Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bradley Manning should win the Nobel Peace Prize

Peace is more than simply the absence of war; it is the active creation of something better.

Bradley Manning

Alfred Nobel recognized this when he created alongside those for chemistry, literature, medicine and physics, an annual prize for outstanding contributions in peace. Nobel's foresight is a reminder to us all that peace must be created, maintained, and advanced, and it is indeed possible for one individual to have an extraordinary impact. For this year's prize, I have chosen to nominate US Army Pfc Bradley Manning, for I can think of no one more deserving. His incredible disclosure of secret documents to Wikileaks helped end the Iraq War, and may have helped prevent further conflicts elsewhere.

I recently visited Syria, where I met a few of the millions of refugees and internally displaced people whose lives have been torn apart by the ongoing conflict in that country. I learned from those I spoke to, both within the government and in opposition groups, that while there is a legitimate and long-overdue movement for peace and non-violent reform in Syria, the worst acts of violence are being perpetrated by outside groups. Extremist groups from around the world have converged upon Syria, bent on turning this conflict into one of ideological hatred.

In recent years this would have spelled an undeniable formula for United States intervention. However, the world has changed in the years since Manning's whistleblowing – the Middle East especially. In Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt, and now Turkey, advocates of democracy have joined together to fight against their own governments' control of information, and used the free-flowing data of social media to help build enormously successful non-violent movements. Some activists of what has come to be known as the Arab Spring have even directly credited Bradley Manning, and the information he disclosed, as an inspiration for their struggles.

In a Middle East newly dedicated to democratic flow of information, those who would commit human rights violations can more easily be held accountable. If not for whistleblower Bradley Manning, the world still might not know of how US forces committed covert crimes in the name of spreading democracy in Iraq, killing innocent civilians in incidents such as the one depicted in the "Collateral Murder" video, and supporting Iraqi prisoner torture. Now, those who would support foreign intervention in the Middle East know that every action would be scrutinized under international human rights law. Clearly, this is for the best. International peacekeepers, as well as experts and civilians inside Syria, are nearly unanimous in their view that United States involvement would only worsen this conflict.

Around the world, Manning is hailed as a peacemaker and a hero. His nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize is a reflection of this. Yet at his home in America, Manning stands trial for charges of espionage and "aiding the enemy". This should not be considered a refutation of his candidacy – rather, he is in good company. Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi and Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo were each awarded the prize in recent years while imprisoned by their home countries.

Last week at Manning's trial, the public learned that at the time Manning released his information, WikiLeaks stated they wanted to publish "the concealed documents or recordings most sought after by a country's journalists, activists, historians, lawyers, police or human rights investigators". Manning's disclosures to Wikileaks only "aided the enemy," as his prosecutors charge, if the enemy is international cooperation and peace itself.

Manning is the only one on trial, yet what of those who committed the atrocities he revealed? The United States, the most militarized country on earth, should stand for something better than war. Its government must be open to "debates, discussions and reforms" concerning its foreign policy, to use Manning's own words. By heeding Pfc Bradley Manning's message on the importance of transparency, America's government can once again rebuild its image in the eyes of the world, and spread democracy not through foreign invasions, but through setting a strong example. More

Do you want your government to be accountable? How else should you do so? They certainly cannot be trusted to police themselves as the NSA fiasco shows. Do you want more American enemies to be created every day? Ask your self what type of government you want. Editor


The water is running out in Gaza: Humanitarian catastrophe looms as territory’s only aquifer fails

The Gaza Strip, a tiny wedge of land jammed between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean sea, is heading inexorably into a water crisis that the United Nations says could make the Palestinian enclave uninhabitable in just a few years.

With 90 to 95 per cent of the territory's only aquifer contaminated by sewage, chemicals and seawater, neighbourhood desalination facilities and their public taps are a lifesaver for some of Gaza's 1.6 million residents. But these small-scale projects provide water for only about 20 per cent of the population, forcing many more residents in the impoverished territory to buy bottled water at a premium. The UN estimates that more than 80 per cent of Gazans buy their drinking water. "Families are paying as much as a third of their household income for water," said June Kunugi, a special representative of the UN children's fund Unicef.

The Gaza Strip, governed by the Islamist group Hamas and in a permanent state of tension with Israel, is not the only place in the Middle East facing water woes. A Nasa study of satellite data released this year showed that between 2003 and 2009 the region lost 144 cubic kilometres of stored freshwater – equivalent to the amount in the Dead Sea – making a bad situation much worse.

But the situation in Gaza is particularly acute, with the UN warning that its sole aquifer might be unusable by 2016, with the damage potentially irreversible by 2020. Between 5 and 10 per cent only of the aquifer's water is safe to drink, but even this can mix with poor-quality water during distribution, making it good only for washing.

