Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Democratic politics became a puppet show

There’s a good article from George Monbiot today, highlighting the obvious but usually unmentionable point that the British (and American) political system has been entirely captured by the corporations. They really run the country, with the politicians simply fronting the show.

Jnathan Cook

Implicitly echoing Russell Brand’s point about the futility of voting, Monbiot notes that Britain’s Labour party is now just another party of capital, making the British political system a mirror of the US one:

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown purged the party of any residue of opposition to corporations and the people who run them. That’s what New Labour was all about. Now opposition MPs stare mutely as their powers are given away to a system of offshore arbitration panels run by corporate lawyers.

Since Blair, parliament operates much as Congress in the United States does: the lefthand glove puppet argues with the righthand glove puppet, but neither side will turn around to face the corporate capital that controls almost all our politics.

There’s even a rare dig at the liberal media – in this case, the BBC – for conspiring in this charade.

That the words corporate power seldom feature in the corporate press is not altogether surprising. It’s more disturbing to see those parts of the media that are not owned by Rupert Murdoch or Lord Rothermere acting as if they are.

For example, for five days every week the BBC’s Today programme starts with a business report in which only insiders are interviewed. They are treated with a deference otherwise reserved for God on Thought for the Day. There’s even a slot called Friday Boss, in which the programme’s usual rules of engagement are set aside and its reporters grovel before the corporate idol. Imagine the outcry if Today had a segment called Friday Trade Unionist or Friday Corporate Critic.

This, in my view, is a much graver breach of BBC guidelines than giving unchallenged airtime to one political party but not others, as the bosses are the people who possess real power – those, in other words, whom the BBC has the greatest duty to accost. Research conducted by the Cardiff school of journalism shows business representatives now receive 11% of airtime on the BBC’s 6 o’clock news (this has risen from 7% in 2007), while trade unionists receive 0.6% (which has fallen from 1.4%). Balance? Impartiality? The BBC puts a match to its principles every day.

Monbiot’s basic assumption here is questionable. He suggests that those media not owned by proprietors like Murdoch are not part of the corporate press. The implication is that the BBC is only acting as if it is owned by a corporation, when in fact it isn’t. There is a further implication that the Guardian – Monbiot’s employer – is not only not owned by a corporation but that it also doesn’t behave as if it is.

The reality is that the trusts overseeing the BBC and the Guardian are simply foils to distract us from the fact that they are as much embedded in the corporate world as the Murdoch-owned media. More


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Palestinian villages as "props" in Israel's military training

A cemetery; usually a place for loss and remembrance; grief and commemoration. However in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, a cemetery is also a place for military training.

The bodies that fill the graves are Palestinians; the soldiers partaking in the military training are Israelis serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). This is the image captured on video by activists from Israeli human rights group Yesh Din just over a week ago.

In the Muslim cemetery the Israeli soldiers were simulating the breakup of a demonstration. Some were dressed as Palestinian protestors, whilst an armed unit was charged with dispersing the demonstration. The armed soldiers fanned out across the cemetery, weaving through graves as they made their way to break-up the "mock" peaceful protest.

"We were shocked to discover last week that training was taking place in a cemetery in Hebron, in blunt disregard of the sensitivities of local civilians," said Yesh Din attorney Emily Schaeffer. "I find it hard to believe that the IDF would hold training of this type in a Jewish cemetery, or in any Jewish neighborhood in the West Bank or within Israel."

The incident in the Hebron cemetery is part of the ongoing recruitment of Palestinian villages and homes for IDF military training. Under the auspices of "training," IDF soldiers can invade Palestinian villages, without informing the residents, and with no "legal obstacles".

The legality of training inside Palestinian villages is anchored in the principles of "belligerent occupation," Military Advocate Generals deputy prosecutor for the IDF's operational affairs, Major Harel Weinberg concluded last week, in a document written in response to a complaint filed by Yesh Din. The complaint was filed following a series of similar training incidents involving Palestinian villages.

"The military commander is obliged to maintain security and public order in the Judea and Samaria Region (Israel's name for the occupied West Bank). In order to maintain the capability of the IDF forces to carry out this mission, the IDF is forced to hold exercises, sometimes in populated areas," read the document.

Still, Weinberg wrote that troops taking part in such training were required to "avoid putting the population at risk, damaging their property or causing unreasonable disturbance to their daily routine."

An Israeli soldier who is now a member of "Breaking the Silence", an organization of veteran IDF soldiers working to expose the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories, commented in response to Weinberg's response:

"How can an entire army battalion pass through a village without disrupting its inhabitants' daily routine? How can we train for days near a civilian population without causing damage to their property? How can we train with live bullets while ensuring that no one will be injured?"

"Imagine a massive amount of infantry troops all around, with explosions shaking the earth under your feet. Tanks and attack helicopters open fire as soldiers run through the village setting off stun grenades. There's a lot of noise. It is important to note that at no point did I stop for a second to think about the fact that we were training around villages where regular people live their daily lives."

In 1972, a pro-Palestine Israeli media outlet, the soldier said that Palestinians were "little more than props" to some Israeli soldiers:

"I heard testimonies about soldiers who trained by breaking into homes on which there was no suspicious intelligence information. They would force the entire family in one room, search the house, and leave. I learned about how the army's canine unit would train by searching random cars that simply want to pass through a checkpoint (soldiers would hide explosives in the car and let the dogs turn rummage through the whole car until they find them).

