House of Hate

(Originally published on Al Jazeera March, 30, 2017)

House of Hate

Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”
―Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays

I remember as a young boy sitting and watching my father’s blank stare as he looked at a documentary about WWII and concentration camps. He seemed to travel to distant places, as if he was all alone and not seated there right next to me. Only once did he share with me what he had seen as a soldier when part of a group that had liberated camps.

On that occasion he described carrying the skeletal remains of a still as yet living man from the darkened catacombs far below the ground to the light of day, as they both cried… the survivor because he expected to die and my dad, I am convinced, because at that moment he wanted to. Even then, years later, my father cried as he struggled to tell his story barely audible… as soft as a broken whisper.

Although distressed by his pain, there was simply no way for me, at that time, to understand what had happened, let alone why.

Years later, as a young college student, I dove into the study of that period of world history with an emphasis on the Germany of the1930’s thru the Nuremberg Tribunals that followed the end of the war.

Although I can still recall passages of the judicial decisions from the war crimes tribunal almost word for word… powerful, passionate calls for humanity and accountability… try as I did, I could never quite deduce what there was about a place and time that enabled a population to close their eyes and hearts and simply surrender to the sheer evil that consumed millions of Jews, Catholics, gypsies, communists, the disabled, gay women and men, and artists.

The cause of such unmitigated hate, indifference or, at least, feigned ignorance, by so many for so long escaped me for decades only to crystallize and become absolutely clear to me, all these years later, through Israel… the house of hate.

Although psychiatrists and seasoned criminal defense attorneys could surely craft a creative defense to explain away, indeed, justify the recent rash of young Jews apparently calling in bomb threats or drawing swastikas on college dorm doors, on the sides of synagogues in the United States, and elsewhere, it’s really a challenge without a dare.

Israel, after-all, is a society… some would say a culture… born and nurtured from group hate from long before the very first day of the Nakba. It’s only grown worse, with the passage of time, as one generation of apologist has given way to a second and a third and on and on, leaving the entire state very accomplished at communal denial or numbed to the occasional, but rare, burst of truth… painful as it might otherwise be. In psychoanalytical circles it’s called “herd” or “mob mentality.”

There aren’t many places in the world today where picnickers would cheer to the blast of each phosphorous bomb as it rained its chemical death down upon hundreds of thousands of defenseless civilians. Israel is one.

Nor, do I know of many fighting forces guided by religious fiat that justify rape as an almost incidental benefit of warfare. Boka Haram, ISIS and Israel come to mind.

And how many armies invite children to autograph bombs with words of “greeting” before they are loaded onto planes to level schools, hospitals and shelters? Lebanon got that special Israeli message.

Starvation as a weapon of war, not possible, you say. Well, years before KSA became skilled at mass murder by starvation in Yemen, Israel perfected the practice of “measured” collective punishment… slow torture through controlling caloric intake, access to water, medicines and electricity to millions in Gaza whose only crime is to exist.

How often have we heard the ritual scream “Death to Arabs” from settlers as they parade through Jerusalem looking for their next Palestinian victim to trample to death under the watchful protection of the Israeli army?

Want to become a national hero overnight? Simple… in Israel the road to a successful political career is surely paved with the cold blooded execution of an injured, unconscious Palestinian prisoner.

These are but a few of the more recent examples, indeed, hallmarks of the kind of systemic hatred and violence that has worked its way into the very marrow of the Israeli state; one which never runs short of hollow excuses for each new outrage always, of course, for the understandable, if not “right”, reason.

Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear.”
―Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays

Propaganda knows no unique time, place or ideas. It’s systematic. Purposeful, an almost artful manipulation of emotions and attitudes for ideological ends echoed over and over again through one-sided messages which inform the life of a given society’s members. (

Hitler excelled at it. He learned early on in his grab for power that, to be effective, propaganda must not only be simple but appeal solely to the masses… not to “scientifically trained intelligentsia.” Above all else he understood well that, to be successful, propaganda must target base emotions… and not the intellect… and be repeated constantly as so much a never ending drumbeat.

Tyrants have long since learned that the most effective propaganda is that which breeds and reinforces a siege mentality among a people… a world that is neatly compartmentalized into a theology of “us” and “them”… those that are with us, those that are against… those that are allies, those that are enemies. Ultimately, its goal is fear.

Once the point of black or white devotion to a state or theology is reached, anything and everything becomes possible, no matter how extreme or offensive, so long as it’s connected, even marginally, to illusions of threats, real or imagined.

Israel has stage managed, to perfection, that mechanical message of rumor and fear for years. It’s exploited it as well as any state in recent history. It’s elevated it to nothing less than blind obedient faith among Jews, in particular, both in and out of Israel.

Not a day passes without the propaganda machinery of the state preaching that Israeli Jews face imminent extinction… not just from Palestinians but from wholly hostile Arab neighbors that surround them. That Israel enjoys well established bilateral treaties and security agreements with its immediate and powerful Arab neighbors Jordan and Egypt is of course conveniently suppressed… as to do otherwise would be to weaken Israel’s shrill and disingenuous appeal.

This “at risk” message is further manipulated by a narrative that would have Israelis believe they are largely alone… cast adrift in a world very much hostile to them and, thus, an ever-present evil and malevolent threat.

