Monday, April 28, 2014

Karen Greenberg, Abu Ghraib Never Left Us

In mid-April, Abu Ghraib was closed down. It was a grim end for the Iraqi prison where the Bush administration gave autocrat Saddam Hussein a run for his money.

The Iraqi government feared it might be overrun by an al-Qaeda offshoot that calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. By then, the city of Fallujah for which American troops had fought two bitter, pitched battles back in 2004 had been in the hands of those black-flag-flying insurgents for months. Needless to say, the American project in Iraq, begun so gloriously -- remember Iraqi exiles assuring Vice President Cheney that the invaders would be greeted with “sweets and flowers” -- was truly in ruins. By then, hundreds of thousands had died in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, the insurgencies that followed, and the grimmest of sectarian civil wars. And the temperature was rising anew in that divided land, where only the Kurdish north was relatively peaceful. Iraq was once again threatening to fracture, with suicide bombers and car bombs daily occurrences, especially in Shiite areas of the country, and the body count rising rapidly.

The legacy of America’s Iraq is essentially an oil-producing wreck of a state withanother autocrat in power, a Shiite government allied to Iran in Baghdad, and a Sunni population in revolt. That, in short, is the upshot of Washington’s multi-trillion-dollar war. It might be worth a painting by George W. Bush. Or maybe the former president should reserve his next round of oils not for the world leaders he met (and Googled), but for those iconic photos from the prison that might have closed in Iraq, but will never close in the American mind. From the torture troves of Abu Ghraib, there are so many scenes that the former president could focus on in his days of tranquil retirement.

Those photos from hell were, at the time, so run-of-the-mill for the new American Iraq (“as common as cornflakes”) that they were used as screen-savers by U.S. military guards at that prison. The images then returned to the United States as computer "wallpaper" before making it onto "60 Minutes II" and into our collective brains. They revealed to this country for the first time that, post-9/11, Washington had taken a cue from the Marquis de Sade and any other set of sadists you cared to invoke. Of course, the photos and the systematic torture and abuse that went with them at Abu Ghraib were quickly blamed on the usual “few bad apples” and “some hillbilly kids out of control.”

As it happened, those photos that first entered public consciousness 10 years ago this week exposed a genuine American nightmare that led right to the top in Washington and has never ended. Included in the debacle were Justice Department lawyers who, at the bidding of the highest officials in the land, redefined torture in remarkable ways. They made it clear, for instance, that the only person who could affirm whether torture had actually taken place was the torturer himself. (If he didn’t think he had tortured, he hadn’t, or so the reasoning then went.)

No one has followed this endlessly grim tale more assiduously than TomDispatch regular Karen Greenberg, the chronicler of the creation of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and the editor of The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib. Today, she explores the shameful tale of why, a decade later, the Abu Ghraib affair remains without an end. Tom

The Road From Abu Ghraib
A Torture Story Without a Hero or an Ending

It’s mind-boggling. Torture is still up for grabs in America. No one questions anymore whether the CIA waterboarded one individual 83 times or another 186 times. The basic facts are no longer in dispute either by those who champion torture or those who, like myself, despise the very idea of it. No one questions whether some individuals died being tortured in American custody. (They did.) No one questions that it was a national policy devised by those at the very highest levels of government. (It was.) But many, it seems, still believe that the torture policy, politely renamed in its heyday “the enhanced interrogation program,” was a good thing for the country.

Now, the nation awaits the newest chapter in the torture debate without having any idea whether it will close the book on American torture or open a path of pain and shame into the distant future. No one yet knows whether we will be allowed to awake from the nightmarish and unacceptable world of illegality and obfuscation into which torture and the network of offshore prisons, or “black sites,” plunged us all.

April 28th marks the tenth anniversary of the moment that the horrors of Abu Ghraib were made public in this country. On that day a decade ago, the TV news magazine "60 Minutes II" broadcast the first photographs from that American-run prison in “liberated” Iraq. They showed U.S. military personnel humiliating, hurting, and abusing Iraqi prisoners in a myriad of perverse ways. While American servicemen and women smiled and gave a thumbs up, naked men were threatened by dogs, or were hooded, forced into sexual positions, placed standing with wires attached to their bodies, or left bleeding on prison floors.

Thus began America’s public odyssey with torture, a story in many chapters and still missing an ending. As the Abu Ghraib anniversary nears and the White House, the CIA, and various senators still battleover the release of a summary of a 6,300-page report by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Bush-era torture policies, it’s worth considering the strange journey we’ve taken and wondering just where we as a nation mired in the legacy of torture might be headed.