I learned about detaining innocent people – what we called a "mock arrest" – who have no idea where we came from or what we wanted from them, and then suddenly releasing them."

Included in the numerous incidents that prompted Yesh Din to file a complaint was the simulation of a "mock" attack on the village of Imatin in May, where around 100 armed soldiers spread out amongst the homes. The practice assault on a house using specialized equipment during the Muslim holy holiday of Ramadan and while the family were sitting in the garden and some members were still inside the house.

In 2012, three brothers were shot, one later died, after apprehending agents from the Israeli undercover unit "Duvdevan" whom they had mistaken for thieves. The agents were conducting an infiltration practice drill. More


Israel’s gains from the death of Arafat cannot be ignored

It seems there are still plenty of parties who would prefer that the death of the long-time Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat continues to be treated as a mystery rather than as an assassination.

Yasser Arafat

It is hard, however, to avoid drawing the logical conclusion from the finding last week by Swiss scientists that the Palestinian leader’s body contained high levels of a radioactive isotope, polonium-210. An inconclusive and much more limited study by a Russian team published immediately after the Swiss announcement also suggests Arafat died from poisoning.

It is time to state the obvious: Arafat was killed. And suspicion falls squarely on Israel.

Israel alone had the means, track record, stated intention and motive. Without Israel’s fingerprints on the murder weapon, it may be impossible to secure a conviction in a court of law, but there should be evidence enough to convict Israel in the court of world opinion.

Israel had access to polonium from its nuclear reactor in Dimona, and has a long record of carrying out political assassinations, some ostentatious and others covert, often using hard-to-trace chemical agents. There is also plenty of evidence that Israel wanted Arafat “removed”. In January 2002, Shaul Mofaz, Israel’s military chief of staff, was caught on a microphone whispering to Israel’s then prime minister, Ariel Sharon, about Arafat: “We have to get rid of him.”

With the Palestinian leader holed up for more than two years in his battered compound in Ramallah, surrounded by Israeli tanks, the debate in the Israel government centred on whether he should be exiled or killed.

In September 2003, the cabinet even issued a warning that Israel would “remove this obstacle in a manner, and at a time, of its choosing”. The then-deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, clarified that killing Arafat was “one of the options”.

What stayed Israel’s hand – and fuelled its equivocal tone – was Washington’s adamant opposition. After these threats, Colin Powell, the US former secretary of state, warned that a move against Arafat would trigger “rage throughout the Arab world”.

By April 2004, however, Mr Sharon declared he was no longer obligated by his earlier commitment to George Bush not to “harm Arafat physically”. “I am released from that pledge,” he said. The White House too indicated a weakening of its stance: an unnamed spokesman responded feebly that the US “opposed any such action”.

So what about motive? How did Israel gain from “removing” Arafat? To understand Israel’s thinking, one needs to return to another debate raging at that time, among Palestinians.

The Palestinian leadership was split into two camps, centred on Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, then Arafat’s heir apparent. The pair had starkly divergent strategies for dealing with Israel.

In Arafat’s view, Israel had reneged on commitments it made in the Oslo accords. He was therefore loath to invest exclusively in the peace process. He wanted a twin strategy: keeping open channels for talks while maintaining the option of armed resistance to pressure Israel. For this reason, he kept a tight personal grip on the Palestinian security forces.

Mr Abbas, on the other hand, believed that armed resistance was a gift to Israel, delegitimising the Palestinian struggle. He wanted to focus exclusively on negotiations and state-building, hoping to exert indirect pressure on Israel by proving to the international community that the Palestinians could be trusted with statehood. His priority was cooperating closely with the US and Israel in security matters. More


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Stealing a Nation

'Stealing A Nation' is an extraordinary film about the plight of the Chagos Islands, whose indigenous population was secretly and brutally expelled by British Governments in the late 1960s and early 1970s to make way for an American military base.

The tragedy, which falls within the remit of the International Criminal Court as "a crime against humanity", is told by Islanders who were dumped in the slums of Mauritius and by British officials who left behind a damning trail of Foreign Office documents.

Before the Americans came, more than 2,000 people lived on the islands in the Indian Ocean, many with roots back to the late 18th century. There were thriving villages, a school, a hospital, a church, a railway and an undisturbed way of life. The islands were, and still are, a British crown colony. In the 1960s, the government of Harold Wilson struck a secret deal with the United States to hand over the main island of Diego Garcia. The Americans demanded that the surrounding islands be "swept" and "sanitized". Unknown to Parliament and to the US Congress and in breach of the United Nations Charter, the British Government plotted with Washington to expel the entire population.

After demonstrating on the streets of Mauritius in 1982, the exiled islanders were given the derisory compensation of less than £3,000 per person by the British government. In the film, former inhabitants Rita Bancoult and Charlesia Alexis tell of how, in accepting the money, they were tricked into signing away their right to return home: "It was entirely improper, unethical, dictatorial to have the Chagossian put their thumbprint on an English legal, drafted document, where the Chagossian, who doesn’t read, know or speak any English, let alone any legal English, is made to renounce basically all his rights as a human being."