While this papered over vulnerability fits snugly within the “us” against “them” narrative, here, too, reality once again gets swallowed by propaganda. Israel, after-all, receives billions in yearly military aid and assistance from countries throughout the world and has benefited from decades of carte blanche Security Council protection at the United Nations.

When a siege theme ,with its companion drive for social conformity, becomes central to a society’s core beliefs, hate and violence are as predictable as they are essential to the maintenance of political power. Indeed, the parallels between Jews as victims of German hatred in the 30’s and 40’s and as instigators of that same odium today against Palestinians is as dramatic as it is eerie.

A difference in volume, but not at all sound, there is scant separation between Jewish businesses and synagogues burned to the ground during the Kristallnacht of 1933 in Germany and repeated incidents in which Palestinian mosques, churches, homes and olive groves have for years been torched by rampaging settlers in the West Bank.

Propaganda drives signposts of hatred whether anti-Jewish banners hung throughout Germany under the Nazis or those that Zionists display with pride today at demonstrations in Israel or spray paint on the sides of Palestinian buildings. And, of course, the forced segregation of Palestinian and Jewish schoolchildren in Israel today stands no different than the days when Jews were forcibly separated from German students before World War II.

History bears repeated witness to man’s inhumanity to man. Nowhere is it more painfully and palpably clear than in those times and places where racial or religious supremacy whips the crowd into mass frenzy while its targets pay a constant and often deadly price for state propaganda.

Today, in Israel, some Jews struggle to find meaning and purpose in a state that slaughters defenseless women and children by the thousands in the name of peace, that imprisons ten times as many in the name of liberty, and silences opposition…Jew and Palestinian alike… in the name of speech.

Ultimately, that contradiction is best summed, perhaps, by a very simple but powerful rhetorical question etched on a wall in the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC:

What is there about the process that leads some to help and show compassion while others comply with persecutions willingly?”

In the darkest of days… the worst of times in the midst of the hatred that was Germany long ago… a white rose grew. One can only pray that today, from the “River to the Sea”, another one will yet flower.

 

The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups

(Originally published in Counter Punch March 24, 2017)

The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups

The Russian “hack” is sexy. It’s the kind of cabal that can surely draw left and right into a marriage of temporary convenience… perhaps even political warfare, albeit, for different petty reasons. Ultimately, it’s just so much fluff. If you think the so-called Russian hack will in itself drive Donald Trump from power, don’t hold your breath. It just isn’t going to happen.

That’s not to say that Trump’s days are not numbered, but simply to suggest that the pathway to the exit door of this administration is constructed not of digital chips, but rather old school overt acts such as perjury, obstruction of justice and, ultimately, conspiracy. Indeed, how often have you heard it said that the cover-ups are always far worse than the substantive offenses they seek to hide? Just ask Nixon.

For some on the right, the specter of their hero being dragged off simply because it appears he’s been caught stuffing his 401k with rubles… even before he had a chance to remortgage the White House… it’s a painful betrayal. No, not because of what he did, but because he was amateurish enough to get caught.  After all, Trump, the seasoned six- time bankrupt… a proven player at the game… was not just the one who was finally going to make America great again but the consummate hustler who would take us all along with him for the grand gilded ride. How he did it mattered not.

In Trump, the Elmer Gantry of our day, working and rural white poor, in particular, found a crafted populist savior… one who would rid us of all the brown folks and foreigners… the frail and unwell… the non-believers that have occupied so much of our collective space and economy for far too long… all the while, keeping the rest of us from enjoying penthouse views overlooking the river. Amen.

And what of Ya’ll Qaeda… you know our brave, stoic home-grown weapon toting militias? How heartbroken they must be after all these years of playing paintball in the woods while awaiting patiently the arrival of a real American man to take charge.

If there’s one thing Ya’ll Qaeda hates more than blacks, Jews, Muslims and Indians its “them dang commies”. In Trump, they thought at last they had found a secure red white and blue from which to wave their childish patriotism only now to learn that in his world of transcendent greed, flags are for the silly, anthems for the broke… multi-nationals are where it’s at. For loopy true believers, it just can’t get any worse. Can it be that nationalism is just another word for nothing left to lose?

Not to fear, in rides the secular left to save the day.  To some degree confused, if not lost, over Syria and Assad and what’s going on there and why… many among it see Putin coming to the rescue as so much a grand unselfish gesture to help rid us of the dread Islamists while, at the same time, punishing their “Deep State”sponsors at the CIA. You know… two for the price of one… Satan and his creation.

To some, a political or ethical challenge to Putin is the ultimate breach of faith, a dark sacrilege… an unforgivable ideological slap at the timeless purity of the Internationale reborn in the selfless shape of Vladimir Putin. Breaking news: Today, “Ten Days that Shook the World” is known not as a primer of revolution but rather an eco- chronology of recent earth quakes.

Some things just don’t change. Sadly, identity politics are one.

Not a day goes by without hearing activists and journalists trivialize legitimate concern about whether, or to what extent, entanglements between some Russian leaders or oligarchs and their US counterparts have crossed the line into, perhaps, serious breaches of American domestic law… the kind of criminal violations that send thousands of working women and men to US federal prisons every year.

Often reduced to mere “anti-Russian hysteria” or “political theater” the apologia appears to suggest that investigation of any Russian “criminal” misstep becomes a “dangerous distraction from wars and budget cuts.” In its best light, this argument is not only illogical in its reach, but openly welcomes, indeed, endorses a double standard of domestic criminal law…  one for the powerful and another for the rest.

