehensive punitive deprivations and lawlessness inflicted on the helpless, occupied Gaza people seems an intrinsic right, or at the very least a highly relevant circumstance that deserves to be taken into account. In the background is more than twelve years of blockade, condemned by many world leaders, and even the prior UN Secretary General.

 

The immediate context of this latest cycle of violence was the targeted killing of Baha Abu-Ata along with his wife, on November 12th while they were sleeping in their home in a Gaza apartment building. Abu-Ata was a member of Islamic Jihad, a military commander, alleged to have been responsible for past rocket attacks on Israel, and supposedly engaged in planning further launches. After the assassination 200 rockets were fired from Gaza as a response, causing no serious casualties. Israel immediately responded to the rockets with several days of drone missile strikes, air and military assaults, killing 34 Palestinians, wounding more than 80. As far as is known, no Israelis have so far killed or injured by the Palestinian rockets, although that by itself does not make their use ‘legal.’ Israel’s response raises many international law questions of proportionality with respect to the use of force, collective punishment, and as significantly, issues of provocation, the timing of the assassination of Abu-Ata and associated violence quite possibly a Netanyahu a final failed gesture designed to break the Israeli electoral impasse in his favor. The media utterly failed to connect the outbreak of violence with the underlying desperation and vulnerability of the Gazan population of about two million, with the domestic pressures in Israel to break the impasse that has blocked the formation of a new government, and the months of frustration with the Israeli killings at the Gaza border to demoralize the demonstrators taking part in The Great March of Return. This truly heroic, almost totally nonviolent phenomenon of Palestinian is where the msm should be if they were doing their job.

 

Jonathan Ofir, well known as an Israeli activist and musician living in Denmark, gives a radically different, and more humanly sensitive rendering of this Gaza violence that contrasts with what continues to be disseminated by TV and print: “What Israel reserves for itself is the right to conduct seasonal massacres in the uninhabitable concentration camp called Gaza, when it sees fit.” This is admittedly strongly emotive language that could be as misleading as the msm approach unless better contextualized. What is more to the point from a legal/moral/humanitarian perspective is that Gaza is a territory ‘occupied’ by Israel since 1967, and not a foreign country. Hence, Israel’s behavior is subject to the Geneva Conventions, especially Convention IV governing belligerent occupation. Israel rejects these international law constraints altogether, unilaterally invoking its right to defend itself by periodically launching massive attacks on Gaza in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014. Israel also completely avoids the primary duty under Geneva IV to protect a civilian population living under its occupation, which renders its reliance on self-defense under international law an absurdity when the adversary is the occupied society itself.

 

The blog writer and regular contributor to The Electronic Intifada, Maureen Claire Murphy, assesses Israel’s violence in the larger context of the relationship between Israel and Palestine: “Abu-Ata and Palestinian fighters in Gaza like him are resisting a cruel and illegal siege, a half-century of military occupation, and more than 70 years of forced displacement and dispossession.” There is no indication that Murphy is defending the Gaza rocket responses, but is she rather relying on the relevance of context in correctly grasping the respective behavior of these antagonists. Until we have some awareness of this broader context, our understanding of the isolated incident cannot be properly interpreted, and feeds hegemonic constructions of political reality that produced one-sided commentary at the expense of a victimized people. In this regard, msm in relation to the Palestinian national struggle seems to act as if its main function was quite the opposite–to ignore on principle the context of Palestinian violence no matter how relevant. By so doing, Israel can be portrayed as the hapless victim of primitive rockets that are mainly symbolic Palestinian efforts to exhibit their spirit of resistance in frustrated response to a wider pattern of oppressive and unlawful governance. There is no reason to deny that the threat, however remote, posed by these rockets does produce great anxiety in Israeli communities living near the Gaza border, and is unacceptable because of its inherent indiscriminateness. Without minimizing Israel security concerns, it should be recognized that far worse anxiety is the continual reality experienced by the entire population of Gaza, and for many years. Until this wider pattern of Israeli dereliction of its duties under international humanitarian law is brought into view, we are reading thinly disguised propaganda, sophisticated fake news, that confers impunity on the militarily strong side in this struggle, and excessive accountability on the weaker side. Such a pattern is an obvious perversion of justice.

 

These concerns about media coverage vary from issue to issue and even context to context. The Israel/Palestine context is distinctive in several respects with regard to slanting the news in Israel’s favor. It is respectable in America to be an outspokenly pro-Zionist journalist, while being even neutral is viewed as sufficiently discrediting to keep you off the air, and daring to be critical of Israel sends often results in an intense professional pushback. Marc Lamont Hill discovered this when a rather balanced speech given at the UN was distorted by Zionist groups in ways that managed to induce his abrupt dismissal as a CNN consultant without even the courtesy of a right of response. This enveloping reality of bias exerts pressure to present the news as shaped by the Israeli and American governments, and an entourage of think tank and ‘expert’ apologists. Even an irresponsible Zionist extremist like Alan Dershowitz is welcomed as a respectable network guest on talk shows while a media appearance by Noam Chomsky is a rarity, and if it occurs it is treated as giving space to a dissenter, normally offset by a second guest who adheres to the party line. This informal mode of censorship is reinforced by the powerful and feared AIPAC lobby that has a watchdog reputation as ending the political careers of those few in Congress who over the years are perceived as somewhat critical of Israel or even cautiously supportive of the Palestinian struggle for basic rights.