Today, the main island of Diego Garcia is America's largest military base in the world, outside the US. There are more than 4,000 troops, two bomber runways, thirty warships and a satellite spy station. The Pentagon calls it an "indispensable platform" for policing the world. It was used as a launch pad for the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The truth about the removal of the Chagossians and the Whitehall conspiracy to deny there was an indigenous population did not emerge for another twenty years, when files were unearthed at the Public Record Office, in Kew, by the historian Mark Curtis, John Pilger and lawyers for the former inhabitants of the coral archipelago, who were campaigning for a return to their homeland.

John Pilger first become aware of the plight of the Chagossians in 1982, during the Falklands War: "It was pointed out to me that Britain had sent a fleet to go and save two thousand Falkland Islanders at the other end of the world while two thousand British citizens in islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean had been expelled by British governments and the only difference was that one lot were white and the others were black. The other difference was that the United States wanted the Chagos Islands - and especially Diego Garcia - as a major base. So nothing was said, which tells us something about the ruthlessness of governments, especially imperial governments."

In June 2004, shortly before Stealing a Nation’s television screening, the British Government had issued an order-in-council, a royal decree using archaic powers invested in the Queen, bypassing Parliament and the High Court, to ban the Islanders from ever returning home. "The Queen rubber-stamps what in many cases politicians know they can’t get away with democratically," said Pilger. "Dictators do this, but without the quaint ritual."

In May 2006, the High Court finally ruled that the Chagossians were entitled to return to their homeland. However, in the summer of 2008, David Miliband and the Foreign Office began another appeal, to the Law Lords, against the High Court’s judgements. They found in favour of the Government.

In April 2010, the British Government established a marine nature reserve around the Chagos Islands. Several months later, WikiLeaks published a US Embassy diplomatic cable from 2009 which read as follows: "Establishing a marine reserve might indeed, as the FCO's [Colin] Roberts stated, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands' former inhabitants or descendants from resettling in the [British Indian Ocean Territory]."

In the film, John Pilger concludes: "Why do we continue to allow our governments to treat people in small countries as either useful or expendable? Why do we accept specious reasons for the unacceptable? The High Court issued one of the most damning indictments of a British government. It said the secret expulsion of the Chagos Islanders was wrong. That judgement must be upheld and the people of a group of beautiful, once peaceful islands must be helped to go home and compensated fully and without delay for their suffering. Anything less diminishes the rest of us."

'Stealing A Nation' was a Granada production for ITV. It was first broadcast on ITV1, 6 October 2004. Directors: John Pilger and Chris Martin. Producer: Chris Martin.

Awards: Best Single Documentary, Royal Television Society Awards, 2005; The Chris Statuette in the Social Issues division, Chris Awards, Columbus International Film & Video Festival, Ohio, 2003

Killing Arafat

From Wikipedia:

Polonium is a very rare element in nature because of the short half-life of all its isotopes. It is found in uranium ores at about 0.1 mg per metric ton (1 part in 1010),[43][44] which is approximately 0.2% of the abundance of radium. The amounts in the Earth's crust are not harmful. Polonium has been found in tobacco smoke from tobacco leaves grown with phosphate fertilizers.[45][46][47]

Because of the small abundance, isolation of polonium from natural sources is a very tedious process. The largest batch was extracted in the first half of the 20th century by processing 37 tonnes of residues from radium production. It contained only 40 Ci (9 mg) of polonium-210.[48] Nowadays, polonium is obtained by irradiating bismuth with high-energy neutrons or protons.[16][49]

In 1934, an experiment showed that when natural 209Bi is bombarded with neutrons, 210Bi is created, which then decays to 210Po via beta-minus decay. The final purification is done pyrochemically followed by liquid-liquid extraction techniques.[50] Polonium may now be made in milligram amounts in this procedure which uses high neutron fluxes found in nuclear reactors.[49] Only about 100 grams are produced each year, practically all of it in Russia, making polonium exceedingly rare.[51][52]

One has therefore to question how many states in the Middle East have nuclear reactors?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Is the world failing Syrians?

The United Nations has warned that the humanitarian situation in Syria is deteriorating rapidly, and it estimates that more than nine million people - almost forty percent of the population - are now in need of help.

Delivery of aid has slowed and some reports suggest there has been little help for many people in need for almost a year.

The UN says the number of people displaced from their homes has risen to 6.5 million, and many are living without adequate food or access to electricity and medical supplies.

Officials of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent say their agency is able access most of the affected areas but the humanitarian aid has not been sufficient.

The figures are staggering, it’s catastrophic, the numbers continue to rise. Now when we have reached this very high figure, if we compare to the previous figures that went out in June when we were talking of about 4.2 million people displaced inside the country, it is not one event that has triggered this. It’s a continuation of conflict. It’s a continuation of the displacement that has now brought us to this horrific number.

Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

"It’s not difficult to get the aid in the country. The main challenge we are facing on the ground is the aid from outside, through our partners, is not enough for the need on the ground," Khaled Erksoussi, the head of operations for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, told Al Jazeera.

"Now we are estimating the number is more than 6 million people internally displaced, yet we are still receiving aid only enough for 2.5 million people to be distributed each month."