"The tap water from the municipality is not fit to drink, and my husband is a kidney patient," said Sahar Moussa, a mother of three, who lives in a cramped, ramshackle house in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, near the Egyptian border. She spends 45 shekels (£8.20) each month – a large sum for most Palestinians in the area – to buy filtered water that she stores in a 500L plastic tank.

Further complicating the issue is Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, which activists say has prevented the import of materials needed for repairs on water and waste facilities. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent arms from reaching Hamas, which is opposed to the existence of the Jewish state.

With no streams or rivers to speak of, Gaza has historically relied almost exclusively on its coastal aquifer, which receives some 50 to 60 million cubic metres of refill each year thanks to rainfall and run-off from the Hebron hills to the east. But the needs of Gaza's rapidly growing population, as well as those of the nearby Israeli farmers, means an estimated 160 million cubic metres of water is drawn from the compromised aquifer each year. As the levels sink, seawater seeps in from the nearby Mediterranean. This saline pollution is made worse by untreated waste, with 90,000 cubic metres of raw sewage allowed to flow into the shallow sea waters each day from Gaza, according to UN data.

Even with the aquifer, regular running tap water is a luxury unknown to many Gazans. People living across the territory say that during the summer months water might spurt out of their taps every other day, and the pressure is often so low that those living on upper floors might see just a trickle.

Many families have opted to drill private wells drawing from water deep underground. Authorisation is required but rigid restrictions mean that most households dig their wells in secret. Hired labourers erect large plastic sheets to try to hide their work from prying neighbours. "As you can see, this is like a crime scene," said a 45-year-old father of six, who gave his name as Abu Mohammed. A clothes merchant from Gaza city, he paid his clandestine, seven-strong crew £2,300 to drill a well and came across water at a depth of 48 metres. "We begin the work after sunset and... cover the sound of digging with music," he said. A senior Israeli security official estimates that as many as 6,000 wells have been sunk in Gaza, many without authorisation.

While Israel shares the polluted aquifer, which stretches all the way to Caesarea, about 37 miles north of Tel Aviv, the problem is less acute than in Gaza which is downstream. In addition, Israel can access water from the Sea of Galilee and the mountain aquifer that also spans the West Bank.

As Gaza borders the sea, the obvious answer is desalination. Gaza already hosts 18 small plants, one treating seawater, the others water from brackish wells – most of them supplied by Unicef and Oxfam.

The Palestinian Water Authority has started work on two new seawater desalination plants and is planning a third, larger facility, which is designed to produce 55 million cubic metres of water a year. But with funding for the $450m (£295m) project still uncertain, construction is not due to start until 2017. By that time, cash-strapped Gaza may not have enough electricity available to power the energy-intensive plants. The UN estimates that Gaza needs an additional 100 megawatts of production capacity even before the big water facility is built.

Israel is trying to drum up aid for Gaza, the senior security official said, alarmed at the prospect of a looming water catastrophe and possible humanitarian crisis on its doorstep. "We have talked to everyone we know in the international community because 1.4 million people will be without water in a few years," he said, asking not to be named because of the issue's sensitivity. He said Israel, a leader in the desalination industry, was helping to train a few Gazans in the latest water technology, which the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) confirmed.

Rebhi El Sheikh, deputy chairman of the PWA, has called on international donors to help fund energy, water and sewage projects, warning of disaster if nothing happens. "A small investment is needed to avoid a bigger one, and it is a humanitarian issue that has nothing to do with politics or security," he said.

Water wars

Water scarcity has become a growing problem in the Middle East, East Africa and the US.

Although the Middle East has experienced water scarcity for quite some time, Jay Famiglietti, principal investigator of a recently published Nasa study, has said that there was an "alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which currently has the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India". With tensions already high in this region, water scarcity could become another cause of conflict.

Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the driest regions in the world. East Africa, in particular the Nile River basin, has seen conflict rise over who controls fresh water supplies. Due to limited resources, the Sudanese civil war between 1983 and 2005 became a struggle over territory which in turn led to conflicts over water supplies. The impact on the population and irrigation of the country would be substantial. After 22 years of fighting, 400,000 people were killed and 2.5 million were displaced from their homes.

Water cleanliness is an issue that is having considerable impact on sub-Saharan Africa. According to the charity WaterAid, 16.4 million people in Kenya and 43.4 million people in Ethiopia don't have access to safe water.

The US is also facing significant strain on fresh-water supplies. According to WaterSense, a partnership program of the US Environmental Protection Agency: "Nearly every region of the country has experienced water shortages. At least 36 states are anticipating local, regional, or state-wide water shortages" this year, "even under non-drought conditions". More



Sunday, June 23, 2013

The NSA's metastasised intelligence-industrial complex is ripe for abuse

Let's be absolutely clear about the news that the NSA collects massive amounts of information on US citizens – from emails, to telephone calls, to videos, under the Prism program and other Fisa court orders: this story has nothing to do with Edward Snowden.