Chapter One: Revelations

The odyssey started with the shock of those "60 Minutes II" photos, followed two days later by the reporting of veteran New Yorker writerSeymour Hersh. Having seen even more grim photographs and interviewed many in the chain of command stretching from Abu Ghraib to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Pentagon, Hersh painted a picture of a deliberate policy of abuse. He traced Abu Ghraib’s crimes to pressure from “military-intelligence teams, which included CIA officers and linguists and interrogation specialists from private defense contractors,” urging the production -- and fast -- of crucial information from U.S. captives in Iraq. Towards this end, the guards at Abu Ghraib were encouraged to “soften up” the detainees for interrogation.

That summer and fall of 2004, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the ACLU, and others got their hands on several Bush administration memos justifying and legalizing torture. These had largely been written by John Yoo and Jay Bybee, lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice, and they proved grim reading indeed. The documents provided uniquely tortured definitions of torture that made almost any act in which the infliction of pain didn’t rise to the level of “organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death” acceptable. As if that weren’t enough, they developed no less tortured theories of executive power in which the president as commander-in-chief retained the right to authorize torture for national security reasons, despite its illegality under domestic, military, and international law.

With this anything-goes green light switched on, the memos proceeded to expressly approve individual methods of abuse (previously defined as torture) for American interrogators. Used in combination and repeatedly, these were known to destroy the human psyche and bring severe pain to the body as well. Specifically, they put the Bush administration’s stamp of approval on graphically described “techniques,” including sleep deprivation, slapping, the dangling of trussed prisoners from beams, and especially waterboarding, a process in which individuals essentially experience drowning, only to be saved at the last moment.

The trail of evidence went right to the top. The office of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the interrogators of “the American Taliban,” John Walker Lindh, to “take the gloves off.” Vice President Dick Cheney, who famously said it was time to “work the dark side,” hasrepeatedly defended the policy of harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, as effective and essential in keeping the nation safe. Top officials reportedly had various “enhanced interrogation techniques” demonstrated in the White House. The 2002 torture memos were addressed to White House Counsel and later Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. More


Friday, April 25, 2014

Everest avalanche: Climbers descend amid uncertainty

Climbers are descending from Everest base camp, amid uncertainty over this year's climbing season after 16 guides were killed in an avalanche.

Nepalese Guides discuss danger
of their Jobs

A row over local guides' share of revenue from foreign climbers erupted after last week's deadly accident, prompting some to threaten a boycott.

Sherpas also want better rescue and treatment facilities for guides.

If others descend, some fear it could effectively end plans to climb the world's highest mountain this year.

Ang Tshering Sherpa, the president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), told BBC Nepali's Surendra Phuyal that was a distinct possibility if the majority of climbers decided to abandon climbing.

But Madhusudan Burlakoti, a tourism ministry official, hoped that some teams might still climb.

More than 300 foreign climbers were preparing to climb Everest this year, but the tense aftermath of the avalanche that killed 13 Sherpas and left 3 missing presumed dead dashed hopes and left many climbers disturbed and shocked, our correspondent reports.

Last Friday's avalanche was the single deadliest accident in modern mountaineering on the world's highest peak.

It struck an area just above Everest base camp at 5,800m (19,000ft).

Sherpa conditions

Sherpas can earn up to $8,000 (£4,800) in the three-month Everest climbing season, more than 10 times the average wage in Nepal, which remains one of Asia's poorest nations.

But BBC South Asia correspondent Andrew North says that does not look so good when the government is earning millions of dollars each year in fees for climbing permits. Some guiding companies charge clients up to $60,000 (£36,000) per person. Sherpas have also been angered by the government offering families of the victims $400 (£238) which will only cover funeral costs.

The guides who lost their lives had climbed up the slope early in the morning to fix ropes for climbers and prepare the route.

The avalanche struck a passage called the Khumbu Icefall, which is riddled with crevasses and ice boulders that can break free without warning.

Although relatively low on the mountain, it is one of its most dangerous points - but there are no safer paths along the famous South Col route first scaled by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

Sherpas often make 20-25 round trips to carry kit and supplies to advanced camps, exposing them to greater risk. Everest has been scaled by more than 3,000 climbers since 1953.


The Government of Nepal brings in millions of dollars from climbing expaditions, but the Nepalese Sherpa Guides get only $8000 dollars per year for some of the most dangerous work on the planet.

Working in the 'death zone' high on Everest and where they are responsible for getting inexperienced climbers, some of whom they have to physically pull to the top and help back down, these men should be very well compensated and should be provided with health and life insurance. Furthermore, there should have first class medical and search and rescue (SAR) facilities available locally. Editor



Thursday, April 24, 2014

US Workers Were Once Massacred Fighting for the Protections Being Rolled Back Today

On April 20, 1914, the Colorado National Guard and a private militia employed by the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company (CF&I) opened fire on a tent camp of striking coal miners at Ludlow, Colo. At least 19 people died in the camp that day, mostly women and children.