Since the unrest began in March 2011, more than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed. More than two million people have fled the country, seeking refuge in neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, as well as in Iraq and Egypt.

The 15-member UN Security Council approved a statement in October, calling for increased humanitarian assistance. But it was non-binding and, speaking in October, humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said it had had little impact on the ground.

"I expressed to the council my deep disappointment that the progress that we had hoped to see on the ground as a result of that statement has not happened, and as a result, what we are seeing is a deepening of the crisis, more and more people affected and, in particular, my worries [are] about the extremely brutal and violent nature of this conflict," she said.

Amos is calling on the Security Council to use its influence over those parties that can ensure the safe passage of medical personnel and supplies, the safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance, the protection of civilians, and those who can help expand critical, life-saving relief operations.

Bashar Jaafari, Syria's ambassador to the UN, said his country has done its part to help humanitarian aid workers on the ground - although he did admit that visas are limited, and not granted to all groups that request access.

"We are issuing too many visas to too many people. We are a sovereign nation like any other nation and we have our own reasons to deny visa to this individual or that individual. This is an integral part of our sovereignty - of any state in the United Nations," he said.

While all this was going on, the World Health Organization confirmed Syria's first outbreak of polio since 1999. At least 10 children have tested positive for polio in the eastern province of Deir az-Zor, with another 12 suffering from paralysis. More


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The REAL truth about Palestine in response to Danny Ayalon

The REAL truth about Palestine in response to Danny Ayalon


Intersstingly enough 22,000 pictures on Palestine have just surfaced in the US Library of Congress. This collection depict the country that the Zionists say did not exist! See


Arafat was killed – just as Sharon promised

Scientists have finally produced the evidence that Yasser Arafat was poisoned, using radioactive polonium. Traces were found in Arafat’s body and the surrounding earth (i.e. after dispersion from decomposition) 18 times higher than normal.

PLO Leader Yasser Arafat

The documentation can be seen here.

Now there aren’t so many countries that have access to polonium, or to the techniques necessary for its use in a political assassination. Israel would be one of those few countries.

But hold on. Israel says it didn’t do it. Here’s spokesman Yigal Palmor:

There’s no way the Palestinians can stick this on us. It’s unreasonable and unsupported by facts.

And Dov Weisglass, adviser to Ariel Sharon, who was Israel’s PM at the time of Arafat’s death, is also adamant that Israel is not culpable.

All of which means that the threats Sharon made in April 2004, a few months before Arafat’s death, to kill the Palestinian leader were simple joshing:

I told the president [George Bush] the following. In our first meeting about three years ago, I accepted your request not to harm Arafat physically. I told him [in the most recent meeting] I understand the problems surrounding the situation, but I am released from that pledge.

The Guardian reported at the time:

Mr Arafat responded by saying he took the threat seriously, but would stand his ground. “I am not afraid of Sharon’s threats. He has a history of attempting to target me.”

Unwisely, many of us had assumed at the time that Sharon was intending to fire a missile, tank shell or sniper’s bullet into the Muqata compound in Ramallah to finish off Arafat. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its track record, Israel preferred something quieter and harder to trace, as it has done so many times before. More


Al-Monitor’s money wasted on Zionist myths

I’m not the first and I won’t be the last person to observe that wealthy Palestinians and Arabs in the West have made no effort to organise or marshall their resources to influence Western opinion equivalent to that done by Jewish elites.

The Old City of Acre

So when we have a rare example of an Arab investing in such a project, one might have assumed he or she would consider very carefully how to use their money to best effect. Not so, it seems.

Jamal Daniel, a Syrian businessman based in the US, has invested part of his vast wealth in creating a website called al-Monitor. Since its inception, I’ve struggled to understand the point of the publication, especially in its Israel-Palestine sections.

Regarding Israel, al-Monitor did little more than poach a group of mainstream Israeli journalists from their Israeli publications, where many of them were already being translated into English. What new perspective on Israel did we get from this move?

Even worse, al-Monior reproduced the most misleading aspects of the existing mainstream coverage on Israel-Palestine by creating two entirely separate sections – the so-called Israel and Palestine Pulses. Senior Israeli journalists get yet another platform to promote the kind of journalism we already have a wealth of, while – in a rather more welcome move – Palestinians in the occupied territories get to write, mostly in translation, about the occupation.

But this clumsy structuring means that an important part of the Israeli-Palestinian story is overlooked: that of Israel’s large Palestinian minority. Their voices go almost completely unheard in Al-Monitor, as do their issues – some of them vital for understanding developments in the conflict.

Strangely, one rare exception was an article about Acre, a “mixed” Jewish-Palestinian city in Israel (disclosure: the report concerned a march I participated in). But even then it was written by a Palestinian living in the West Bank.

This was such an exceptional event, it seems, that it required a very prominent, long and outraged response from Ben Caspit, a veteran Israeli reporter. Caspit’s reply illustrates in detail what is wrong with al-Monitor. It regurgitates a mythical Israeli narrative of victimhood that was discredited by historians more than 20 years ago. No one who has seriously studied the conflict believes this stuff anymore.