 

When well-funded lobbies, think tanks, websites, and wealthy donors exist on one side of a national policy debate and there are no comparable countervailing forces that effectively represent the other side create a dangerous atmosphere with respect to public discourse. The side with the power and funding—as they say, ‘follow the money’—controls, marginalizes, and discredits other viewpoints, and punishes for all to observe those who get too far out of line. In regard to Israel, this has been reinforced, at least since 1967, by the consensus that the US ‘special relationship’ with Israel is a strategic alliance that is vital for upholding American strategic interests in the Middle East. The corporatized media of this era is almost as responsive to Pentagon briefings as it is reflective of pro-Israeli access and influence when it comes to this central symbolic conflict of the post-Cold War, post-apartheid era.     

 

Q:  From where is it possible to get reliable information on issues such as the legal status of Gaza violence?

 

There is no mainstream answer to such a question in the West, which is itself a rather remarkable breakdown of journalistic standards. This unhealthy state of affairs is reflected also in the one-sided political debate now dominating the American media during battle for the Democratic Party nomination. Without exception, the candidates seeking the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party become shy, or worse, when it comes to criticizing Trump’s unabashedly pro-Israeli, anti-Palestinian record. As the recent Gaza incident illustrates, even the most progressive among the candidates are silent or mindlessly repeat the mantra about Israel’s right to defend itself. None dare say ‘end the blockade,’ ‘treat Hamas as the elected government of Gaza,’ and ‘uphold the obligations of international humanitarian law’ if what is at stake is ending this Gaza violence, and in the process, actually making Israelis more secure, not less. If one among the candidates dared speak plainly, a blacklisting pushback would assuredly quickly follow, particularly if viewed as someone with current popular support such as Sanders or Warren.

 

When it comes to finding the best media coverage available, I would suggest reading the digitized media widely and selectively, as well as what is written by Al Jazeera and other regional media outlets in the Middle East, including even the Israeli press, which is far more open than the American. I receive a far better sense of the unfolding struggle between Israel and Palestine can be found in Haaretz, or even The Jerusalem Post, than from the New York Times or the Washington Post, and this by itself says a lot. Is there anyone in the msm as critical of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinian people than Gideon Levy or Amira Hass? There are occasional progressive treatments of these issues to be found in more obscure publications such as The Nation, London Review of Books, and Le Monde Diplomatique. I suppose the most independent analysis, but it is in the form of periodic reports, and not event oriented or lively reading, is to be found in the biennial reports of the UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine, currently Michael Lynk.  

 

A selective reading of online journalism that gives a more informed and balanced picture of the violent interactions between Israel and Palestinian resistance, especially refraining from automatically equating Palestinian resistance with terrorism in the struggle by the Palestinian people to secure their rights. In contrast, Israel’s reliance on excessive and often indiscriminte force, especially in seeking to intimidate and humiliate the civilian Palestinian population of Gaza should properly be considered as state terrorism. This Israeli violence has over the years been responsible for immeasurably more suffering, death, and anxiety that has the armed aspects of Palestinian resistance. Israel’s refusal to act humanely and to minimize political violence is nowhere more evident than in its responses to The Great March of Return since March 30, 2018 where weekly largely nonviolent protests demanding implementation of the long denied and unambiguous Palestinian right to return to their places of family residence and national homeland have not been met by any Israeli effort to achieve an accommodation, but rather have encountered unabasheds reliance on lethal force in the form of live sniper ammunition, causing Palestinian deaths and injuries almost every Friday for more than 80 weeks. Even ‘reliable’ journalism has not given this remarkable societal initiative in Gaza and Israel’s response the commentary and attention it deserves. This, too, is part of the context that thoughtful and balanced media coverage should be informing its readers about.    

 

Q: Is the political end game for Israel domestically in this latest surge in killing related to election squabbling?