Campaign rhetoric aside, by now it should be painfully clear that this is an administration that finds it every bit as profitable to wage war abroad with guns as it does to attack butter at home. Given its unmistakable commitment to military aggression and domestic oppression, it beggars the imagination that efforts to hold it accountable to law or show it the door, somehow empowers, rather than slows, its destructive march.

Indeed, the notion that an investigation into, possibly, the penultimate marriage of white collar crime and political corruption will somehow “distract” Congress from pursuing its other responsibilities is not just plain silly but credits both sides of the aisle with meaningful interests in the “people” that have long since lain dormant throughout its marble halls.

On the other hand, I guess the Department of Justice, FBI, and a half dozen other federal agencies involved in this investigation are just too busy chasing Russians to permit their prosecutors and investigators to join in demonstrations and raucous town hall meetings that are growing daily throughout this country. Talk about a conspiracy to maintain the deep state.

Indeed, elsewhere the double standard embraced on core domestic and international issues concerning civil liberties and human rights is, of late, often dramatic in its hypocrisy.

These days, it’s obvious many in the Russian camp are pleased with its defense of the Assad regime. Putting aside the long debated issue of whether his aim is gallant and selfless or invasive and colonial, Putin’s fans seem so enrapt with his role, as to give him a free pass wherever the Russian tri-color can be seen to fly. Of course his temporary and, for now, politically convenient asylum for Edward Snowden surely adds to his growing mystique.

Yet, there is very much a dark side to Vladimir Putin, the former KGB commander turned billionaire oligarch and, apparently, President for life that not only rejects the disguise of the shadows but seemingly exalts in the sunlight clear for us all to see.

While the political detention of Pussy Riot seemed, to some, to be but an aberrant moment where orthodoxy overcame common sense and free speech, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Today there are dozens of political prisoners, young and old, in Russia. They include journalists, opposition leaders, anarchists, professors, librarians, students, artists, businessmen and women and retired military pensioners. Their charges run the gamut frompublic speech to organize a referendum for a “responsible government”  to use of mass or electronic communication or social media to  violations for holding rallies demonstrations and picketsto dissemination of politically offensive publications to acts of non-violent assembly to organizing protest marches to showing a “propaganda” film to “insulting” publicly a representative of the “authorities” to  stocking “extremist” publications in a library toactions aimed at inciting “hatred or enmity”  to membership in a banned organization.

How easy it seems for some to challenge US and Israeli war crimes at home and abroad yet conveniently overlook those, every bit as odious, that lay directly at the feet of Putin.

Can it be that headstones of Palestinians, Iraqis, Blacks, Latinos and North American Indians are carved with the hardened steel chisels of imperialism but those of Russian dissidents, or the political opposition in Chechnya and Ukraine, shaped with mere misfortune?

Are freedom of speech, assembly, and press essential cornerstones of liberty where suppressed only by those we abhor, while identical restrictions are a necessary prophylactic to ensure that those who speak words we like to hear live to talk another day?

Are the oligarchs of Russia to be respected as egalitarians with a wide healthy world view while those of Wall Street are to be dragged through the avenues of lower Manhattan as predators who have at last achieved their well deserved fate?

How many dissidents must die, disappear, or lose their balance and fall mysteriously from window sills in Moscow or “overdose” from rare poisons in foreign venues, before we brand the Russian Deep State every bit as pernicious and lawless as those we properly condemn?

Right about now, I can sense the discomfort of some as they read these words. Indeed, I can hear the rumblings of “Russia-phobia” or the whispers that these are the brand of words that will somehow invite war. Ultimately it’s so much denial and sheer diversion and not much more.

Principled resistance is just that. It demands of us that we apply consistent opposition to oppression and international lawlessness whether carried out by autocrats named Netanyahu, Trump, Putin or el-Sisi.

Ultimately, this time it really doesn’t matter. At day’s end, while Russia appears very much to be the 800 pound gorilla in our domestic china shop, the arrogance and greed of Trump’s administration, alone, is such that more than a few domestic politicians will likely be carted off to prison… or impeachment…  while Putin and company remain largely untouched.

Should we expect the grand jury reach in this particular affair to extend as far as Russian, or other Far East oligarchs or politicians? Of course!  Ultimately, when it comes to such investigations, from a practical standpoint, it matters little whether indictments translate into arrest or extradition when there are billions for the taking at stake.

Legend is the cases where charged defendants live out their days in obese comfort abroad while their property and bank accounts here and elsewhere are seized pursuant to civil forfeiture laws. If nothing else, white collar prosecutions often provide a sound economic basis by which to underwrite broad international investigations… whether charges ensue or arrests result.

Indeed, at literally the very moment the Obama Administration was moving towards a successful détente with Iran, his Justice Department was closing in on the civil forfeiture of billions of dollars worth of its property in New York City and elsewhere as so much an added bonus for the price of peace.

At day’s end, there is little doubt that we will see a recast of Clinton II. To be sure, expect FBI Director Comey to take to his favored press pedestal to chastise the Russian government for impermissible encroachment into the US electoral process… while announcing an insufficient basis to formally charge and seek Russian actors, political or otherwise.

Nevertheless, overt acts attributed to foreign players will, in this posture, not only serve as a latch to seize foreign fortunes within our reach but provide the requisite nexus between conduct with roots abroad and crimes committed at home in furtherance of an obvious and frantic cover-up.