NSA's New Utah Data Centre

As interesting as his flight to Hong Kong might be, the pole-dancing girlfriend, and interviews from undisclosed locations, his fate is just a sideshow to the essential issues of national security versus constitutional guarantees of privacy, which his disclosures have surfaced in sharp relief.

Snowden will be hunted relentlessly and, when finally found, with glee, brought back to the US in handcuffs and severely punished. (If PrivateBradley Manning's obscene conditions while incarcerated are any indication, it won't be pleasant for Snowden either, even while awaiting trial.) Snowden has already been the object of scorn and derision from the Washington establishment and mainstream media, but, once again, the focus is misplaced on the transiently shiny object. The relevant issue should be: what exactly is the US government doing in the people's name to "keep us safe" from terrorists?

Prism and other NSA data-mining programs might indeed be very effective in hunting and capturing actual terrorists, but we don't have enough information as a society to make that decision. Despite laudable efforts led by Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall to bring this to the public's attention that were continually thwarted by the administration because everything about this program was deemed "too secret", Congress could not even exercise its oversight responsibilities. The intelligence community and their friends on the Hill do not have a right to interpret our rights absent such a discussion.

The shock and surprise that Snowden exposed these secrets is hard to understand when over 1.4 million Americans hold "top secret" security clearances. When that many have access to sensitive information, is it really so difficult to envision a leak?

We are now dealing with a vast intelligence-industrial complex that is largely unaccountable to its citizens. This alarming, unchecked growth of the intelligence sector and the increasingly heavy reliance on subcontractors to carry out core intelligence tasks – now estimated to account for approximately 60% of the intelligence budget – have intensified since the 9/11 attacks and what was, arguably, our regrettable over-reaction to them.

The roots of this trend go back at least as far as the Reagan era, when the political right became obsessed with limiting government and denigrating those who worked for the public sector. It began a wave of privatization – because everything was held to be more "cost-efficient" when done by the private sector – and that only deepened with the political polarization following the election of 2000. As it turns out, the promises of cheaper, more efficient services were hollow, but inertia carried the day.

Today, the intelligence sector is so immense that no one person can manage, or even comprehend, its reach. When an operation in the field goes south, who would we prefer to try and correct the damage: a government employee whose loyalty belongs to his country (despite a modest salary), or the subcontractor who wants to ensure that his much fatter paycheck keeps coming?

Early polls of Americans about their privacy concerns that the government might be collecting metadata from phone calls and emails indicates that there is little alarm; there appears to be, in fact, an acceptance of or resignation to these practices. To date, there is no proof that the government has used this information to pursue and harass US citizens based on their political views. There are no J Edgar Hoover-like "enemy lists" … yet. But it is not so difficult to envision a scenario where any of us has a link, via a friend of a friend, to someone on the terrorist watchlist. What then? You may have no idea who this person is, but a supercomputer in Fort Meade (or, soon, at the Utah Data Center near Salt Lake City) will have made this connection. And then you could have some explaining to do to an over-zealous prosecutor.

On this spying business, officials from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to self-important senators are, in effect, telling Americans not to worry: it's not that big a deal, and "trust us" because they're keeping US citizens safe. This position must be turned on its head and opened up to a genuine discussion about the necessary, dynamic tension between security and privacy. As it now stands, these programs are ripe for abuse unless we establish ground rules and barriers between authentic national security interests and potential political chicanery. More


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Image of Gas Attack Against Lone Brazilian Woman Goes Viral

Shocking images of police violence draw much-needed attention to protests and larger issue of police brutality

A captured instance of brazen police brutality against a civilian has, once again, grabbed the attention of the global community. The shocking photograph of a lone woman being pepper sprayed at close range by Brazilian police has gone viral, drawing criticism and attention to the ongoing mass demonstrations in Brazil—at which the attack took place—and the chronic undercurrent of police violence that so often follows peaceful citizen uprisings.

New York Magazine's Daily Intelligencer spoke with the photographer behind the image, Victor Caivano, who said , long after "the protest was over, riots included."that the attack happened at around 11:20 Monday evening

The woman appeared to be a "normal, middle-class university student," he said, adding that she was standing alone on a "deserted corner" after the police had cleared the area.

He continued:

Three riot officers approached the woman and told her to leave. When she objected — the woman either questioned the order or insisted that she wasn't doing anything wrong, Caivano recalls — she was pepper-sprayed. "This policeman just didn't think twice," Caivano says.

The woman stumbled backward, "screaming and cursing." She was detained and taken to a police van. Caivano says local reporters are now trying to track her down.

The photograph has drawn obvious comparison to two similar images of the unbridled use of pepper spray, each encapsulating the fierce police brutality that too often goes hand-in-hand with such demonstrations.

One is of a woman named Ceyda Sungur—the 'woman in the red dress'—who, during arecent protest in Istanbul's Gezi Park, was bombarded by an officer who shot pepper spray directly into her face.

"The jet sent her hair billowing upwards," wrote the Guardian at the time. "As she turned, the masked policeman leapt forward and hosed down her back. The unprovoked attack left her and other activists choking and gasping for breath; afterwards Sungur collapsed on a bench."