 

Of course, politicians never acknowledge political motivations for their military aggressiveness in election periods. The impasse in Israel at present is unprecedented, and accentuated by the seeming desperation of Netanyahu to retain the immunity of his office to avoid facing serious corruption and fraud charges. Against such a background, it seems reasonable to be suspicious of why Israel resorted to this high profile targeted killing at this time, knowing it would produce a violent response from the Palestinians, and that such a response would provide Israel with a political climate supportive of a more deadly and less focused Israeli assault on Gaza. This turn would lead to more Palestinian rockets being launched toward Israel from Gaza, and although most would likely be intercepted by the Iron Dome, and even when they get through,  without so far causing casualties, it would still be treated as an occasion on which to raise Israeli fears and swing public opinion in Netanyahu’s direction. After all, whatever else, Netanyahu is looked upon as the unwavering guardian of Israeli security interests over the last decade. His opponent in the rivalry to lead government, Benny Gantz, adds to the anti-Gaza frenzy by also invoking as a positive credential his own bloody past record as an IDF commander in earlier Gaza operations. It is an unfortunate reality that politicians in Israel regard such militarist reputations as adding to their qualifications for political leadership, and the public goes along. This also means that it is politically helpful to ignore international law and civilian innocence in the course of displaying Israeli ruthless dominance whenever dealing with Palestinian oppositional activities, even if they take a nonviolent form.  

 

 

Q: What is the political end game for Israel internationally and how does it relate to a simultaneous raid on Syria?

 

It is Israel’s apparent hope that with Trump in the White House, this is the time to push for an end to the conflict that achieves their main political goals. This means declaring an Israeli victory in the struggle, coupled ideally with an acknowledgement from the Palestinians of their decision to give up their struggle for rights. In exchange, an incentive of a better day to day life is given to the Palestinians, what is sometimes called ‘an economic peace.’ This is coupled with a warning of worse-to-come if the Palestinians refuse to bow down. As the Great March and robust global BDS Campaign demonstrate, such a wish for an Israeli one-state solution is highly unlikely to receive formal blessings even from the weak Palestinian international representation now provided by the Palestinian Authority. It is also evident that strenuous Zionist efforts to demonstrate  that criticism of Israel is ‘the new anti-Semitism’ exhibits a recognition in Israel and Zionist circles that such a moral/legal challenge from below (as compared to diplomacy from above) poses a threat to Israeli ambitions that has become more formidable in the last few. years than armed struggle or military confrontation.

 

What seems to be happening, although not widely noticed, is that the core of the struggle to achieve a political compromise based on the equality of Jews and Arabs will shift from intergovernmental diplomacy, including at the UN, to Palestinian resistance initiatives and global solidarity efforts, both political undertakings of people not governments or international institutions. The two-state solutions has surely died alongside Oslo diplomacy, except in the mouths of diplomats who need to keep saying something. And yet an authoritative one-state alternative that is reflective of Palestinian and Israeli rights has not been born. Until such a birth takes place there may be temporary ceasefires and pauses in the violence but nothing resembling genuine peace.

 

To establish peace, Israel will have to make a major decision to accept a coexistence of equals with the Palestinian people. This also means dismantling its apartheid matrix of control that has been fragmenting the Palestinian people (as occupied, as refugees and exiles, as discriminated minority in Israel) ever since 1948. This kind of solution can only occur if pressure from within and without mount to the point that Israelis recalculate their interests, coming to the unexpected conclusion that they are better off living in real peace with Palestinians rather than hoping to keep them permanently confined in a variety of iron cages. The South African managers of their apartheid regime came to such a startling conclusion 25 years ago. It has already taken Israeli leaders far longer, with no good end in sight. We should never foreclose a benign future achieved through resistance and solidarity. This more hopeful scenario might begin to unfold if more of the media began fulfilling its own claims of offering trustworthy and objective reportage, especially on controversial issues of war and peace. Not only would this help resolve the Israel/Palestine struggle, it would restore confidence that a responsibly informed society would more often take the side of peace and justice, and compel their leaders to do the same, or face short career horizons.

 

Tennis: Passing the Torch in 2019?

18 Nov

Passing the Torch at the Nitto ATP Tennis Finals for 2019?

 

The fact that Stephanos Tsitsipas, aged 21, beat Domenic Thiem, 26, in the ATP Finals that pit the eight players with the best records in tennis during the 2019 season is not so meaningful in itself until one realizes that Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer were among the eight, and only Federer reached the semis. Tsitsipas took out Federer in straight sets, and Thiem similarly beat Alexander Zverev, another high ranked rising star. With rankings and loads of money riding on the outcome this London finale has almost the drama of a Grand Slam.

 

And this year, perhaps its significance for tennis enthusiasts will seem greater than the outcome of the four prior Grand Slams. With uncharacteristic caution I predict that we have seen the end of the three-person hegemony that has dominated men’s tennis for more than fifteen years. In the year ahead the ranking will tighten, and the likes of Tsitsipas, Thiem, Medvedev, Zverev, and Berrettini (the finalists other than the Big Three) will share the headlines and high-profile trophies in 2020.

 

I may look foolish a year from now, and wouldn’t mind if I did so. Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer might defy my prediction, as well as their age! And their dominance of tennis based on perfecting distinct styles of play has brought so much delight to tennis lovers that if the cosmos were premised on justice they would never be dethroned!