A century later, the bloody incident might seem a relic of the distant past, but the Ludlow Massacre retains a powerful, disturbing and growing relevance to the present. After a century of struggling against powerful interests to make American workplaces safer and corporations responsive to their employees, the US is rapidly returning to the conditions of rampant exploitation that contributed to Ludlow.

That’s especially true in mining, where a coordinated union-busting campaign, the corporate capture of federal regulatory agencies, and widespread environmental degradation leave coal miners unsafe and mining communities struggling to deal with the massive environmental impact of modern mining practices.

A century ago, miners led the fight for workers’ rights. The Gilded Age of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a period of great upheaval for the American working class. For decades, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) had worked to organize the nation’s coal miners. Its success often hinged on whether the government helped mining companies crush strikes or protected workers. In 1897, deputies in Luzerne County, Pa., killed 19 striking miners in the Lattimer Massacre. But five years later, when Pennsylvania miners struck again, President Theodore Roosevelt intervened on their behalf, providing them with a partial victory. Roosevelt’s actions, while hardly indicative a new pro-labor federal government, reflected a growing belief that labor deserved a fair shake.

On April 20, 1914, the Colorado National Guard and a private militia employed by the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company (CF&I) opened fire on a tent camp of striking coal miners at Ludlow, Colo. At least 19 people died in the camp that day, mostly women and children.

A century later, the bloody incident might seem a relic of the distant past, but the Ludlow Massacre retains a powerful, disturbing and growing relevance to the present. After a century of struggling against powerful interests to make American workplaces safer and corporations responsive to their employees, the US is rapidly returning to the conditions of rampant exploitation that contributed to Ludlow.

That’s especially true in mining, where a coordinated union-busting campaign, the corporate capture of federal regulatory agencies, and widespread environmental degradation leave coal miners unsafe and mining communities struggling to deal with the massive environmental impact of modern mining practices.

A century ago, miners led the fight for workers’ rights. The Gilded Age of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a period of great upheaval for the American working class. For decades, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) had worked to organize the nation’s coal miners. Its success often hinged on whether the government helped mining companies crush strikes or protected workers. In 1897, deputies in Luzerne County, Pa., killed 19 striking miners in the Lattimer Massacre. But five years later, when Pennsylvania miners struck again, President Theodore Roosevelt intervened on their behalf, providing them with a partial victory. Roosevelt’s actions, while hardly indicative a new pro-labor federal government, reflected a growing belief that labor deserved a fair shake. More


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The war on democracy

A stunning new report compiles extensive evidence showing how some of the world's largest corporations have partnered with private intelligence firms and government intelligence agencies to spy on activist and nonprofit groups. Environmental activism is a prominent though not exclusive focus of these activities.

Protestors in DC during the Stop Watching Us Rally

The report by the Center for Corporate Policy (CCP) in Washington DC titled Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage against Nonprofit Organizations draws on a wide range of public record evidence, including lawsuits and journalistic investigations. It paints a disturbing picture of a global corporate espionage programme that is out of control, with possibly as much as one in four activists being private spies.
The report argues that a key precondition for corporate espionage is that the nonprofit in question:

"... impairs or at least threatens a company's assets or image sufficiently."

One of the groups that has been targeted the most, and by a range of different corporations, is Greenpeace. In the 1990s, Greenpeace was tracked by private security firm Beckett Brown International (BBI) on behalf of the world's largest chlorine producer, Dow Chemical, due to the environmental organisation's campaigning against the use of chlorine to manufacture paper and plastics. The spying included:

"... pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover operatives within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists, and penetrating confidential meetings."

Other Greenpeace offices in France and Europe were hacked and spied on by French private intelligence firms at the behest of √Člectricit√© de France, the world's largest operator of nuclear power plants, 85% owned by the French government.

Oil companies Shell and BP had also reportedly hired Hackluyt, a private investigative firm with "close links" to MI6, to infiltrate Greenpeace by planting an agent who "posed as a left -wing sympathiser and film maker." His mission was to "betray plans of Greenpeace's activities against oil giants," including gathering "information about the movements of the motor vessel Greenpeace in the north Atlantic."

The CCP report notes that:

"A diverse array of nonprofits have been targeted by espionage, including environmental, anti-war, public interest, consumer, food safety, pesticide reform, nursing home reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights and arms control groups.

Many of the world's largest corporations and their trade associations - including the US Chamber of Commerce, Walmart, Monsanto, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Burger King, McDonald's, Shell, BP, BAE, Sasol, Brown & Williamson and E.ON - have been linked to espionage or planned espionage against nonprofit organizations, activists and whistleblowers."

Exploring other examples of this activity, the report notes that in Ecuador, after a lawsuit against Texaco triggering a $9.5 billion fine for spilling 350 million gallons of oil around Lago Agrio, the private investigations firm Kroll tried to hire journalist Mary Cuddehe as a "corporate spy" for Chevron, to undermine studies of the environmental health effects of the spill.