Years ago, what began as an amateur burglary to ensure the election of a different kind of demagogue ended with the collapse of an entire administration. To expect the same today is not simply an exercise built of wild hope or exaggerated hyperbole. Indeed, with each passing day it appears the same result awaits us, albeit through a very different kind of 21st century break-in.

Watergate began with the trial and conviction of its five perpetrators and, eventually, their two handlers who were aides to the Nixon campaign. With the help of largely media driven investigations and the cooperation of participants who cut deals to save themselves, ultimately, it ended with the resignation of a US president as the first unindicted co-conspirator to ever occupy the oval office.

Not long thereafter some of his closest aides and advisors, including his former Campaign Manager turned Attorney General, his Chief of Staff, top domestic advisor, two White House Counsels and an Assistant Attorney General, went to prison for charges ranging from perjury to obstruction of justice to conspiracy; all related not to the underlying break in itself, but the desperate cover-up that ensued.

Decades later, the names and means may have changed but the pursuit of political power and personal profit remain every bit as enticing to politicians and profiteers worldwide. For some, history books are rich predictors of what may yet come based upon paths that have long since been traveled. To others, they are better used as paper weights than repositories of knowledge. Donald Trump is one such advocate.

Jim Crow is alive and well in Israel

{Originally published March 1, 2017 at Al Jazeera}

Jim Crow is alive and well in Israel
Long before Israel erected separate communities, the United States perfected the art of the artificial divide.

by Stanley L Cohen

For years, Israel has sold, and we in the United States have bought, the cheap peel-away sticker that it is the “lone democracy” in the Middle East.

It has a nice, assuring ring to it, sort of like “opportunity” or “peace”, whatever these chants may, in practice, mean. But, like beauty, it remains very much in the eye of the beholder, and like reality, sooner or later the truth surfaces, no matter how well its fiction is packaged.

We in the US are damn good at packaging ourselves, and our charade of equality and justice is second to none. We sell stuff; lots of it. Much of it false. Very much like a willing stepchild, Israel has learned from us that if you say something long enough with vigour, power and money to back it, it begins to take on a surreal life of its own, no matter how much reality puts the lie to its embroidery. Indeed, we are quite accomplished at obfuscation. We know it all too well. We’ve hidden behind the fog of it for so long that, even today, those who remind us that the earth is, in fact, not flat, remain heretics to be scorned. Have we found the weapons of mass destruction yet?

Long before Israel erected separate communities divided by will of law to segregate its Jewish citizens from its almost two million Palestinian Arab ones, the US perfected the art of artificial divide.

With the accuracy of delusion, from coast to coast, could be heard the refrain that race-based segregation was lawful as long as the facilities provided to each race were equal.

For decades, the legal fiction of “separate but equal” was the mantra that state and local governments, throughout the US, held out to justify the artificial, indeed lawful, separation of tens of millions of Americans on the basis of race and nothing more.

Whether in services, facilities, public accommodations, transportation, medical care, employment, voting booths or in schools, black and white were segregated under the cheap shibboleth that artificial isolation of the races insured equality, as long as the conditions of their separation were legally equal.

These laws came to be known simply as Jim Crow.

Enter Jim Crow

Indeed, the idea that race or religious separation was not only preferable, but helpful to one another’s ability to chart their own separate but equal course, became a perverse intellectual exercise which fundamentally did nothing more than exalt the supremacy of one race at the expense of another.

Putting aside, for the moment, the reality that facilities and services offered to African Americans were almost always of lower quality than those available to their counterpart white Americans, eventually the US Supreme Court had had enough. It held that separate could never be equal, even where there was a match in opportunity and facilities.

As noted in the seminal 1954 case of Brown v Board of Education, a school-based challenge to the notion of equal segregation, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.

In words that eventually took hold first in education, then elsewhere throughout the US, the unanimous court noted:

“Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society … It is the very foundation of good citizenship … Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms …

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to retard the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system.”

These words were penned but six years after Israel was granted statehood by the United Nations. Nevertheless, some 62 years later, Brown’s command remains a linchpin of any meaningful democratic ideal and, yet, evermore elusive in Israel, which takes pride in the falsehood of the same supremacist claptrap rejected long ago.

Separate schools

In Israel, Palestinian schoolchildren account for about 25 percent, or about 480,000 pupils, of the state’s total student population. Palestinian and Jewish students, from elementary to high school, learn in separate institutions.

As noted in Brown v. Board of Education, institutionalised discrimination in the education system impedes the ability of students to develop the skills and awareness to participate on an equal footing, as individuals, in a free society.

In Israel, this is no accident. It is very much the result of a conscious effort to build a permanent educational, social and political advantage of Jews over their Palestinian counterparts.

In 1969, the state passed a law that gave statutory recognition to cultural and educational institutions and defined their aims as the development and fulfilment of Zionist goals in order to promote Jewish culture and education.

In that light, in Israel, Palestinian children receive an education that is inferior in nearly every respect when compared with that for Jewish children.

Palestinian schools receive far less state funding than Jewish ones – three times less, according to official state data from 2004. In Jerusalem, it is half the funding.

This underfunding is reflected in many areas; including relatively large class sizes and poor infrastructure and facilities. Many communities have no kindergartens for three and four-year-olds. Some schools lack libraries, counsellors, and recreation facilities. Their students get fewer enrichment and remedial programmes and special education services than do Jewish children.