Becoming 89: A Poem

13 Nov

Becoming 89

 

Somehow as the sun sets

The thrill of being alive startles

 

Is it love alone

Or your starlit smile

 

The play of Istanbul

The enchantment of kediler

 

This thrill of life persists

Despite the world

 

Despite unimaginable

And hideous atrocities

 

We must not avert our eyes

Or escape to the suburbs of the mind

 

The faith of this hour

Is anxious patience

 

Panic prescribed as sanity

‘Thanks Greta’

 

Remember to observe bravery

Along the Gaza fence

 

Remember refugees

Human and desperate

 

And those killed and maimed

Because their skin is darker

 

Or their god(s) differ

Despite being the same

 

Then and only then

Succumb to flowers and maidens

 

Only then visit forests

To bless magical animals

 

While living and dying

Keep your gaze, affirm

 

This impossible faith

By smiles, by tears

 

This forever fervor

Keeping birthdays precious

 

To be old and engaged

Is to be truly young

 

To be old and enraged

Is to be truly young

 

To affirm the affirmable

And fight the abominable

 

Is to be truly young

Great fortune at 89

 

 

 

 

Richard Falk

Istanbul, November 13, 2019

Did the West Win the Cold War?

6 Nov

Did the West Win the Cold War?

 

 Posing the Question

 Such a question seems little more than a provocation until the effects of the interval between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the present are critically examined in relation to their principal effects. On closer inspection I am not quite prepared, although almost so, to say that the peoples of the world lost ground as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and emergence of the United States as the so-called ‘sole surviving superpower.’

 

Generally, it was rather automatically assumed almost never challenged, that the outcome of the Cold War was a victory for liberal values, including human rights, political democracy, economic growth, and certainly world peace. There was the added popular view that since democracies supposedly do not go to war against each other, and if Communism was discredited on both ideological and materialist grounds, then democracy would spread naturally and quickly, and the world would become in the process more peaceful and its people better off.

 

It was also assumed with the end of strategic conflict among the most powerful states that substantial resources would be freed to devote more generously to improving the social and economic wellbeing, end extreme poverty, protect the environment, and invest in the renewal of aging infrastructures of countries in the West long stressed by the security rigors of the Cold War.

 

This positive sense of the end of the Cold War was powerfully reinforced by the ideological self-confidence that produced such triumphalist expressions as ‘the end of history’ or ‘the second American century.’ The outcome was seen as a moral victory for capitalist democracies and a defeat for socialist authoritarian states. Even China seemed throw in its red towel, zestfully embracing its new role as a rising star in the capitalist world market, and many countries, especially in Asia did grow at unprecedented rates, raising living standards beyond all expectations and attaining a higher status as international actors. The legitimacy of capitalism and constitutionalism were not seriously challenged as the legitimate foundations of world order for the first time in 150 years, underscoring the demoralization of the political left, and its disappearance of the left and fascist right as political forces almost everywhere.

 

Without doubt, the United States could have taken advantage of this global setting to champion a post-Cold War global reform movement in ways that would in all likelihood have been benevolent, but it chose not to do so. Instead, it gave its energies to taking short-term materialist advantage of the geopolitical vacuum created by the abrupt Soviet withdrawal from the global scene. One can only wonder how the world might have evolved if a Gorbachev-like leader who espoused a global vision was running the show in Washington while Russia produced someone with the mentality of Reagan or the elder Bush, neither of whom embraced ideas any more enlightened than making the world safe for American economic, political, and cultural hegemony.

 

 

American Geopolitical Myopia

 

In more concrete terms this meant giving priority in American foreign policy to such retrograde global goals as ‘full-spectrum dominance’ with respect to military superiority and in solidifying its global sphere of influence, what was sometimes given historical specificity as ‘the globalization of the Monroe Doctrine.’ George H. W. Bush did use the occasion of the First Gulf War in 1991 to proclaim ‘a new world order,’ by which he meant that the UN could become the geopolitical instrument of the West that it was intended to be in 1945—a peacekeeping mechanism to promote Western interests, which in that instance meant restoring Kuwaiti sovereignty after Iraq’s aggression and annexation. Washington, soon worried by seemingly vesting authority, responsibility, and expectations in the UN, even as as a geopolitical legitimating tool, and quickly abandoned the new world order, put the idea ‘back on the shelf’ as a prominent American diplomat at the time put it. Bush’s Secretary of State told a private gathering shortly after the First Gulf War that his boss made a mistake by connecting the new world order with UN peacekeeping rather than with spread of neoliberal globalization to the four corners of the planet. American global idealism, always hedged by a realist calculus, was definitely undergoing a normative eclipse.