Referring to the work of US investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, the report points out that the notorious defence contractor Blackwater, later renamed XE Services and now Academi, had sought to become "the intel arm" of Monsanto, the agricultural and biotechnology corporation associated with genetically modified foods. Blackwater was paid to "provide operatives to infiltrate activist groups organizing against the multinational biotech firm."

In another case, the UK's Camp for Climate Action, which supports the decommissioning of coal-fired plants, was infiltrated by private security firm Vericola on behalf of three energy companies, E.ON, Scottish Power, and Scottish Resources Group.

Reviewing emails released by Wikileaks from the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor, the report shows how the firm reportedly "conducted espionage against human rights, animal rights and environmental groups, on behalf of companies such as Coca-Cola." In one case, the emails suggest that Stratfor investigated People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) at Coca-Cola's request, and had access to a classified FBI investigation on PETA.

The report uncovers compelling evidence that much corporate espionage is facilitated by government agencies, particularly the FBI. The CCP report examines a September 2010 document from the Office of the Inspector General in the US Justice Department, which reviewed FBI investigations between 2001 and 2006. It concluded that:

"... the factual basis of opening some of the investigations of individuals affiliated with the groups was factually weak... In some cases, we also found that the FBI extended the duration of investigations involving advocacy groups or their members without adequate basis…. In some cases, the FBI classified some of its investigations relating to nonviolent civil disobedience under its 'Acts of Terrorism' classification."

For instance, on an FBI investigation of Greenpeace, the Justice Department found that:

"... the FBI articulated little or no basis for suspecting a violation of any federal criminal statute... the FBI's opening EC [electronic communication] did not articulate any basis to suspect that they were planning any federal crimes….We also found that the FBI kept this investigation open for over 3 years, long past the corporate shareholder meetings that the subjects were supposedly planning to disrupt... We concluded that the investigation was kept open 'beyond the point at which its underlying justification no longer existed,' which was inconsistent with the FBI's Manual of Investigative and Operational Guidelines (MIOG)."

The FBI's involvement in corporate espionage has been institutionalised through 'InfraGard', "a little-known partnership between private industry, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security." The partnership involves the participation of "more than 23,000 representatives of private industry," including 350 of the Fortune 500 companies.

But it's not just the FBI. According to the new report, "active-duty CIAoperatives are allowed to sell their expertise to the highest bidder", a policy that gives "financial firms and hedge funds access to the nation's top-level intelligence talent. Little is known about the CIA's moonlighting policy, or which corporations have hired current CIA operatives."

The report concludes that, due to an extreme lack of oversight, government effectively tends to simply "rubber stamp" such intelligence outsourcing:

"In effect, corporations are now able to replicate in miniature the services of a private CIA, employing active-duty and retired officers from intelligence and/or law enforcement. Lawlessness committed by this private intelligence and law enforcement capacity, which appears to enjoy near impunity, is a threat to democracy and the rule of law. In essence, corporations are now able to hire a private law enforcement capacity - which is barely constrained by legal and ethical norms - and use it to subvert or destroy civic groups. This greatly erodes the capacity of the civic sector to countervail the tremendous power of corporate and wealthy elites."

Gary Ruskin, author of the report, said:

"Corporate espionage against nonprofit organizations is an egregious abuse of corporate power that is subverting democracy. Who will rein in the forces of corporate lawlessness as they bear down upon nonprofit defenders of justice?"

That's a good question. Ironically, many of the same companies spearheading the war on democracy are also at war with planet earth - just last week the Guardian revealed that 90 of some of the biggest corporations generate nearly two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions and are thus overwhelmingly responsible for climate change. More



Israel tightens grip around al-Aqsa mosque

A right-wing Israeli settlement group has been put in charge of two controversial new projects to develop the area around al-Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, the compound of holy sites that includes al-Aqsa mosque and the golden-topped Dome of the Rock.

Dome of the Rock

Elad received planning approval this month to develop a huge visitors’ centre, called the Kedem complex, in a former car park just outside the Old City walls in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan. While the visitors’ centre will give Elad a base less than 20 metres from the Old City, a second project could extend its reach to the retaining wall of al-Aqsa mosque itself.

Al-Haram al-Sharif compound has been the most contested piece of territory in the Holy Land since Israel occupied Jerusalem’s Old City in 1967, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Tensions have been heightened recently, as extremist Jews have begun entering the compound in larger numbers, with quiet backing from Israeli officials. The groups have sought to overturn a long-standing rabbinical prohibition on praying on the Temple Mount.

Israeli housing minister Uri Ariel, a hardline settler himself, chose Elad to manage an area known as the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, immediately south of the Western Wall. Renovations there will extend the prayer area for Jews. Last week, the Jerusalem Magistrates Court put Elad’s management of the park on hold until it ruled on the deal.