There are far too many falsehoods to expend the energy on rebutting them here (that has been done many times before on my website and elsewhere). But one of Caspit’s arguments stands out – not because it is factually incorrect (though it is), but because any person holding this thought in their head should be considered certifiably stupid, were they clearly not suffering from a delusion called Zionism:

One day after Israel declared its independence, seven regular Arab armies invaded the land where some 600,000 practically defenseless Jews were living. The military force of the fledgling Israel was negligible. It had neither weapons nor soldiers. It didn’t have world powers to provide assistance. But Israel nevertheless was able to vanquish its enemies and even expand the areas under its control.

So how his did this miracle take place, Ben? Was it because God intervened on your behalf, defeating those seven armies even though you had no arms to defend yourselves?

This sort of puerile “Chosen people” nonsense familiar from the 1950s and 1960s shouldn’t be being peddled in the Israeli media any longer, let alone paid for by a wealthy American Arab. Daniel, please get a grip and put your money to better use than recycling worn-out Zionist myths that got us into the Middle East mess in the first place. More


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Invisible Horizons of a Just Palestine/Israel Future

I spent last week at the United Nations, meeting with ambassadors of countries in theMiddle East and presenting my final report to the Third Committee of the General Assembly as my term as Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine comes to an end.

Richard Falk

My report emphasized issues relating to corporate responsibility of those companies and banks that are engaged in business relationships with the settlements. Such an emphasis seemed to strike a responsive note with many delegations as a tangible way of expressing displeasure with Israel’s continuing defiance of its international law obligations, especially in relation to the unlawful settlements being provocatively expanded in the West Bank and East Jerusalem at the very moment that the resumption of direct negotiations between the Palestine Authority and the Government of Israel is being heralded as a promising development.

There are two reasons why the corporate responsibility issue seems to be an important tactic of consciousness raising and norm implementation at this stage: (1) it is a start down the slippery slope of enforcement after decades of UN initiatives confined to seemingly futile rhetorical affirmations of Israeli obligations under international law, accompanied by the hope that an enforcement momentum with UN backing is underway; (2) it is an expression of tacit support for the growing global movement of solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people for a just and sustainable peace agreement, and specifically, it reinforces the claims of the robust BDS Campaign that has itself scored several notable victories in recent months.

My intention in this post is to put aside these issues and report upon my sense of the diplomatic mood at the UN in relation to the future of Israel/Palestine relations. There is a sharp disconnect between the public profession of support for the resumed peace negotiations as a positive development with a privately acknowledged skepticism as to what to expect. In this regard, there is a widespread realization that conditions are not ripe for productive diplomacy for the following reasons: the apparent refusal of Israel’s political leadership to endorse a political outcome that is capable of satisfying even minimal Palestinian aspirations; the settlement phenomenon as dooming any viable form of a ‘two-state’ solution; the lack of Palestinian unity as between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas undermining its representational and legitimacy status.

The most serious concern on the Palestinian side is whether protecting the interests and rights of the totality of the Palestinian people in a peace process can be achieved within the present diplomatic framework. We need to be constantly reminded that ‘the Palestinian people’ cannot be confined to those Palestinian living under Israeli occupation: refugees in neighboring countries; refugees confined within occupied Palestine, but demanding a right of return to their residence at the time of dispossession; the Palestinian minority living in Israel; and 4-5 million Palestinians who constitute the Palestinian diaspora and its underlying reality of enforced exile.

It was also clear that the Palestinian Authority is confronted by a severe dilemma: either to accept the inadequate proposals put forward by Israel and the United States or reject these proposals and be blamed once again by Tel Aviv and Washington for rejecting a peace offer. Only some Israeli anxiety that the Palestinians might actually accept the U.S. proposals might induce Israel to refuse, on its side, to accept what Washington proposes, and spare the Palestinians the embarrassment posed by the dilemma of swallowing or spitting. That is, Israel when forced to show its hand may actually be unwilling to allow any solution to the conflict based on Palestinian self-determination, even if heavily weighted in Israel’s facvor. In effect, within the diplomatic setting there strong doubts exist as to whether the present Israeli leadership would accept even a Palestinian statelet even if it were endowed with only nominal sovereignty. In effect, from a Palestinian perspective it seems inconceivable that anything positive could emerge from the present direct negotiations, and it is widely appreciated that the PA agreed take part only after being subjected to severe pressure from the White House and Secretary Kerry. In this sense, the best that Ramallah can hope for is damage control.

There were three attitudes present among the more thoughtful diplomats at the UN who have been dealing with the Palestinian situation for years, if not decades: the first attitude was to believe somehow that ‘miracles’ happen in politics, and that a two state solution was still possible; usually this outlook avoided the home of the devil, that is the place where details reside, and if pressed could not offer a scenario that explained how the settlements could be shrunk sufficiently to enable a genuine two-state solution to emerge from the current round of talks; the second attitude again opted to support the resumption of the direct talks because it was ‘doing something,’ which seemed preferable to ‘doing nothing,’ bolstering this rather vapid view with the sentiment ‘at least they are doing something’; the third attitude, more privately and confidentially conveyed, fancies itself to be the voice of realism in world politics, which is contemptuous of the advocacy of rights and justice in relation to Palestine; this view has concluded that Israel has prevailed, it has won, and all that the Palestinians can do is to accommodate an adverse outcome, acknowledging defeat, and hope that the Israelis will not push their advantage toward a third cycle of dispossession (the first two being 1948, 1967) in the form of ‘population transfer’ so as to address their one remaining serious anxiety—the fertility gap leading to a feared tension between professing democracy and retaining the primary Zionist claim of being a Jewish state, the so-called ‘demographic bomb.’