 

If the elder Bush had seen the collapse of the Soviet Union as something more than a geopolitical checkmate, we might be living in a different, more hopeful and responsible world. He had the visionary opportunity to strengthen the UN in a variety of ways, including weakening the right of veto, increasing popular participation by establishing a world parliament, proposing a global tax to achieve more independent financing, and calling for a serious world nuclear disarmament conference that might also have directed attention toward the broader horizons of global demilitarization, but it was not to be. Militarism was too entrenched in government and the private sector. More generally, capitalism was seen as having proven itself the most robust and creative means of fostering wealth and growth, and creating decent societies, that the world had ever known. Unlike World Wars I & II, the Cold War despite the language and periodic crises and dangerous confrontations, didn’t end with widespread elite or public anxieties that it was necessary to adopt important measures to avoid any repetition, which could be construed either as Cold War II or World War II. The triumphalist mood engendered an unchallenged mood geopolitical complacency toward the future, which had the ironic effect of creating a materialist obsessiveness, a kind of market-driven Marxism (that is, neoliberal globalization) that celebrated and depended upon a consumerist ethos that disregarded the damage being done to the physical, cultural, and psycho-political environments of humanity.

 

 

 

 

Why the West Lost the Cold War

 

Why, then, even if account is taken of these emergent patterns, should we take seriously my provocation that more critically considered, the West actually lost the Cold War? I will give my responses in abbreviated form.

 

–the end of the Cold War created an open road for predatory capitalism: the collapse of socialism as an alternative approach to economic development and state/society relations cleared the ideological path, leading Western leaders to be comfortable about regarding capitalism as ‘the only game in town.’ Without the ideological challenge of socialism, backed by the geopolitical leverage of the Soviet Union, capitalism felt a declining need to show a human face, becoming a victim of its own success. In practice, this meant rolling back social protection, weakening regulation, and privileging the efficiency of capital over the wellbeing of people. [See my Predatory Globalization: A Critique, Polity Press, 1999] In other words, capitalism needed the challenges posed by socialism and a vibrant labor movement to realize its own humanist potentials. In its post-Cold War enactment, preoccupations with economic growth were useful political distractions from the rising inequality and the adoption of a precautionary approach to increasing ecological concerns.

 

–the end of the Cold War induced after twenty years a process that led to the legitimation of democratically elected autocratic leadership that manipulated public outrage over failures to raise lower and middle class living standards, while catering to the ultra-rich. In this respect, due to the disappearance of ideological cleavages, the phenomenon of ‘choiceless democracies’ discouraged political participation, making political parties unsatisfactory vehicles for divergent political views and as sources of creative solutions for societal challenges. The Democratic Party seemed pragmatically as tied to Wall Street and Goldman Sachs as were the ideologically aligned Republicans.

 

–the end of the Cold War led the United States to lose a sense of direction, seemingly adrift when it lost the Soviet Union as its ‘indispensable enemy,’ seeming essential for achieving social cohesion and a wider sense of purpose. This loss was most controversially, yet effectively, articulated by Samuel Huntington in his Foreign Affairs article, “The Clash of Civilizations.” His postulate of ‘the West against the rest,’ with particular attention to political Islam exerting pressures along the fault lines of Western Civilization, was given aa decisive, although misleadinng credibility by the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the two symbolic embodiments of American power—trade and war-making. In some respects, the anarchic character of global terrorism was a more disruptive threat to the security of the established order than was the Cold War. Insecurity became pervasive, verging on hysteria, complicating lives and underscoring that after the Cold War the world had become a global battlefield with no place, however well protected by military means escaping the torments of vulnerability and the inconveniences of ‘watch lists,’ intrusive surveillance, security checks at airports, public buildings, and even hotels and stores. In this context Iran has become the statist embodiment of the indispensable enemy, with China and Russia as default options. When the indispensable enemy lacks deterrent capabilities, dangers of military confrontation heightened, especially as her, that the enemy is pronounced ‘evil,’ and such a tag is reciprocated by the weaker adversary.

 

–the end of the Cold War strengthened the political will in Washington to make the world order more congenial in light of the foregoing considerations, with particular attention to the Middle East due to a sense of dependence on access to the oil reserves of the region. What was championed as ‘democracy promotion’ was tried in the Iraq War of 2003, generating a series of disastrous reactions ranging from a costly intervention and occupation that achieved none of its strategic goals relating to democracy, containment of Iranian influence,  permanent military bases, reduced oil prices, and a victory over counterterrorism. In fact, the American occupation of Iraq was administered in a highly dysfunctional manner that not only generated national resistance, but gave rise to the most extremist non-state political formation the modern world has ever known, ISIS or Daesh, as well as to the disruptive intensification of sectarian tensions within Iraq and regionally. In effect, the end of the Cold War leading to Soviet collapse and disengagement, allowed the United States to pursue in a less restrained manner more ambitious goals, yet still leading to disastrous results. Regime-changing interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya resulted in quagmires or in political outcomes that undercut the initial goals, spread turmoil and distrust of American global leadership. Only late in 2019 does there seem to be some hope for restored regional stability due to the frustration of U.S. goals, Russian reinvolvement during the terminal stages of the Syrian ‘international civil war,’ and Saudi moving toward a possible accommodation with Iran. The unappreciated irony is that the last best hope for stability in the region is to restore a geopolitical discipline that encourages all actors to behave more cautiously.