Al-Aqsa Mosque

Yehudit Oppenheimer, director of Ir Amim, an Israeli group advocating fair treatment for Palestinians in Jerusalem, said the Kedem complex was the final piece Israel needed to secure its complete control over the area around al-Haram al-Sharif: “Now tourists will enter from Jaffa Gate [an entrance from West Jerusalem into the Old City], walk through the Jewish quarter, see the Western Wall, visit the City of David and get their information from the Kedem complex,” she told Al Jazeera.

She said the experience would reinforce both the idea of Israel’s physical control of the area and a hardline nationalist narrative associated with Israel’s far right. “The sites and signs will look Israeli; all the information and tours will consolidate an exclusively Jewish narrative,” Oppenheimer said. “Most Israeli and foreign tourists will have no idea that they are in Palestinian territory. It will feel to them like they are still in Israel.”

Israeli authorities have already given Elad large areas of Silwan, even though it is located in occupied East Jerusalem, to excavate an archaeological park called theCity of David, disrupting the lives of 35,000 Palestinians. Elad had helped some 300 settlers take over Palestinian homes in the area, creating armed encampments around the park, according to Ahmed Qaraeen, a Silwan community leader. More


All is not lost for Palestinians, even if talks hit the buffers

There is exactly a week to go until the formal deadline set for the conclusion of the Middle East peace talks arrives. Although both are desperate to see the back of the negotiations, Israel and the Palestinians will face renewed pressure from the United States in these last few days to save Washington’s face by spinning out the process a while longer.

Jonathan Cook

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, told visiting Israeli MPs last week that he is ready to extend the talks until the end of the year on one condition: Israel commits to discussing final borders first, a subject Israeli has previously avoided.

Whether or not the US can string out this futile exercise a little longer, the next stage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has already come into sharp relief. Mr Abbas will deepen international recognition of Palestinian statehood, over the vehement objections of both Israel and the US.

It was hardly surprising then that, when Israel broke the terms of the talks late last month by refusing to release Palestinian prisoners, Mr Abbas submitted applications to join 15 international treaties.

The logic behind the Palestinian move is well-known: to gather ever greater legitimacy for statehood in the international arena, slowly turning Israel into a pariah nation for refusing to end the occupation.

This manoeuvre appears to be heading towards their joining the International Criminal Court (ICC) – thereby exposing Israelis to potential war crimes prosecutions.

The 15 conventions place a greater burden on the Palestinians than their occupier Israel, requiring, for example, that they protect the rights of women, children and the disabled and renounce torture, arbitrary arrest and the suppression of free speech. US criticism of the Palestinian move plumbed new depths of cynicism, and provoked harsh rebukes from leading human rights organisations.

Furthermore, none of the treaty bodies considering the Palestinians’ applications will suffer directly as a result. Because they do not receive direct US funding, they cannot be sanctioned by Washington, as happened when Unesco admitted Palestine in 2011.

Israel responded by severing most coordination with the Palestinians, as well as declaring that the monthly $100 million tax revenues it collects on the Palestinians’ behalf would be withheld. But, as one commentator noted, Israel’s withholding of tax revenues was nothing more than pure spin. More


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Remote-control gun installed atop wall near Bethlehem

The above device, fixed lately to the top of the separation wall north of Bethlehem, is a remote-controlled rifle, according to Palestinian sources. Ma’an News published a report on the device three days ago, saying it’s “unprecedented” and is causing anxiety among Bethlehemites. A Facebook page called “Bethlahem Today” has the same report.

Here’s a crude automatic translation of the Arabic report:

Israeli occupying forces erected Sunday, machine guns equipped with cameras on top of the security wall surrounding the Bilal bin Rabah mosque, North of Bethlehem.

Israeli forces provided each machine gun cameras from large high-capacity and possibility of photography relatively long distances and to Bethlehem in the direction of the education of the old junction.

This allows the cameras to Israeli soldiers monitor the city of Bethlehem and targeting citizens far below that reveal themselves and sees them one using special monitors in the occupied area of the mosque and surrounded by walls from all directions.

Jareer Kassis, an Arabic speaker in the States, says:

The reports are consistent with this article in Wired, 2007, on Israel developing remote controlled machine guns.

For years and years, the Israeli military has been trying to figure out a way to keep Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip from crossing over into Israel proper. The latest tactic: create a set of “automated kill zones” by networking together remote-controlled machine guns, ground sensors, and drones along the 60-kilometer border. More


The Palestinians and the "Jewish state

Palestinian negotiators have a miserable task – each time they approach the Israeli position, the Israelis demand more.

One would have thought that the “Palestinian Versailles” – as Edward Said called the 1993 Oslo accords – were enough of a concession to Israel. But with the illegal settlement activity and the illegal West Bank wall, Israel continues to demand more land for less peace.

For decades Israeli negotiators would sullenly say that the Palestinian parties refused to accept Israel’s right to exist. Oslo invalided that call, but of course it did not bring from Israel its corollary – namely, the right to existence of Palestine.