Palestinian students are also underrepresented in Israel’s universities and higher education institutions.

Recent studies indicate that only 10 percent of Palestinian citizens were attending undergraduate programmes, and 7.3 percent and 4 percent were pursuing masters’ and doctoral degrees respectively.

Palestinian academics account for just about 1.2 percent of all tenured and tenure track positions in Israel’s universities.

Like a full range of public spending policies that privilege the Jewish majority, government support for student tuition fees, subsidised housing and employment opportunities is available only for those who serve in the Israeli army which, as a practical matter, excludes Palestinians.

No less pernicious, for Palestinian citizens of Israel, is their inability to live and work where they choose.

Community segregation

In 1952, the Israeli state authorised the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency to function as quasi-governmental entities in order to further advance the goals of the Zionist vision, to the detriment of minorities including those with Israeli citizenship.

Under the Land Acquisition Law of 1953, the land of 349 Palestinian towns and villages, approximately 1,212 square kilometres, was transferred to the state to be used preferentially for the Jewish majority.

In 1953, the Knesset bestowed governmental authorities on the Jewish National Fund to purchase land exclusively for Jewish use. The state granted financial advantages, including tax relief, to facilitate such purchases.

Today, 12.5 percent of Israeli land is owned by the Fund, which bans the sale or lease of it to non-Jews under the admitted premise that it’s a “danger” for non-Jews to own land in Israel.

In 1960, the state passed a law stipulating that ownership of “Israeli lands”, namely the 93 percent of land under the control of the state and the Fund, cannot be transferred in any manner.

In practice, this means that in some 700 agricultural and community towns throughout Israel, housing applicants are screened by Jewish boards with the ultimate power to accept or reject applications to settle in these locales.

These boards, which include representatives from the World Zionist Organization and the Fund, consider a range of criteria such as “suitability to the community’s social life” and the town’s “social and cultural fabric”.

The admission process all but guarantees that almost all Israeli towns and villages will remain Jewish enclaves, and are but a tease to those Palestinian citizens who desire to live in equality in fully integrated communities.

Is it any wonder then, that today, in Jim Crow Israel, few Palestinian citizens have been found to be suitable for these communities?

By virtue of state control over the racial makeup of municipalities throughout Israel, most Palestinian citizens are limited to residence and employment in the acutely overcrowded Palestinian towns and villages.

In fact, since 1948, the State of Israel has established hundreds of additional Jewish communities, without permitting the construction of any new Palestinian municipality whatsoever. Indeed, of Israel’s total area, just 2.5 percent comes under Palestinian municipal jurisdiction.

Of Israel’s 40 towns with the highest unemployment rates, 36 are Palestinian and the average employed Palestinian citizens of Israel makes just 58.6 percent of what a Jewish Israeli makes. About 53 percent of the impoverished families in Israel are Palestinian.

Inequality from the Israeli Parliament

Over the years, the Knesset has used the veneer of democracy while acting arbitrarily to ensure that demographic and political control remains exclusively in the hands of the state’s Jewish citizenry and parliamentarians.

For example, in an effort to maintain a Jewish demographic majority, the Family Unification Law of 2003 prohibits Palestinian citizens of Israel from reuniting with their spouses who live in the West Bank or Gaza. As a result, more than 150,000 children born of these so-called mixed marriages are denied the most elementary rights and privileges attendant to Israeli citizenship.

In a series of other laws, the Knesset has not only imposed a broad range of limitations on freedom of movement, speech and access to the political system for Palestinian citizens, but imposed ideological boundaries on the platforms of political parties to which they may belong.

By design, such laws thwart the ability of Palestinians to impact upon a political process which, daily, dictates every phase of their lives, but yet leaves them essentially powerless to bring about any fundamental change in the system itself. These restrictions necessarily deny Palestinian citizens an equal opportunity to play a meaningful role in the political life of Israel, otherwise available to their Jewish counterparts.

Under its most recent attempt to stifle its Palestinian minority, the Knesset proposed legislation that would enable the suspension of elected representatives of the public not because of criminal wrongdoing on their part, or even because of a breach of settled legislative protocol, but simply because their political agenda is objectionable to the Jewish majority.

Under other legislation, Knesset members may strip Palestinian MKs from their elected seats if they voice opposition to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Indeed, recently a Palestinian MK, Haneen Zoabi, was suspended from parliamentary debates for six months when, on the floor of the Knesset, she called Israeli soldiers “murderers” for their role in the Mavi Marmara incident that took the lives of nine pro-Palestinian activists.

On other occasions, the Knesset has imposed severe restrictions on travel by Palestinian MKs, both domestically and abroad.

Currently, there is a law that bans any political party which challenges the existence of Israel as a “Jewish” state or which advocates equal rights for all of its citizens irrespective of ethnicity. Another law empowers the interior minister to revoke citizenship of people who violate “allegiance” to the state.

An elusive pursuit for justice

That Israel has become a land where laws are enacted to obstruct the free exercise of core political rights of its Palestinian citizens is beyond dispute.

Ultimately, in any truly “democratic” society, citizens are able to seek redress for institutional or private injuries through an independent judicial system wed to no result but equal protection and justice for all, no matter the race, creed or religion of those who seek its protection.