The second image is of the infamous incident at the University of California at Davis when a peaceful Occupy protest was met with an overly aggressive show of police force. This culminated in Officer John Pike directly and deliberately spraying burning yellow chemicals into the faces of the protesters.

"To see unarmed, unaggressive bystanders who, by virtue of their location at a time and place where trouble was brewing, were assaulted by authority figures spraying burning, toxic, chemicals, is an unforgettable visual," writes columnist Lorraine Devon Wilke. She continues:

Likely there are many more that occur every day; these particular ones exist as iconic moments that symbolize bigger movements, of countries, of people, even of students. These images are important historical documents of what happened, how, and to whom. Hopefully they will contribute, by sheer virtue of their shock value, to change, progress, and needed solutions; the agony of those attacked has to account for something of value. More

One has to question who our countries actually belong to, for if this is how citizens are treated it certainly does not belong to us. Editor


Friday, June 21, 2013

How Israeli apartheid is coming unstuck

One incident of racism, though small in relation to the decades of massive, institutionalised discrimination exercised by Israel against its Palestinian Arab citizens, has triggered an uncharacteristic bout of Israeli soul-searching.

Source: Y-net

Superland, a large amusement park near Tel Aviv, refused to accept a booking from an Arab school on its preferred date in late May. When a staff member called back impersonating a Jew, Superland approved the booking immediately.

As the story went viral on social media, the park’s managers hurriedly offered an excuse: they provided separate days for Jewish and Arab children to keep them apart and prevent friction.

Government ministers led an outpouring of revulsion. Tzipi Livni, the justice minister, called the incident a “symptom of a sick democracy”. Defence minister Moshe Yaalon was “ashamed”. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that the “racist” policy be halted immediately.

Such sensitivity appears to be a reaction to an explosion of popular racism over the past few months against the one in five Israelis who belong to the country’s Palesinian Arab minority. Some Israeli Jews have started to find the endless parade of bigotry disturbing.

Israeli TV recently revealed, for example, that a group of children with cancer who had been offered a free day at a swimming pool were refused entry once managers discovered that they were Bedouin.

According to another TV investigation, Israel’s banks have a secret policy of rejecting Arab customers who try to transfer their accounts to a branch in a Jewish community, even though this violates banking regulations.

The settlers, whose violence was once restricted to setting fire to the crops of Palestinians or rampaging through their villages in the West Bank, are now as likely to attack Arab communities inside Israel. Torched mosques, offensive graffiti on churches and cars set ablaze in so-called “price-tag” attacks have become commonplace.

Similarly, reports of vicious attacks on Arab citizens are rapidly becoming a news staple. Recent incidents have included the near-fatal beating of a street cleaner, and a bus driver who held his gun to an Arab passenger’s head, threatening to pull the trigger unless the man showed his ID.

Also going viral were troubling mobile-phone photos of a young Arab woman surrounded by a mob of respectable-looking commuters and shoppers while she waited for a train. As they hit her and pulled off her hijab, station guards looked on impassively.

However welcome official denunciations of these events are, the government’s professed outrage does not wash.

While Netanyahu and his allies on the far right were castigating Superland for its racism, they were busy backing a grossly discriminatory piece of legislation the Haaretz newspaper called “one of the most dangerous” measures ever to come before the parliament.

The bill will give Israelis who have served in the army a whole raft of extra rights in land and housing, employment, salaries, and the provision of public and private services. The catch is that almost all of the country’s 1.5 million Palestinian citizens are excluded from military service. In practice, the benefits will be reserved for Jews only.

Superland’s offence pales to insignificance when compared to that, or to the decades of state-planned and officially sanctoned discrimination against the country’s Palestinian minority.

An editorial in Haaretz this month observed that Israel was really “two separate states, one Arab and one Jewish. … This is the gap between the Jewish state of Israel, which is a developed Western nation, and the Arab state of Israel, which is no more than a Third World country.”

Segregation is enforced in all the main spheres of life: land allocation and housing, citizenship rights, education, and employment.

None of this is accidental. It was intended this way to guarantee Israel’s future as a Jewish state. Legal groups have identified 57 laws that overtly discriminate between Jewish and Palestinian citizens, with a dozen more heading towards the statute books.

Less visible but just as damaging is the covert discrimination Palestinian citizens face every day when dealing with state institutions, whose administrative practices find their rationale in the entrenchment of Jewish privilege.

This week a report indentified precisely this kind of institutional racism when it found that students from the country’s Palestinian minority were confronted by a series of 14 obstacles not faced by their Jewish compatriots that contributed to denying them places in higher education.

The wave of popular prejudice and racist violence is no accident either. Paradoxically, it has been unleashed by the increasingly inflammatory rhetoric of rightwing politicians like Netanyahu, whose constant fearmongering casts Palestinian citizens as disloyal, a fifth column and a demographic threat to the state’s Jewishness.