Not long after Oslo, the Israeli position morphed; no longer was it sufficient to demand that Palestinians recognize Israel, they also had to accept that Israel is a “Jewish state.” It has become a demand of the current negotiations ongoing in fits and starts under the auspices of US Secretary of State John Kerry. The Israeli demand is so outrageous that Kerry told US Congress on 13 March that this is a “mistake.”

On 25 March, the Arab League passed a unanimous resolution stating: “We express our total rejection of the call to consider Israel as a Jewish state.” The League followed the argument made by a new UN report – “Arab Integration” – produced by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission of West Asia (ESCWA).

“Israel insists on being recognized by the world and the Arabs as an exclusively Jewish state,” notes the report, released in early March. “It imposes this recognition as a condition for reaching a settlement with the Palestinians. This policy is based on the concept of the religious or ethnic purity of states, which brought humanity the worst crimes and atrocities of the twentieth century.”

These are strong words. It implies that a better comparison for Israel than its preferred glance to the West is to its south – to Saudi Arabia, another state that bases itself on religious supremacy and denies minority rights. It is a comparison that the Israelis do not want to adopt.

Confusion and frustration

On 5 March and 7 April, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor sent strong letters to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemning Rima Khalaf, a former Jordanian cabinet minister who heads ESCWA.

In his second letter, quoted by the Israeli daily Haaretz, Ambassador Prosor says that Dr. Khalaf “may have a PhD in Systems Science, but she deserves a PhD in science fiction for her 200 page report filled with conspiracy theories. There is far more fiction than fact in this report that alleges that Israel is reviving the concept of ‘state ethnic and religious purity.’” Prosor throws in the now conventional allegations that Dr. Khalaf’s “accusations represent the epitome of modern day anti-Semitism” and that she is “demonizing Israel.”

Reading these letters one would assume that Israel does not want to be called a “Jewish state,” a concept that is indeed about “state ethnic and religious purity.” If this is the case then there is confusion in many quarters, where there is indeed frustration with the new demand coming from Tel Aviv.

On 4 March, at his favorite venue, the Washington, DC conference of AIPAC, the powerful Israel lobby group, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to “recognize the Jewish state,” making clear that this would mean the invalidation of the Palestinian “right of return” (“You would be telling Palestinians to abandon the fantasy of flooding Israel with refugees”).

What is Israel’s definition of a Jewish state if it does not conform to “ethnic and religious purity?” Israel has not been able to settle this question. Parliamentarian Avi Dichter (Kadima) has put bills before the Knesset in 2010 and 2011 calling for an end to Arabic as an official language, with Jewish religious law taking the place of Israel’s Basic Law. These bills were withdrawn.

Last year, two sets of bills from Yariv Levin (Likud) and Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) as well as Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid) tried to define the term “Jewish State,” but again could not find consensus. How can the Palestinian leadership agree to a vague term that Israeli lawmakers cannot define?

“Apartheid law”

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has an anodyne definition, linking the term to the idea of nationality: “Since their emergence in antiquity, the Jewish people have constituted a nation, a people and a civilization, anchored in basic aspects of their identity, such as Judaism and the Hebrew language. Israel is to the Jewish people what France is to the French people, Ireland is to the Irish and Japan is to the Japanese.”

But the Israeli state-building exercise – by the displacement of the Palestinians – is different from that of the French, Irish and Japanese. However, the comparison is salient in terms of minority rights. France suffers today from an absence of robust statutory and social protection for minority rights, and it also suffers from the growth of a xenophobic political force (captured to some extent by the National Front) that seeks to subordinate minorities.

This is precisely what Levin and Shaked’s bill sought, which is why the Israeli newspaper Haaretz called it an “apartheid law” (“Basic Law: Apartheid in Israel,” 30 March 2013).

This kind of law, the newspaper’s editorial board writes, is shockingly low on tolerance for minorities. “Arabs will enjoy at best the status of a tolerated minority, with the option of turning them into a non-tolerated minority down the line, one which needs to be rid of because its presence spoils the state’s Jewish purity.”

Is this the “Jewish state” that the Israeli negotiators want the Palestinian leadership to accept? If so, then the ESCWA report is correct, and Ambassador Prosor needs to apologize to Dr. Khalaf.

“Torpedo the negotiations”

Frustration with Israel’s new demand – that the Palestinians accept it as a Jewish state – has gone into the heart of the US diplomatic establishment. In an open letter published by on 8 April, six leading US diplomats (including former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci) reject the Israeli demand and ask John Kerry to “stand firm.”

Israeli politicians “do not have the right to demand that Palestinians abandon their own national narrative,” they write, “and the United States should not be a party to such a demand … Israeli demands that Palestinians recognize that Israel has been and remains the national homeland of the Jewish people is intended to require the Palestinians to affirm the legitimacy of Israel’s replacement of Palestine’s Arab population with its own. It also raises fears of continuing differential treatment of Israel’s Arab citizens.”