It’s hard to imagine a more fundamental or essential arbiter of the rights of all than a judiciary that operates under no obligation but to see that justice be done without consideration of the ethnicity of those who come before it.

Yet, by design, in Israel, the pursuit of justice by Palestinian citizens is an elusive chase indeed; one calculated to perpetuate second-class citizenship very much the way African Americans were long held in the US under the arcane practice of separate but equal.

For example, more than 200 major rulings issued by the Supreme Court of Israel have been translated into English and published on the court’s website along with the original Hebrew decisions. Although the majority of these pronouncements are relevant to Palestinian citizens of Israel, none has been translated into Arabic.

In the history of Israel’s Supreme Court, there have been but two Palestinian male justices.

Currently, all but one of its 15 members is Jewish. No Palestinian woman has ever served on the Israeli Supreme Court. At the district and magistrates court level, Palestinian judges make up less than 5 percent of those who occupy a judicial position, and even fewer who preside over labour courts.

Historically, the Israeli Supreme Court has sided with majoritarian values in what can only be described as a wholesale abdication of its responsibility to see that justice be done for Palestinian and Jew alike.

Thus the Supreme Court has upheld the restrictions of the 1950 Law of Return which permits every Jewish person to immigrate to Israel and obtain citizenship, yet denies the same protection to Palestinians, even those who were born in the area that is now the State of Israel.

Likewise, the Court has upheld the legality of the January 2003 family unification ban that bars a Palestinian citizen from raising a family in Israel with a Palestinian spouse from the Occupied Territories. The controversial law was introduced as an amendment to the 1952 Citizenship Law, which determines citizenship for non-Jews.

In 2014, the Court dismissed a petition by Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel challenging the continued Judaisation of Palestinian-owned land originally confiscated largely from Palestinian refugees inside Israel. According to Adalah, the court’s decision “entrenches racial segregation” and, writes Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large Annie Robbins, “will result in the continued concentration and containment of the Palestinian population in Israel”.

These are but a few of the many decisions of the Supreme Court that have adversely affected Palestinian citizens of Israel on the basis of their second-class status and little else.

The definition of the State of Israel as a Jewish one makes inequality and discrimination against its Palestinian citizens a political goal.

The marriage of “Jewish” and “democratic” ensures discrimination against non-Jewish citizens and necessarily impedes the realisation of full equality for all citizens of Israel.

Israel has become better at this “subtle” nuanced sale of an imaginary narrative than we in the US ever dared dream.

What, however, the “Jewish” state has not yet come to grips with, is that eventually myths about equal opportunity and justice for some 20 percent of its population prove specious and that, ultimately, time swallows all such fallacy, whether by operation of law or, tragically, all too often, through violence.

Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ is not an exception in US history

{Originally published February 9, 2016 in Al Jazeera}

 

Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ is not an exception in US history

The US has long targeted immigrants and American citizens alike for no reason other than heritage, race or religion.

In 1942 more than 120,000 mostly second and third-generation Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated from their homes and incarcerated in ‘camps’ [Al Jazeera] In 1942 more than 120,000 mostly second and third-generation Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated from their homes and incarcerated in ‘camps’ [Al Jazeera]

It’s always been far too easy for Americans to strut around the world’s living room praising our own inclusiveness … acting very much as revisionist historians who, once past the obvious ugly, move along quickly to “welcome” the world’s hungry, tired and poor.

The folly of attempting to rest the progress of a religious creed by persecutions and civil disabilities has been so often demonstrated that it is surprising to see it survived in this age and country. A distinguished advocate of religious liberty decreed, nearly a half-century ago, that even in Great Britain nearly all of its opponents had been silenced – some have been taught sense, others inspired with shame, until none were left upon the field except those that could neither learn nor blush.– John Rutherford, Chairman Democratic Party Virginia, 1855

We are, in fact, quite accomplished in repackaging a dark, ugly history with fancy wrapping paper tied together with red, white and blue ribbons that seem to surface with predictable dramatic flair as Americans walk into voting booths.

There’s not a whole lot of rewrite that can be done to sanitise the genocide of Native people or to recast slavery or reduce misogyny to anything but. These are, after all, the cornerstones upon which the United States was built. And the march from Asia to railroad peonage is littered with the bodies of indentured servants who typically found relief only in the opium that came with their forced labour as they built the passageway of the US from one coast to another.

It’s a trail of tears that began long before the American Revolution and which continues on today as very much an open, oozing infection … one described not all that long ago by our Supreme Court as “badges and incidents of slavery” in a case which held that Congress had the authority to prohibit even private acts of ongoing discrimination.

Likewise, the smug sermon of religious freedom and diversity that seems to find its way into every politician’s pulpit is belied by periods of religious persecution that not only predate the American Revolution but periodically stop to revisit us as so much a dark reminder of the wide chasm between blind faith and political reality.

The “non-violent” part of the story is easy. It has its genesis, not long after the Revolutionary war, when varied states abolished some churches while supporting others, issued preaching licences and collected tax money to fund and establish official state churches. Were it just about “peaceful” institutional discrimination, it would be far easier to sell the tale of evolving cultural and religious diversity and freedom. But it’s not.

Indeed, beginning in the 17th century, anti-Quaker laws imposed penalties upon “heretics” ranging from expulsion to capital punishment. In the 18th century, physical assaults and near-drowning of Baptists often became the cost of their beliefs.