 

–the end of the Cold War has serious diminished the quality of world order in several crucial dimension, including even the likelihood of war fought with nuclear weapons. With less incentive to ensure war prevention and maintain alliance cohesion and in light of greater political independence by many states, international cooperation has declined at the very time when it is most needed in relation to ecological protection (climate change, biodiversity, acidification and rising sea levels). Combat and climate change have induced large-scale migratory movements that have pushed many more affluent countries in ultra-nationalist directions with adverse consequences for human rights, democratic forms of governance, international law, and the authority of and support for the UN System (as expressed by withheld dues and budgetary stresses). When the Cold War raged, the West used internationalism and humanitarian diplomacy not only as venues for propaganda, but to gain the higher moral, ideological, and political terrain in relations to the Soviet Union and socialist management of the economy. With the Soviet collapse, countries pursued economic gains in imprudently in ways that produced the current crises of inequality and corruption in many countries and a general situation of ecological malaise.  

 

 

 

 

 

A Concluding Note

 

This contrarian argument does not contend that the Soviet Union (or Russia) won the Cold War, although after a period of decline and austerity, the return of Russia to the ranks of geopolitical leaders with less ideological and imperial baggage (considering the independence of countries in East Europe and Central Asia), such a case could and perhaps should be made.

 

The main claim in this essay is that the end of the Cold War was not, as triumphalists claimed, so much of a victory for world capitalism in its neoliberal modes and of constitutional democracy as it was assumed to be in the early 1990s. It became an occasion for less regulated economic globalization and for new violent political encounters that has made the world into a global battlefield in an unresolvable struggle between non-state extremist multinational networks and various established sovereign states. In the process, due to internal and international moves away from global responsibility by the United States, a global leadership vacuum has emerged while a variety of unchecked dangerous trends imperil the human future.

 

The initiial, and perhaps decisive failure to assert global leadership after the end of the Cold War involved a failure at a moment of global fluidity to seek reforms to facilitate various forms of environmental protection, denuclearization and demilitarization, and the enhancement of the normative order via a stronger UN and a greater acceptance of international law as serving the national interests of geopolitical actors. The United States enjoyed the historic opportunity to lead such an effort, but other countries were remiss in not putting forward proposals and creating pressures that might have induced more constructive American behavior at such a potentially opportune time. It seems especially a lost opportunity from the perspective of the present in which cosmopolitan sentiments have been so pervasively pushed aside by nativist forms of ultra-nationalism.

Declining Protection of Human Rights: Why?

31 Oct

The Future of Human Rights: Regressive Trends and Restorative Prospects

 

Points of Departure

 

Reviewing the global situation, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zaed Raad Al Hussein of Jordan, opened a 2018 conference devoted to the 25th anniversary of the 1993 UN Conference on Human Rights and Development held in Vienna, on a decidedly pessimistic note. Instead of doing the usual on such occasions, that is, celebrating the progress made since the earlier event, Prince Zaed emphasized the disturbing evidence of regression with respect to a broad range of issues bearing on the protection of human rights embedded in international treaty instruments as evidenced by the practice of states. He insisted that without fundamental changes in patterns of governance by sovereign states and in the operation of the world economy it would be naïve to expect an improved international atmosphere for human rights.

 

In the background of these remarks was the realization that we live in a state-centric world, which means that there is a significant degree of correlation between the quality of national governance and the presence of a political will on the part of leaders of sovereign states that is dedicated to the realization of human rights. In this regard the most important factor contributing to the declining protection of human rights is the disturbing global trend since the year 2000 away from liberal democracies and toward illiberal democracies. The essence of illiberalism is a resurgent nationalism that devalues international sources of authority such as international law and the UN, and exhibits an unconditional reliance on sovereign rights to act autonomously unless their internal public order system challenges geopolitical strategic priorities (as is currently the case with Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba). At this time, there are almost no important countries that have not embraced this hyper-nationalism of illiberal democracy, which is generally abetted by an autocratic governing style that is impatient with constraints associated with constitutionalism and the rule of law.

 

The more human rights form of liberalism is especially concerned with patterns of governing, avoiding the abuse of citizens by oppressive mechanisms and facilitating participation in the governing process by way of political parties and rights of free expression. This liberal perspective tends to overlook the relevance of economic dimensions, including the impact of the market and the establishment of social protection mechanisms to overcome poverty and to meet needs of individuals relating to health, education, and housing. The collapse of the Soviet Union was interpreted in the West as demonstrating the superiority of capitalism and the failure of socialism, which also had the effect of removing socialism as a political alternative in many countries, which contributed to the rise of unrestrained capitalism internationally and nationally, definitely weakening the performance records of governments with respect  to economic and social rights quite independently of the trend toward illiberal democratic leadership. The efforts by the United Nations to put forward Sustainable Development Goals associated with economic and social challenges substitutes a voluntary process of governmental policymaking for the obligatory commitments of international human rights law, and seems to lack the kind of political traction needed for reaching the ambitious goals set for attainment by 2030.