So why if the state is so committed to subjugating and excluding Palestinian citizens, and Netanyahu and his ministers so determined to increase the weight of discriminatory legislation, are they decrying the racism of Superland?

To make sense of this, one has to understand how desperately Israel has sought to distinguish itself from apartheid South Africa.

Israel cultivates, as South Africa once did, what scholars term “grand apartheid”. This is segregation, largely covert and often often justified by security or cultural differences, to ensure that control of resources remains exclusively in the hands of the privileged community.

At the same time, Israel long shied away from what some call South Africa’s model of “petty apartheid” – the overt, symbolic, but far less significant segregation of park benches, buses and toilets. More


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Israel must define policy for tackling hate crime: experts

JERUSALEM — Israel must define its policy towards the Jewish extremists behind an ongoing wave of anti-Arab attacks in order to be able to effectively stamp out the phenomenon, experts said on Wednesday.

Women walk past Hebrew graffiti reading
'Price tag, Mazaltov', in Khirbet al-Assia in the West Bank,
on December 3, 2012 (AFP/File, Hazem Bader)

Debate over the rising tide of hate crimes euphemistically known as "price tag" attacks went into overdrive after about 30 cars were vandalised on Tuesday at Abu Gosh, an Arab village near Jerusalem long held up as a model of coexistence.

The brazen attack, which was accompanied by racist Hebrew graffiti, shocked Israel and made headlines across most of the country's main newspapers, spawning heated debate about why the perpetrators are almost never caught or prosecuted.

Those behind the attack are believed to be Jewish extremists, with police saying many of them were under age.

"The State of Israel has not yet decided how it wants to deal with this... but if (this phenomenon) carries on long-term, there will be repercussions and people will die," warned Menahem Landau, former head of the Jewish unit within the Shin Bet domestic security agency.

"What will we say then? That it was only graffiti?" he said in an interview with army radio.

Price tag attacks usually involve racist graffiti, damage to vehicles, the destruction of large numbers of olive trees, and arson attempts on mosques. Christian churches and cemeteries have also been increasingly targeted.

If those behind such attacks were defined as belonging to a "terror organisation" it would give the Shin Bet a much freer hand to deal with them, he said.

"The police are perhaps not doing enough but it's not only their problem, it's a problem of the entire system," Shlomo Aharonishki, former head of Israel police, told the radio.

"The government must decide that it wants to deal with the problem and set a much clearer definition of those who carry out such acts, which will allow the police, the Shin Bet and the courts fight against this phenomenon."

The price tag campaign was initially started in the West Bank, with extremist settlers attacking Palestinian land, property and mosques in response to government moves to dismantle unauthorised settlement outposts.

But it quickly spread -- both geographically and in terms of the targets -- and soon began to include attacks on Arab communities inside Israel, on left-wing activists, churches and Christian sites.

On rare occasion, there have even been attacks on Israeli soldiers and vehicles over their involvement in taking down settler outposts.

Earlier this week, Israel's security cabinet moved to increase the powers of the security establishment to crack down on the phenomenon by declaring that those involved belonged to an "illegal organisation".

But crucially, the cabinet made no move to classify such incidents as "acts of terror" or the perpetrators as "terrorists" -- a move Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is pushing for. More


Friday, June 14, 2013

Mau Mau: Breaking the silence of colonial torture

The settlement of the claims brought by a group of elderly Kenyans, imprisoned and tortured during the Mau Mau insurgency that preceded the country's independence, marks an important victory of justice for colonial crimes.

The survivors of the torture meted out by the colonial administration were determined to break the silence surrounding their suffering, including rape, castration and severe beatings. They succeeded in overcoming major hurdles with the support of Kenyan organisations, human rights groups, lawyers, academics and others.

The UK government finally bowed to the inevitable, following a four-year legal battle and faced with irrefutable evidence. During this time, the government suffered two significant defeats in the courts, the most recent being one in October 2012, when the High Court rejected the government's argument that "too much time had elapsed for there to be a fair trial".

With the revelation of a vast secret colonial archive in early 2011, the judge found that a fair trial was indeed possible, noting that "the documentation is voluminous… the governments and military commanders seem to have been meticulous record keepers". REDRESS, an international human rights organisation that helps torture survivors obtain justice and reparation, made written and oral submissions to the court that supported the victims' rights.

The British government has now agreed to provide compensation to 5,228 survivors totalling 19.9m pounds ($31m), including 6m pounds ($9.3m) in legal costs, and to fund the construction of a memorial in Nairobi to the victims of colonial torture.

In his statement to Parliament on June 6, Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed his "sincere regret" and unreservedly condemned the torture on behalf of the government. This is welcome. However, the statement fell short on several counts. The UK "regretted", but did not fully apologise for what happened. Its analysis failed to recognise the anti-colonial nature of the uprising. It stressed that the settlement was confined to Kenya and did not constitute a precedent.