The 19th century brought us torched convents, pitched gun battles between “nativist” Americans and mostly Irish Catholic immigrants, and a Mormon town burned to the ground with its leaders executed.

In the 20th century, Jews became increasing targets of anti-religious fervour which ranged from imposition of immigration quotas based upon national origin to exclusion from colleges, to being banned from holding political office, and to violent attacks typically carried out by special societies such as the Silver Shirts or the Ku Klux Klan.

In the early days of the 21st century, reported anti-Muslim hate crimes soared nationwide from 28 to 481 and ran the gamut from racial and religious slurs to attacks on mosques and to physical assaults and murder.

Ours is a political experience long rooted in theological and social animosity and domination; one where majority religious groups have long controlled domestic political power and opportunities that derive from its reach. Indeed, historically, theocratic rule has been quick to punish dissent within our midst and viewed immigrants with “competing” religious beliefs and values with suspicion as very much outsiders and undemocratic.

So, one might ask, what is there, then, about the most recent Trump attack upon Muslims, all Muslims, that stands in dramatic contrast from a long and sordid American history of targeted persecutions of minorities based upon nothing more than religious and immigrant status?

The easy part of the equation is it’s 2017 … a long way removed from the time and place where we feared witches and hanged women. Indeed, one would like to think that in an “enlightened”, educated, and culturally diverse “advanced” society, no president would dare to target men, women and children for exclusion or deportation from our shores on the basis of their place of birth, or belief, and nothing more.

But Trump is not your run-of-the-mill president. He has made a career out of exploiting the fears of others to his personal benefit and, like the brash bully that he is, has perfected the art of the contemporary coliseum where today’s Roman elite decide the fate of the relatively powerless … not with a thumbs-up or down but through immigration policies that play to the roar of the crowd … a crowd long manipulated by ignorance and political greed which reduces 25 percent of the world’s population to presumptive enemy status by little more than the number of times that they pray each day.

Is Donald Trump’s rhetoric, now executive policy, aberrant, or unique? Of course not. Tragically, nothing could be further from the truth. As noted, it is but another in a long history of legislative and political efforts to control the borders and street ways that, on the one hand, hold out the promise of freedom as an opportunity but, on the other, reduce it to little more than a tease based upon colour, class and religious belief.

If the past is indeed a prelude, a passing look at just several of these failed attempts to homogenise the American experience offers much a glimpse of, ultimately, where and how Trump will fail in his effort to convert the US into a mirror image of his own insular and supremacist views and “values”.

The Alien and Sedition Acts

In 1798 the Alien and Sedition Acts were a series of four laws proposed by the Federalist Party purportedly to increase “national security”. In relevant part, these laws changed residency requirements for obtaining citizenship and gave the president power to imprison or deport aliens. The Acts themselves came about in response to American “fears” that unrest in Europe was starting to haemorrhage over into the US.

The Federalists felt this turmoil was caused by immigrants who sympathised with the French Revolution and led people to believe that the Acts were necessary to eliminate foreign enemies residing in the US and to make America a safer place. Sound familiar?

After the laws went into effect, the government began compiling a list of aliens that were to be deported. Many who were not incarcerated fled the country on their own to avoid deportation or imprisonment.

Following the implementation of the Act in 1798, future Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison secretly drafted the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions which not only denounced the Alien and Sedition Acts as unconstitutional but prompted the first serious defence of the principles of states’ rights.

Not long thereafter, with the rise of public revulsion over the Acts, Jefferson was elected president. He immediately pardoned individuals who were still incarcerated for violating the Sedition Act and repaid the individuals’ fines with government funds.

More than 200 years later, some 15 states including Washington, Minnesota, Virginia, Massachusetts and New York, the District of Columbia along with more than 150 former US attorneys and assistant US attorneys from California, New York and Florida and some 100 US-based international companies now seek to strike down the Trump executive order which targets Muslims for exclusion or deportation from the US.

These challenges derive their impetus from the very claims raised by Jefferson and Adams against the Alien and Sedition Acts, namely that states need not sit silent in the presence of unconstitutional federal attacks upon their citizens, visitors and refugees but can, in fact, seek relief in federal courts even against policies of the president normally found within the unique province of his power.

The internment of Japanese Americans

One hundred and forty years later, the Alien and Sedition Acts laid the foundation for imprisoning so-called enemy aliens, namely Japanese Americans, and confiscating their property during World War II.

As a result of Executive Order 9066 issued in 1942 by President Franklin Roosevelt, military commanders were empowered to designate “military areas” from which “any and all persons [could] be excluded.” More than 120,000 mostly second and third-generation Japanese Americans – many, Buddhists – were forcibly relocated from their homes mostly on the West Coast of the US and incarcerated in “camps” in the interior of the country.

Although ordered not long after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, there is little doubt that the forced relocation was triggered by political frenzy stirred by hate groups such as the Asiatic Exclusion League, the California Joint Immigration Committee and Native Sons of the Golden West which, along with various earlier Immigration Acts, had long targeted Japanese Americans and immigrants from other “undesirable” Asian countries as part of the “yellow peril”.

Although Roosevelt’s exclusion order was upheld by the Supreme Court on limited grounds, some 40 years later Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act which apologised for the internment and authorised reparations to each individual camp survivor. The legislation, which specifically acknowledged that government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership”, resulted in payments of more than $1.6bn to some 80,000 Japanese Americans who had been interned and their heirs.