 

Ever since 1945 the leader of international liberalism was the United States, which gave human rights considerable visibility in the Cold War Era. The liberal West regarded human rights as essentially reduced in scope to civil and political rights while the socialist East proclaimed their support of economic and social rights as providing the material pre-conditons of human dignity for all. Human rights in these two forms were a competitive ideological focus for these geopolitical rivals, strongly reinforced in the West by the emergence of transnationally organized NGOs dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights, but overwhelmingly associating human rights with civil and political rights, and not according serious attention to economic, social, and cultural rights. This civil society activism led many observers to conclude that human rights only concerned political and civil rights, a view never accepted in the global South, which tended to privilege economic, social, and cultural rights. In truth, the U.S., much more than its more social democratic European allies, never accepted the view that ‘human rights’ extended to the material needs of people, and always viewed such help ambivalently, as given by governments at their discretionrather than as a matter of obligation. This meant that even the provision of food or health care was voluntary, and not a matter of right. With the style and substance of Trump’s leadership, it has become clear that the international human rights of vulnerable people do not inform public policy unless market manipulations operate to raise wages, reduce unemployment, and improve living standards. Human rights, as rooted in international sources of legal and moral authority, are rendered irrelevant by such an orientation, and are viewed as obstacles to the efficient promotion of investment and trade, which according to such thinking, operate best when governed by market forces rather than by moral sentiments and legal norms.

 

During the Cold War there was some political motivations for achieving progress with respect to human rights, especially after Jimmy Carter in 1976 made human rights an essential feature of American foreign policy. In the following years, the ideological rivalry with the Soviet Bloc led both sides to claim that their version of human rights was superior to that of their adversary. In essence, the Western claim was that the freedom of the individual was being protected, while in the Soviet bloc the claim was that the collective wellbeing of society was upheld. The practical influence of human rights reached its climax in the anti-apartheid campaign that combined pressure exerted inter-governmentally and by way of the UN with influences of transnational grassroots activism, especially via sanctions and boycotts, given expression in a robust BDS set of initiatives. With illiberal democracies now running the international show, the sun has set temporarily for the human rights movement, and is further threatened by ongoing and unmet challenges throughout the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Threats and Challenges to Human Rights

 

Against this background, a number of threats can be mentioned as intensifying the trend toward the decline of human rights as a framework relevant to the behavior of states internally (state/society relations) and internationally (state to state relations). Basically, the current atmosphere highlighting the legitimacy of ultra-nationalism from a geopolitical standpoint translates at the level of policy into a reciprocal posture of ‘see no evil, hear no evil,’ and thus shields from accountability those that ‘do evil’ to their own people and to others. Rather than provide full expositions of the most salient developments adverse to the implementation of human rights, threat will be enumerated and identified:

 

  • Exclusionary nationalism: hostility to those seeking asylum due to forced departures from combat zones or economic/ecological disaster areas leading to a global migration crisis expected to worsen in coming years; illiberal responses include walls, detention centers, mistreatments, family separations, arbitrary and cruel deportation procedures and policies. Discriminatory attitudes toward immigrants, especially severe if racist criteria of exclusion relied upon.
  • Autocratic political leadership: autocrats are intolerant of dissent and oppositional activity, which leads to interferences with freedom of expression, control of media and criminalization of oppositional journalism, interferences with academic freedom, endorsement of excessive force and police brutality, suppression of minorities, violence against dissenters.
  • Remnants of Colonialism: international failures to implement the right of self-determination, including dismantling of oppressive structures, in relation to several outstanding unresolved conflicts associated with European colonialism, including Palestine, Kashmir, Western Sahara. These failures produce prolonged suffering for entire peoples who are systematically oppressed.
  • Counterterrorism: reliance on torture, denial of POW status to terrorist suspects, non-compliance with international humanitarian law (Geneva Conventions), drone warfare on battlefields without boundaries. Modern states find themselves vulnerable to terrorist tactics, and often suspend their compliance with human rights standards to secure information or to express a vindictive hatred of such adversaries.
  • Capitalism: deference to market forces, capital over people, with gross inequality and poverty resulting, and economic and social rights completely marginalized as normative limits on public policy.
  • Climate Change: the failure to take prudent steps to control greenhouse gas emissions in conformity to the consensus among climate scientists encroaches upon and threatens the right to life and the right to health, among other rights, and completely rejects the efforts to achieve an international order capable of and dedicated to the realization of human rights for all, an encompassing obligation set forth in Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Technological Innovation: the expected accelerated reliance on robots and automation threatens the livelihoods of millions throughout the world, and undermines prospects for decent work; the meta-data surveillance by state and market forces subverts privacy and threatens fundamental freedoms; genetic engineering poses additional threats to human dignity that are not yet fully appreciated or even understood.