"We will… continue to exercise our own right to defend claims brought against the government," Hague stated in parliament. "We do not believe that this settlement establishes a precedent in relation to any other former British colonial administration."

The foreign secretary's statement defended the UK's legal position of denying liability. This fails to recognise victims' right to reparation for torture that is well established under international law and results in delaying payouts to people who are coming to the end of their lives.

The "Mau Mau" settlement is groundbreaking because - contrary to the government's portrayal - it does indeed set a major precedent in which decades of denial and silencing of the victims is replaced with the truth as to what happened, the responsibility of the UK, and the right of victims to obtain reparation.

Even though the UK government stopped short of apologising, it is clear that the settlement goes a long way in restoring the dignity of the victims. The terms agreed upon are important to treat survivors as individuals who suffered grievous and lasting injustices and to set the record straight. The case should also pave the way for much more fundamental changes.

While Hague's statement downplayed the prospect of the UK being prepared to seriously address the issues raised by the case, these questions cannot be ignored: Who should own and have access to the historical records, such as those on the Mau Mau uprisings kept by the UK? How, and through whose eyes, should the UK's colonial history be portrayed, taught and remembered? And, what lessons should be learned from what was done to "colonial subjects" and civilians branded as "terrorists" and the manner in which they have subsequently been denied truth and justice?

These questions are not purely theoretical. Atrocities carried out by British forces outside of the UK mainland are not isolated or abstract. A glimpse at current debates and litigation concerning events in Iraq and Afghanistan illustrate this point only too well.

The settlement has potentially wide ramifications for victims of violations from Aden to Cyprus and Malaysia that have been swept under the colonial carpet. More claims can be expected. The foreign office has already been informed that it will be receiving a claim from lawyers representing a number of Cypriots who allege that they were also mistreated during the island's decolonisation conflict in the 1950s. More


Corporate Abuse of Human Rights?

Keystone XL Activists Labeled Possible Eco-Terrorists

in Internal TransCanada Documents

Demonstrators in DC via

Documents recently obtained by Bold Nebraska show that TransCanada - owner of the hotly-contested Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline - has colluded with an FBI/DHS Fusion Center in Nebraska, labeling non-violent activists as possible candidates for "terrorism" charges and other serious criminal charges.

Further, the language in some of the documents is so vague that it could also ensnare journalists, researchers and academics, as well.

TransCanada also built a roster of names and photos of specific individuals involved in organizing against the pipeline, including's Rae Breaux, Rainforest Action Network's Scott Parkin and Tar Sands Blockade's Ron Seifert. Further, every activist ever arrested protesting the pipeline's southern half is listed by name with their respective photo shown, along with the date of arrest.

It's PSYOPs-gate and "fracktivists" as "an insurgency" all over again, but this time it's another central battleground that's in play: the northern half of KXL, a proposed border-crossing pipeline whose final fate lies in the hands of President Barack Obama.

The southern half of the pipeline was approved by the Obama Admin. via a March 2013 Executive Order. Together, the two pipeline halves would pump diluted bitumen ("dilbit") south from the Alberta tar sands toward Port Arthur, TX, where it will be refined and shipped to the global export market.

Activists across North America have put up a formidable fight against both halves of the pipeline, ranging from the summer 2011 Tar Sands Action to the ongoing Tar Sands Blockade. Apparently, TransCanada has followed the action closely, given the level of detail in the documents.

Another Piece of the Puzzle

"The Hot Springs School District practiced a lockdown procedure after pretending to receive a letter from a group that wrote 'things dear to everyone will be destroyed unless continuation of the Keystone pipeline and uranium mining is stopped immediately," explained the Rapid City Journal. "As part of the drill, the district's 800 students locked classroom doors, pulled down window shades and remained quiet."

This latest revelation, then, is a continuation of the troubling trend profiled in investigative journalist Will Potter's book "Green Is the New Red." That is, eco-activists are increasingly being treated as domestic eco-terrorists both by corporations and by law enforcement.

TransCanada Docs: "Attacking Critical Infrastructure" = "Terrorism"

The documents demonstrate a clear fishing expedition by TransCanada. For example, TransCanada's PowerPoint presentation from Dec. 2012 on corporate security allege that Bold Nebraska had "suspicious vehicles/photography" outside of its Omaha office.

That same presentation also says TransCanada has received "aggressive/abusive email and voicemail," vaguely citing an incident in which someone said the words "blow up," with no additional context offered. It also states the Tar Sands Blockade is "well-funded," an ironic statement about a shoe-string operation coming from one of the richest and most powerful industries in human history.

Another portion of TransCanada's PowerPoint presentation discusses the various criminal and anti-terrorism statutes that could be deployed to deter grassroots efforts to stop KXL. The charge options TransCanada presented included criminal trespass, criminal conspiracy, and most prominently and alarmingly: federal and state anti-terrorism statutes.