As I reject all three of these postures, I will not leave my position as Special Rapporteur with a sense that inter-governmental diplomacy and its imaginative horizons have much to offer the Palestinian people even by way of understanding evolving trends in the conflict, much less realizing their rights, above all, the right of self-determination. At the same time, despite this, I have increased my belief that the UN has a crucial role to play in relation to a positive future for the Palestinian people—reinforcing the legitimacy of seeking a rights based solution rather than settling for a power based outcome that is called peace in an elaborate international ceremony of deception, in all likelihood on the lawn of the White House. In this period the UN has been playing an important part in legitimating Palestinian grievances by continuously referencing international law, human rights, and international morality.

The Israelis (and officialdom in the United States) indicate their awareness of this UN role by repeatedly stressing their unconditional opposition to what is labeled to be ‘the delegitimation project,’ which is a subtle propagandistic shift from the actual demand to uphold Palestinian rights to the misleading and diversionary claim that Israel’s critics are trying to challenge Israel’s right to exist as a state sovereign state. To be sure, the Palestinians are waging, with success a Legitimacy War against Israel for control of the legal and moral high ground, but they are not at this stage questioning Israeli statehood, but only its refusal to respect international law as it relates to the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.

Let us acknowledge a double reality. The UN is a geopolitical actor that is behaviorally manipulated by money and hard power on many fundamental issues, including Palestine/Israel; this stark acknowledgement severely restricts the effectiveness of the UN with regard to questions of justice. Fortunately, this is not the whole story. The UN is also a normative actor that articulates the grievances of peoples and governments, influences public discourse with respect to the global policy agenda, and has great and distinctive symbolic leverage in establishing the legitimacy of claims. In other words, the UN can say what is right, without being necessarily able to do what is right. This distinction summarizes the narratives of articulating the Palestinian claims and the justice of the Palestinian struggle without being able to overcome behavioral obstacles in the geopolitical domain that block their fulfillment.

What such a gap also emphasizes is that the political climate is not yet right for constructive inter-governmental negotiations, which would require both Israel and the United States to recalculate their priorities and to contemplate alternative future scenarios in a manner that is far more congruent with upholding the panoply of Palestinian rights. Such shifts in the political climate are underway, and are not just a matter of changing public opinion, but also mobilizing popular regional and global support for nonviolent tactics of opposition and resistance to the evolving status quo. The Arab Spring of 2011 initially raised expectations that such a mobilization would surge, but counter-revolutionary developments, political unrest, and economic panic have temporarily, at least, dampened such prospects, and have lowered the profile of the Palestinian struggle.

Despite such adverse developments in the Middle East from a Palestinian perspective, it remains possible to launch within the UN a broad campaign to promote corporate responsibility in relation to the settlements, which could gradually be extended to other unlawful Israeli activities (e.g. separation wall, blockade of Gaza, prison and arrest abuses, house demolitions). Such a course of action links efforts within the UN to implement international law with activism that is already well established within global civil society, being guided by Palestinian architects of 21st century nonviolent resistance. In effect, two disillusionments (armed struggle and international diplomacy) are coupled with a revised post-Oslo strategy giving the Palestinian struggle a new identity (nonviolent resistance, global solidarity campaign, and legitimacy warfare) with an increasing emancipatory potential.

Such an affirmation is the inverse of the ultra realist view mentioned above that the struggle is essentially over, and all that is left is for the Palestinians to admit defeat and for the Israelis to dictate the terms of ‘the peace treaty.’ While admitting that such a visionary worldview may be based on wishful thinking, it is also appropriate to point out that most political conflicts since the end of World War II have reflected the outcome of legitimacy wars more than the balance of hard power. Military superiority and geopolitical leverage were consistently frustrated during the era of colonial wars in the 1960s and 1970s. In this regard, it should be understood that the settler colonial enterprise being pursued by Israel is on the wrong side of history, and so contrary to appearances, there is reason to be hopeful about the Palestinian future and historical grounds not succumb to the dreary imaginings of those who claim the mantle of realism. More


Monday, November 4, 2013

Israel and the dangers of ethnic nationalism

An interview with Jonathan Cook, by Joseph Cotto

Jonathan Cook

Counterpunch – 4 November 2013

Cotto: What sort of general impact would you say Zionism has had on the Middle East?

Cook: Zionism was a reaction to the extreme ethnic nationalisms that dominated – and nearly destroyed – Europe last century. It is therefore hardly surprising that it mirrors their faults. In exporting to the Middle East this kind of nationalism, Zionism was always bound to play a negative role in the region.

Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, developing the concept of a Jewish state in response to the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe in the late nineteenth century. One notorious incident that appears to have shaped his views was France’s Dreyfus affair, when a very assimilated Jewish army officer was unjustly accused of treason and then his innocence covered up by French elites.