 

 

 

 

Expectations for the Future

 

The most haunting questions concern whether these pressures adverse to compliance with and implementation of human rights are likely to diminish or even be reversed in the years ahead. A number of key factors to consider will be identified here as questions, but as with the case of adverse trends, the issues will not be fully discussed.

 

  • Can Liberal Democracy be Restored and Enhanced? It would seem that prospects for restoring and enhancing liberal democracy vary from country to country, and reflect particular conditions involving the procedures for selecting leaders and the strength of legislative or parliamentary institutions and judicial independence, the resilience of the constitutional order, the gravity of perceived security threats, role of money, impact of special interest lobbies, corporatized media. Enhancement of liberalism would involve two broad sets of developments—the inclusion of economic and social rights as internationally protected human rights and the recognition that climate change and declining biodiversity have major impacts on fundamental human rights.

 

  • Can the Global Migration Crisis be Resolved or Mitigated at its Source? It appears that migration pressures will be resisted by countries that feel threatened by large-scale entry of immigrants, especially if their arrival is massive and without legal documentation. The only solution in a state-centric system of world order is by addressing as many of the conditions giving rise to departure and displacement through economic assistance and a global approach to conflict resolution and economic/ecological crises.

 

  • Can American or Equivalent Responsible Global Leadership be Restored or Enhanced? The 2020 US elections may overcome the current global leadership vacuum if a more internationally oriented American president is elected, especially if the new leader values international law, the UN, and human rights, and is sensitive to the importance of international cooperative given ecological imperatives. It is also possible that other configurations of responsible global leadership will emerge. China, Russia, the EU each could help restore current leadership responsive to global challenges either by their individual initiative or in a collaborative relationship. Trump self-consciously relinquished the non-militarist sides of America’s prior leadership role, proclaiming that he was elected president of the United States, not the world. The future of international human rights depends on benevolent global leadership.

 

 

  • Will the deepening Ecological Crisis give rise to more Effective Global Governance? In effect, will the increasing evidence of deteriorating ecological stability resulting from global warming, diminished biodiversity, and other signs of disharmony between human activity and the natural surrounding act as a wakeup call for the elites and publics of the world, inducing an atmosphere of urgency that includes vesting greater authority in international institutions and an international framework of environmental regulation? So far, the reactions have been dominated by short-termism accompanied by denialism and escapism, with the default option being technological innovation when the situation impinges to an extent that can no longer be denied. As a consequence human rights are weakened, especially in relation to the right to life and health.

 

  • Will the Prominence of Post-Human Scenarios hasten the Recognition of a Bio-Ethical Crisis? We are increasingly confronted by end-of-the-world scenarios based on the occurrence of a variety of apocalyptic events or assessments that the planet is on its way to becoming uninhabitable. Will this reality of bio-eco-ethical-spiritual crisis lead to the formulation of new radical thought and political movement responsive to the challenges, reflecting the recognition that present modes of problem-solving and policy-making are not capable of providing adequate responses?

 

 

  • Can Capitalism be Reformed Sufficiently to be Reconciled with Humane Global Governance? To address the adverse trends it will be necessary, at minimum, to evolve a more regulated world economy that is sensitive to ethical and ecological considerations. This requires limits on profitability, consumerism, and environmental disregard, including on release of greenhouse gasses. It may be that some fusion of capitalism and socialism would be alone capable of preserving the autonomies of the private sectors with the responsibilities to uphold human rights, including rights of the unborn. This could happen as the extreme inequalities of income and wealth create a public mood seeking a more equitable and sustainable brand of economic development more in accord with the norms contained in the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

 

  • Does a Positive Future for Humanity Depend on a Politics of Impossibility? The present world situation suggests two points of attention: a series of dystopian trends as offset by the realization that only utopian solutions can bring relief and nurture hope. Politics as the art of the possible seems very inadequate as response to the challenges facing a human rights culture except to lengthen the interval available for adjustments, but this will fall short both of what is needed and what is desirable. To meet needs and satisfy desires depends then on the emergence and embrace of ‘a politics of impossibility.’ It is important to recognize that what seems impossible happens—for instance, the collapse of worldwide European colonialism, the transformation of the South African apartheid regime, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the attainment of gay rights in many settings. The impossible happens when enough people insist through thought, action, and faith that it must happen. Change of this fundamental sort comes from below in unpredicted surges, which themselves constitute responses to populist discontent and struggle.

 

 

Conclusion

 

The main objective of this essay is to sketch the profound challenges to human rights that arise from a series of interrelated and overlapping developments, and to give some sense that to restore and enhance human rights is a difficult undertaking that now seems almost impossible given the ultra-nationalist outlook of the governments of most leading states. Yet the future is uncertain, and will be influenced by what peoples variously situated choose to do or refrain from doing. Under these conditions of menace and uncertainty there is every reason to struggle for what is necessary and desirable even if it seems presently impossible of attainment.