In late March, Knesset member Zehava Galon (Meretz) said that Netanyahu’s insistence that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state “was meant to torpedo the negotiations.”

This seems to be the case. As the “peace process” goes once more into deep freeze, the Israeli government waits to change the “facts on the ground” with greater resolution — more settlements, more security barriers, less rights to Palestinians, and less chance of any political dialogue.

In 2003, Netanyahu said that the wall built to encage the West Bank would prevent a “demographic spillover” into Israel. The collapse of the “peace process” to deliver a two-state solution threatens to leave the Israelis with only two options – expel the Palestinians to Jordan and Egypt to liquidate the Palestinian question, or absorb the Palestinians into a non-racial single state.

Israeli policy leans toward the former, with the latter its nightmare. There is no seriousness of purpose in Israel toward any kind of negotiation. It has gained ground by obduracy. Why should it shift its strategy now? More

Vijay Prashad is the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut. He has an essay in Githa Hariharan’s edited volume From India to Palestine: Essays in Solidarity (New Delhi: LeftWord, 2014), reviewed by The Electronic Intifada.


Monday, April 14, 2014

On Tragedy & Resistance: Israel's Apartheid System in al Khalil / Hebron

Published on Apr 10, 2014 •

The 2013 Palestine Festival of Literature took place across historical Palestine, with events in Jerusalem, Gaza, Nablus, Ramallah and Haifa. In this video, one group of the festival's international participants are shown around al Khalil / Hebron, where Israel's apartheid system is at its most explicit. Because of the siege of Gaza two festivals were essentially run simultaneously.

The international participants spent their days taking political and historical tours, meeting artists and activists, and working with students. Thank you to Issa Amro from Youth Against Settlements and Walid Abu Alhalaweh from the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee for spending the day with us.


Murat Gokmen


Stormtrap Asifeh

Sectarian tensions on the rise in Nazareth By Jonathan Cook

A mayoral election held last month in Nazareth, the effective capital of Israel’s large Palestinian minority, has sent shockwaves through the city.

Ramez Jeraisi, the incumbent for the Communist-backed Democratic Front, was heavily defeated, ending the party’s near 40 years of continuous rule.

The result, however, marked more than a change of mayor. Despite efforts by the two candidates to focus on local policy, ugly undercurrents of sectarianism swirled around the campaign.

The defeated long-time mayor is Christian, while the winner, Ali Salam, Jeraisi’s deputy for many years before running as an independent, is Muslim.

Social media quickly became a battleground. Some of Salam’s supporters accused the Democratic Front under Jeraisi of becoming little more than a protector of Christian privilege, while Salam’s detractors accused him of riding a wave of Islamic chauvinism.

The fault lines in Nazareth are even more complex than for much of the rest of the Palestinian minority, which comprises a fifth of Israel’s population. Although the city has the largest concentration of Christians in Israel and serves thousands more in surrounding villages, it also has a two-thirds Muslim majority.

The rise in sectarian sentiment, most local analysts agree, can be understood only in the context of a wider political climate being fomented by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In recent months, the Israeli right have unveiled plans to create for the first time separate Christian and Muslim national identities, bestowing different rights on each group. Even more controversially, Netanyahu has personally backed a campaign to encourage Christians, but not Muslims, to serve in the Israeli army.

“Israel is making a renewed effort to fragment Palestinian society,” said Haneen Zoubi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, who ran for the post of Nazareth mayor in the first, inconclusive election in October.

“It understands that our Palestinian identity has strengthened over the past decade and is doing everything it can to weaken us as a community.”

Netanyahu has trumpeted an early success, claiming that the number of Christians volunteering to join the military, though still small, is rapidly rising.

According to Zoubi, Netanyahu is using the issue of army service as a way to quietly implement the policy of his far-right foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, whose campaign slogan “No citizenship without loyalty” suggested that the minority’s citizenship should be conditional.

“Netanyahu is effectively creating a loyalty test – serving in the army – that is required only of Christians. The implication is that Muslims are, by definition, disloyal,” Zoubi said.

Some 80% of the Palestinian minority in Israel are Muslim, compared to just 10% who are Christian, with a similar proportion Druze.

Druze leaders were persuaded to agree to a draft of their community in the state’s early years. But both Muslim and Christian leaders have adamantly opposed conscription, arguing that they should not be expected to oppress their Palestinian kin in the occupied territories.

The current tensions in Nazareth, said Mohammed Zeidan, director of the local Human Rights Association, have their origin in events in the late 1990s, when the Israeli government backed plans to build a large mosque next to the city’s landmark church, the Basilica of the Annunciation.