The lesson drawn by Herzl was that assimilation was futile. To survive, Jews needed to hold firmly on to their ethnic identity and create an exclusivist state based on ethnic principles.

There is a huge historical irony to this, because Europe’s ethnic nationalisms would soon end up tearing apart much of the world, culminating in the expansionary German war machine, the Second World War and the Nazi death camps. International institutions such as the United Nations and international humanitarian law were developed precisely to stop the repeat of such a cataclysmic event.

Once in the Middle East, Zionism shifted the locus of its struggle, from finding a solution to European anti-semitism to building an exclusive Jewish homeland on someone else’s land, that of the Palestinians. If one wants to understand the impact of Zionism in the Middle East, then one needs to see how destabilising such a European ideological implant was.

The idea of ethnic-religious supremacism, which history suggests is latent in many ethnic nationalisms, quickly came to the fore in Zionism. Today, the dominant features of Zionist ideology in Israel are:

  • a commitment to segregation at all levels – made concrete in the separation wall across the West Bank;
  • a belief in ethnic exclusivism – Palestinian citizens inside Israel are even denied an Israeli nationality;
  • a kind of national paranoia – walls are built to protect every border;
  • an aversion, paradoxically given the above, to defining its borders – and with it a craving for expansion and greater “living room”.

All of this was predictable if one looked at the trajectory of ethnic nationalisms in Europe. Instead, we in the West see all this as a reaction to Islamism. The reality is we have everything back to front: Zionism, an aggressive ethnic nationalism, fed reactionary forces in the region like political Islam.

Cotto: If Israel adopted its pre-1967 borders, would this, in your opinion, contribute to the peace process?

Cook: Of course, it would. If nothing else, it would show for the first time two things: one, that Israel is prepared to exhibit good faith towards the Palestinians and respect international law; and two, that it has finally decided to define and fix its borders. Those are also two good reasons why I don’t think we will see Israel adopt such a position.

There is a further, implicit question underlying this one. Can a Palestinian state on 22 per cent of historic Palestine, separated into two prison-cantons with limited access to the sea, be a viable state?

No, I don’t think it can – at least not without remaining economically dependent on Israel and militarily vulnerable to it too. That, we should remember, also appears to have been the view of the international community when it tried to solve this problem more than 60 years ago. The United Nations Partition Plan of 1947 gave the Jewish minority 55 per cent of historic Palestine to create a Jewish state, while the Palestinians, the majority of the population, received 45 per cent for an Arab state.

One doesn’t have to believe the partition plan was fair – as most Palestinians do not – to understand that even the Western-centric UN of that time did not imagine that a viable state could be created on 22 per cent of Palestine, or half of the “Arab state” it envisioned.

That is why I have long maintained that ultimately a solution to the conflict will only be found when the international community helps the two sides to find common ground and shared interests and to create joint institutions. That might be vaguely termed the one-state solution, but in practice it could take many forms.

Cotto: It is often noted that Palestinians live in far more impoverished socioeconomic conditions than Israelis do. From your standpoint, can this be attributed to Israeli aggression?

Cook: In essence, it is difficult to imagine it could be attributed to much else, unless one makes the racist assumption that Palestinians or Arabs are naturally lazy or incompetent.

In terms of Israel’s greater economic success, there are several factors to take into account. It receives massive subsidies from the US taxpayer – billions of dollars in military aid and other benefits. It has developed very lucrative hi-tech and homeland security industries, often using the occupied territories as laboratories for it to test and showcase its weapons and surveillance systems. It also benefits from the financial connections it enjoys with worldwide Jewry. Just think of the property market in Israel, which is artificially boosted by wealthy US and European Jews who inject money into the economy by buying an Israeli condo.

But equally importantly – as a just-published report from the World Bank concludes – it has prospered by plundering and exploiting Palestinian resources. The World Bank argues that Israel’s de facto annexation of 62 per cent of the West Bank, known as Area C in the Oslo Accords, has stripped any nascent Palestinian state of almost all its resources: land for development, water for agriculture, quarries for stone, the Dead Sea for minerals and tourism, etc. Instead these resources are being stolen by more than 200 settlements Israel has been sowing over the West Bank.

Israel also exploits a captive, and therefore cheap, Palestinian labour force. That both benefits the Israeli economy and crushes the Palestinian economy.

Cotto: Some say that Israel’s settlement policies directly encourage violence from Palestinian militants. Do you believe this to be the case?

Cook: Yes, of course. If you came armed with a gun to my house and took it from me, and then forced me and my family to live in the shed at the end of the garden, you could hardly be surprised if I started making trouble for you. If I called the police and they said they couldn’t help, you could hardly be surprised if I eventually decided to get a gun myself to threaten you back. If, when you saw I had a gun too, you then built a wall around the shed to imprison me, you could hardly be surprised if I used the tools I had to make primitive grenades and started lobbing them towards the house. None of this would prove how unreasonable I was, or how inherently violent.

Cotto: Many claim that, if Israel were to shed its Jewish ethnocentrism, Muslims and others nearby would adopt a more favorable opinion of it. Do you agree with this idea?

Cook: Ethnocentrism for Israel means that the protection of its Jewishness is synonymous with the protection of its national security. That entails all sorts of things that would be considered very problematic if they were better understood.