Journalism Could be Terrorism/Criminal According to FBI/DHS Fusion Center Presentation

An - a Crime Analyst at the Nebraska Information Analysis Center (NIAC), the name of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funded Nebraska-based Fusion Center - details all of the various "suspicious activities" that could allegedly prove a "domestic terrorism" plot in-the-make.

NAIC says its mission is to "[c]ollect, evaluate, analyze, and disseminate information and intelligence data regarding criminal and terrorist activity to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies, other Fusion Centers and to the public and private entities as appropriate."

Among the "observed behaviors and incidents reasonably indicative of preoperations planning related to terrorism or other criminal activity" is "photography, observation, or surveillance of facilities, buildings, or critical infrastructure and key resources." A slippery slope, to say the least, which could ensnare journalists and photo-journalists out in the field doing their First Amendment-protected work.

Another so-called "suspicious activity" that could easily ensnare journalists, researchers and academics: "Eliciting information beyond curiosity about a facility's or building's purpose, operations, or security."

Melissa Troutman and Joshua Pribanic - producers of the documentary film "Triple Divide" and co-editors of the investigative journalism website Public Herald - are an important case in point. While in the Tioga State Forest (public land) filming a Seneca Resources fracking site in Troy, Pennsylvania, they were detained by a Seneca contractor and later labeled possible "eco-terrorists."

"In discussions between the Seneca Resources and Chief Caldwell, we were made out to be considered 'eco-terrorists' who attempted to trespass and potentially vandalize Seneca’s drill sites, even though the audio recording of this incident is clear that we identified ourselves as investigative journalists in conversation with the second truck driver," they explained in a post about the encounter, which can also be heard in their film.

"We were exercising a constitutional right as members of the free press to document and record events of interest to the public on public property when stripped of that right by contractors of Seneca."

Activists protesting against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) during its April 2013 meeting in Arizona were also labeled as possible "domestic terrorists" by the Arizona FBI/DHS Fusion Center, as detailed in a recent investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy. More

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The return to Iqrit

Descendants of those expelled from one Palestinian village during the creation of Israel are trying to reclaim the land.

Al-Jazeera – 9 June 2013

Iqrit, Israel – A dream long nurtured by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians made refugees during the establishment of the state of Israel has become a concrete reality at a small makeshift camp atop a windswept hill.

A dozen young men have set up the camp at a site in the Upper Galilee from which their grandparents were expelled more than six decades ago.

Today, all that remains of the village of Iqrit, close to Israel’s border with Lebanon, is a Catholic church on the hill’s brow. But in 1948, the village was home to 600 Christian Palestinians.

Walaa Sbeit, one of the camp’s leaders, said the group had been inspired by a vision of rebuilding their village.

“We never lost the connection to this place,” he said. “Every summer we hold a summer school here for the children to learn about the village and their past. And once a month the villagers hold a service at the church. For us, this was always our real home.”

The nakba

In 1948, some 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from more than 400 villages as the new state of Israel was declared on a large part of their homeland – an event known to Palestinians as the nakba, or “catastrophe”. The refugees – mostly descendants of those driven from their homes – now number around five million, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

Nearly all the emptied villages were later destroyed by the Israeli army to prevent the inhabitants, and the generations which would follow them, from ever returning home.

“Until we moved in, the only way back to our village was in a coffin,” said Sbeit, a 26-year-old music teacher in Haifa, 50km away. “We have the right to bury our dead in the village cemetery, but not to rebuild the homes that were taken from us.”

Sbeit and his friends have been staying at Iqrit in shifts since August, living in an improvised annex to the church that houses a sitting area and kitchen.

They have tin shacks nearby serving as a toilet and shower, and two donkeys. Saplings they planted and a chicken coop were destroyed by the police, Sbeit added, as he perched on the edge of one of the outdoor beds the group have been using since the winter rains ended.

The villagers of Iqrit belong to Israel’s minority of 1.4 million Palestinian citizens, a quarter of whom were displaced from their orginal homes in 1948. Today, the Palestinian minority live in more than 100 Palestinian communities that survived the Israeli army’s advance.

A practical plan

Sbeit and his companions are at the forefront of a movement among the refugees inside Israel to turn the right of return from an what has sounded like an increasingly empty slogan into a practical plan of action.

Although Iqrit’s 80 homes are long gone, a residents’ committee is due to publish a master plan for the village in the summer, showing how it would be possible to build a modern community of 450 homes, including a school, for the villagers-in-exile, who today number 1,500.

The plan has been drawn up by a professional planner from the Technion, Israel’s leading technical university.

Iqrit’s refugees are also involved in a pilot project to work out the practicalities of implementing the right of return, understanding the legal, technical and psychological problems facing the refugees.

“This really is a historic moment for the Palestinian community,” said Mohammed Zeidan, head of the Nazareth-based Human Rights Association, which has been helping to organise the project. “For the first time, we are acting rather than just talking.