Zeidan said it was no coincidence that government meddling, then as now, was presided over by Netanyahu. In his first term as prime minister, Netanyahu appointed two ministerial committees that approved the mosque plan, culminating in street fights between Christians and Muslims.

On this occasion, however, most Christian and Muslim leaders have hurried to try to extinguish the sectarian flames.

Riah Abu el-Assal, the former Anglican bishop of Jerusalem and a resident of Nazareth, said: “The government thinks it can set Christians and Muslims against each other but this time it won’t work.” He and several other prominent Christians backed Salam’s campaign for mayor.

Confounding his critics, Salam has sought to reassure Christians. One of his first measures last month was to declare as a citywide holiday for Annunciation Day – marked on March 25 by local Christians as the anniversary of the angel Gabriel’s supposed announcement to Mary that she was carrying the son of God.

Salam has also accepted a proposal from Abu el-Assal to rename a neighbourhood the “Virgin Mary Quarter”.

However, Nadim Nashef, director of Baladna, a Palestinian youth movement in Israel, feared that these moves would also serve to fuel religious differences. “We desperately need leaders who can rise above this kind of sectarian politics,” he said.

In late February the Knesset passed the first law that explicitly distinguishes between the rights of Christian Palestinians and their Muslim compatriots in Israel. It provides Christians with separate representation in the national employment advisory council.

Although a minor measure in itself, the law is seen by its authors as a prelude to much more significant legislation separating the two religious communities.

Yariv Levin, who drafted the law and is a leading member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, has said the next bill will create an official Christian “nationality”, separate from the traditional Arab one Israel has ascribed to both religious groups.

Levin has made no secret of his motives. In a recent interview, he said the new law was meant to “connect us [the Jewish majority] and the Christians”, adding: “They’re our natural allies, a counterweight to the Muslims who want to destroy the country from within.”

Nashef said the Israeli right wing had seen a chance, in the wake of the regional turmoil created by the Arab Spring, to exploit Christian fears of their vulnerability as a religious minority.

Such fears have persuaded a small number of Christians that they would be better off throwing in their lot with the Jewish majority, said Basel Ghattas, a Palestinian Christian Knesset member.

Netanyahu has been emboldened in his efforts to recruit Christians to the military since winning backing from a prominent Nazareth priest.

Jibril Nadaf, from the Greek Orthodox community, the largest Christian denomination in Israel, has become spiritual leader to a newly established Forum for Christian Recruitment, led by a handful of Christian families that have a tradition of volunteering for the military.

Shadi Halul, a lieutenant in the Israeli paratrooper reserves and spokesman for the forum, said: “We are part of Israel and it is important that we keep our country strong, especially when our brothers are being persecuted and slaughtered only a short distance away [in Syria].”

Halul added that Christian leaders in Israel had lived too long in fear of Muslims. It was time for Christians to “live freely, rediscover our identity and history, and be able to a teach Aramaic”, the ancient language of the region, in a school system separate from Muslims.

The forum has found allies in Im Tirtzu, a Jewish youth organisation that was recently described by a district court judge as having “fascistic” elements.

Im Tirtzu has been reticent to divulge its funding sources. But investigations by the Israeli media reveal that in the past it has received substantial sums from a Christian Zionist organisation in the United States, as well as from a close political ally of Netanyahu’s.

Azmi Hakim, the outgoing head of Nazareth’s Orthodox Council, the political leadership of the Greek Orthodox community, said that Nadaf and his movement did not represent a meaningful trend. He noted that only “a few dozen” attended a demonstration last month outside the European Union embassy in Tel Aviv appealing for European intervention in the region to help Christians.

“The government wants to build up this group to make them look important,” he said. “The danger is that we as a community believe the spin and relations between Christians and Muslims deteriorate as a result.”

Ghattas wrote to the Pope in February urging him to help end what he called Israel’s “divide-and-conquer policy” during his scheduled visit to Israel next month.

He said: “Israel wants to use army service to undermine the unity of our community and create strife.”

Such fears were heightened by a special Christmas message from Netanyahu in which, according to some observers, he appeared to favour the formation of a Christian militia. He said the forum would “grant protection to supporters of enlistment and to the conscripts themselves from threats and violence directed at them.”

Netanyahu added that anyone acting against the enlistment drive would be “severely judged”.

Hakim said he had been called in for an interrogation by the Shin Bet, Israel’s intelligence service, after publicly criticising Nadaf. Hakim is due in court in May after Nadaf launched legal proceedings against him for defamation and harassment. Hakim said he and the council were each facing demands for $170,000 damages.

Haneen Zoubi, the Knesset member, ascribed Jeraisi’s defeat to a failure by the Democratic Front to modernise Nazareth over the past 20 years. “It was easier for some in the party to run a negative campaign and spread scare stories. Now with Ali Salam as mayor, there is a chance to demonstrate that those fears are illusionary.” More