Israel needed to ethnically cleanse Palestinians in 1948 to create a Jewish state. It needs separate citizenship and nationality laws, which distinguish between Jews and non-Jews, to sustain a Jewish state. It needs its own version of the “endless war on terror” – an aggressive policy of oppression and divide and rule faced by Palestinians under its rule – to prevent any future internal challenge to the legitimacy of its Jewishness. It needs to keep Palestinian refugees festering in camps in neighbouring Arab states to stop a reversal of its Jewishness. And it has had to become an armed and fortified garrison state, largely paid for by the US, to intimidate and bully its neighbours in case they dare to threaten its Jewishness.

Ending that ethnocentrism would therefore alter relations with its neighbours dramatically.

It was possible to end similar historic enmities in Northern Ireland and in South Africa. There is no reason to believe the same cannot happen in the Middle East.

Cotto: If Israel were to cease being an ethnocentrically Jewish state, do you think it would be able to survive?

Cook: Yes. Israel’s actions have produced an ocean of anger towards it in the region – and a great deal of resentment towards the US too. And that would not evaporate overnight. At a minimum there would be lingering distrust, and for good reason. But for Israel to stop being an ethnocratic state, it would require a serious international solution to the conflict. The international community would have to put into place mechanisms and institutions to resolve historic grievances and build trust, as it did in South Africa. Over time, the wounds would heal.

Cotto: In the event that Israel were to end its ethnocentrically Jewish policies, do you believe that Islamist militants would hold less of a grudge against the Western world?

Cook: The question looks at the problem in the wrong way in at least two respects. First, Israel’s ethnocentrism – its exclusivity and its aggressiveness, for example – is one of the reasons it is useful to Western, meaning US, imperialism. Reforming Israel would indicate a change in Western priorities in the region, but that does not necessarily mean the West would stop interfering negatively in the region. Reforming Israel is a necessary but not a sufficient cause for a change in attitudes that dominate in the region.

Second, many Islamists, certainly of the fanatical variety, are not suddenly going to have a Damascene conversion about the West because Israel is reformed. But that should not be the goal. Good intentions towards the region will be repaid in a change in attitude among the wider society – and that is what is really important. When George Bush and his ilk talk about “draining the swamps”, they are speaking only in military terms. But actually what we should be doing is draining the ideological swamp in which Islamic extremism flourishes. If the Islamists have no real support, if they do not address real issues faced by Arab societies, then they will wither away.

Cotto: What do you think the future of Israel holds insofar as Middle Eastern geopolitics are concerned?

Cook: That is crystal ball stuff. There are too many variables. What can be said with some certainty is that we are in a time of transition: at the moment, chiefly economic for the West and chiefly political for the Middle East. That means the global power systems we have known for decades are starting to break down. Where that will ultimately lead is very difficult to decipher.

Joseph Cotto writes for the Washington Times.

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

What is ethical leadership?

As a part of a two-part town hall meeting at the District Six Museum in Cape Town, South Africa, Redi and an audience of global South citizens pose questions to some of the world's most influential leaders.

Desmond Tutu

South2North is joined by two African Nobel Prize winners - Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who chaired South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the UN; as well as Dr Gro Harlem Bruntland, the former prime minister of Norway; and Hina Jilani, a Pakistani human rights activist.

"We need leaders like Madiba," says Tutu, referring to former South African president and Nobel Prize winner Nelson Mandela, who handpicked the initial Elders in 2007. "We need people who are not there for what they can get out; they are there for the sake of the people."

"To be bold; to have the courage of your convictions; and to think long-term, not short-term or for political expedience; those are characteristics common to good leaders," Bruntland tells the audience, which included two Nobel Prize winners, former American president Jimmy Carter and former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, as well as two of The Elders' co-founders, businessman Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel.

Jilani was appointed to The Elders in July 2013. She says part of what attracted her to the group was, "we don't just speak truth to power; we show wisdom to power."

The Elders debate whether military intervention is ever necessary; why prevention is always better than intervention; the difference between retributive justice and restorative justice; and balancing addressing the crimes of the past with the needs of the future.

Bruntland and Annan discuss the recent terrorist attack on Westgate Mall in Kenya. Bruntland compares it to the 2011 massacre at a Norwegian summer camp, which killed 77 people and was initially targeted at her.

"Of course in the first weeks, everyone was focused on the loss, on the terrible tragedies," she remembers. "Gradually as the weeks and months passed, the focus shifted … We all have the right to know what happened and didn't happen and who is to blame … There was a lot of blame to be given; it was a tragedy and every stone was turned to try and prevent similar incidences."

Annan also discusses the conflict in Democractic Republic of Congo, which dates back to the 1960s. He highlights its complexity, as well as the role of natural resources and cross-border interference in keeping the conflict alive.

"A few years ago we called it 'Africa's World War,' because about eight countries were involved," he says. "Even today there are 11 countries involved in mediation today."

Tutu discusses the state of South Africa and the pain of speaking out. "It's one of those agonising things," he says. "We are not speaking out of a position of hostility; it is because we have such a deep love for our country and we know that it has the capacity… Many good things have happened and we ought to acknowledge that but there are many other things that should have happened already by now. To think that we now are in a position where the gap between rich and poor is the widest in the world; it's agonising." More