“The villagers are not waiting for Israel to respond to their grievance, they are actively showing Israel what the return would look like.”

Broken promises

It is not entirely surprising that Iqrit should be leading the way on the refugee issue.

Iqrit’s inhabitants were neither expelled nor forced into flight, as happened in most other villages. They surrendered in November 1948.

According to 70-year-old Lutfallah Atallah, the villagers agreed to leave Iqrit after receiving a promise that they would be allowed to return when the army had completed its operations in the area. Shortly afterwards their village was declared a closed military area.

“We were put in army vehicles and driven to the village of Rama, and told we would be allowed to return within 15 days,” said Atallah. “We’re still waiting.”

Israel does not deny that the promise was made, and the villagers’ right to return was backed by the country’s supreme court in 1951. Six months later, the army blew up the houses in a move designed to stop the ruling being enforced.

Shadia Sbeit, coordinator for the Iqrit residents’ committee, said that in the early 1990s, under growing pressure to honour its pledge to the villagers, a government panel agreed to set aside a small area for Iqrit to be rebuilt. The deal fell through when the prime minister of the time, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated.

A later prime minister, Ariel Sharon, decided in 2002 that the promise to the villagers of Iqrit and another village, Biram, could not be implemented because it would set a precedent for the return of other refugees and threaten Israel’s Jewish majority.

Zeidan called that reasoning “nonsensical”.

“The refugees from Iqrit are all Israeli citizens,” he said. “Letting them back will not make Israel any less ‘Jewish’.”

Ethnic cleansing?

The villagers’ push to recreate Iqrit comes as Israel’s treatment of the refugees from 1948 is under renewed scrutiny, particularly in relation to the circumstances in which the refugees abandoned their homes – and whether Israel’s leaders ordered a program of ethnic cleansing.

Documents recently unearthed by an Israeli researcher, Shay Hazkani, confirm suspicions that a historical claim Israel has used as its chief justification for denying the refugees’ right of return to their homes was invented by Israeli officials.

The files, located in the state archives, reveal that David Ben Gurion, Israel’s prime minister in 1948 and for many years afterwards, set up a research unit in the early 1960s to try to prove that Arab leaders had ordered the Palestinian villagers to leave.

Israel’s move was a response to growing pressure from the United States president of the time, John F Kennedy, that it allow several hundred thousand refugees to return to their lands. More


Horror: ‘Breaking the Silence’ releases women’s frightful testimonies of occupation

"Do you know what it means to serve in the occupied Palestinian territories?" With these words, Breaking the Silence has released stunning new testimonies from former soldiers, six Israeli women.

Very upsetting. Raw brutalization and debasement. Who cannot weep when they hear these women's stories of degradation? This society has lost its soul, and these brave witnesses are open about the damage, so as to try and save Israel and Palestine-- the politics are irrelevant to this work.

Full testimonies here. In the video excerpts above, the women describe the brutalization of the Palestinians, enforced by debasing peer pressure among the soldiers:

"You can't think that they're good hardworking people trying to survive in a closed, place."
"Later I realized that in order to be there you have to break them, break their spirit. Breaking them means making them wait, blindfolding them, treating them badly, writing 'Death to Arabs' on their vests."
"Putting cigarettes out on them."

One describes a smiling girl who transforms into the "roadblock queen," a tyrant adored by Israeli soldiers.

Several describe routine thefts from Palestinians: of prayer beads, pottery, food. What is wrong with taking gifts? one said to herself.

Another: We could do whatever we wanted.

And the psychic damage of oppression is foremost in these women's minds. That's why they're coming forward. One says she paid a high high price for her service, and so has her entire society.

"People don't know what's going on there."

Here is a link to all the new women's testimonies. See the ghastly headlines: "Slap," "Collective Punishment," "Flak Jackets with 'Death to Arabs Written on Them'" "Throwing them into the sewage pit," "Because I'm bored," "Settler violence." More

Breaking the Silence: Testimonies of female soldiers.

These testimonies seek to tell the Israeli public and international community what it means to be a woman serving in the territories. In order to prove oneself as a woman soldier, one needs to be "more manly than a man". Often, for female soldiers to become "one of the guys," it means that they must use violence and show force in their everyday tasks. The testimonies paint a difficult picture, whereby whoever isn't willing to be violent and abusive finds herself socially ostracized. As female soldiers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), we also had to beat, detain, humiliate and intimidate Palestinians. We weren't supposed to tell our families and friends what we did and what it means to serve in the territories.
As women, exposing our identities through these testimonies is especially complex and difficult. We have less legitimacy to talk about what is happening in the OPT and our involvement in implementing the occupation.
This is an opportunity to have our voices heard both as soldiers and women, and to take part in opposing the Israeli control over Palestinians. This is also an opportunity for us to face up to our actions and take responsibility for them.
We hope that our choice to testify and speak publicly will encourage other women who served in the OPT to join us and speak openly about their military service. More