These are just two of the most extreme examples of race and religious-based hate by the executive and legislative branches of the federal government that cover a 200-year period of US history. They are, however, by no means alien to the American experience which, throughout its run, has targeted immigrants and American citizens alike for no reason other than heritage, race or religion. From the Know-Nothing Movement of the 1850s, to the Palmer Raids of the 1920s, to the McCarthy era some three decades later, there are countless examples of when, like now, political animus has driven petty politicians and hate groups alike to target the most vulnerable among us.

Hate is always senseless and, ultimately, self-defeating. It starts out with hating religious beliefs … be they of Catholics, Jews, or Muslims … and along the way sweeps within its dreadful destructive reach refugees from countries as diverse as Ireland, Italy, China, Palestine and Syria, to name a few.

Hate unites the bonds of fear and ignorance for those who find perverse relief in the pain of others to make more palatable their own personal and political discomfort.

Hate is a virulent malady indeed, one that seems to travel with the passage of time.

Donald Trump is one such traveler.

Move the Embassy: End the Charade

Originally published January 31, 2017 in CounterPunch

 

Move the Embassy: End the Charade

Among Donald Trump’s first acts as President was suspending Barack Obama’s last – a grant of 221 million dollars in discretionary humanitarian aid to Palestine.

But why pause before the next move against Palestine? Move the US Embassy to East Jerusalem right now and end this charade once and for all.

Politics

US politicians like to preach from on high about justice for Palestinians and Israelis alike… as if the pathway of pain for occupied and occupier is one-in-the same… as if these two dramatically different ends of the scales of justice can, indeed should, be balanced.

When it comes to Palestine, for decades the United States has hidden behind a cheap frilly veneer of neutrality all the while subsidizing, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, a vicious, often deadly, criminal occupation that has used impediment and stalling tactics to re-sculpt a landscape that has been home to Palestinians for the millennium.

How often do we hear from US politicians that Palestine is a complex issue? In point of fact, Palestine is very complicated only when confusion provides opportune cover for delay. Of course, ethnic cleansing knows no better cover than delay.

The debate about the whens, wheres and whys can go on and on as not much more than the allure of excuse. There are, however, certain fundamental truths about Palestine that cannot be denied even by those largely European immigrants who have become expert at rewriting history to suit a land grab of epic and on-going proportion.

Population

While figures vary from source to source, in 1914, Palestine had a population of between 600-738,000 Palestinians (Muslim & Christian Arabs as well as other religions) and 59-94,000 Jews. In 1922, the census showed some 660-725,000 Palestinians and 84-89,000 Jews. In 1931, it is recorded that 4,075 Jews immigrated to Palestine while 1245 Christians and 213 Muslims immigrated there. In 1935 it was 61,854 Jews, 903 Arabs and 1390 Christians and others. In 1937 it was 10,500 Jews, 743 Arabs and 1196 Christians and others. By the end of 1944, the Jewish population had increased to 528,702 of which 117,226 were natural and 327,686 were immigrants. The Arab population had increased to 1,061,277 of which 453,405 were natural and 18,695 were immigrants. Christians and others increased to 149,645 of which 51,616 were natural and 18,948 were immigrant.

Four years later, in 1948, when land designated as Israel was ripped from the heartland of Palestine by UN political fiat, the two sides were ill-matched. The Jewish community in Palestine was much smaller: approximately 608-630,000 to the Arab, Christian and others 1.3-1.7 million… roughly 30 or so percent of the overall population. In spite of all Israel’s efforts, the Jewish population remains in the minority (as it has since at least the 5th century).

Land

As of 1922 Jews owned roughly 3% of the land in Palestine which increased to some 7% of its total over the next decade. When the State of Israel was established, Jewish ownership of land stood at 8.6%, with 3.3% owned by those who were to become known as Israeli-Arabs while another 16.9% of land was abandoned by Palestinian owners who fled in advance of the war that was to come.

Following the UN pronouncement, some 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their farms and villages with estimates running as high as 20,000 civilians killed, twice as many injured and hundreds of rapes carried out by marauding terrorists from the Irgun, Stern Gang and Haganah. Hundreds of villages and towns were eradicated.

In the war that followed, another 400 to 600 Palestinian villages were sacked while urban Palestine was almost entirely extinguished. Out of about 400 Jewish settlements built post 1948, 350 were fabricated on Palestinian refugee property. Between 1948 and 1950 some 369 Palestinian villages were erased and replaced by 161 new Jewish settlements. During that same period, Israel seized two-thirds of all cultivated land which had been owned by Palestinians who were forced to flee.

Reliable estimates indicate that ultimately 80% of the Arab inhabitants, in what became Israel, left or were expelled from their homes, swept out by a colonial design that has run unabated since 1948… one in which the US has been very much a willing partner, indeed, enabler of the ethnic cleansing that has ensued.

Fast Forward 1993- The Wasted Talks

The Oslo Peace Process of 1993 was intended to lead to a final negotiated settlement between the parties within five years. Among other things, it divided the West Bank into three administrative divisions: Areas A, B, and C. The first two were the smallest and were to be home to just Palestinians subject to varying degrees of Palestinian oversight. Area C, the largest at approximately 75% of the West Bank, was “gradually” to be transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction. It also led to the creation of a Palestinian Authority (PA) with responsibility for the administration of territory under its control.

Oslo I was signed in Washington D.C., followed by Oslo II in 1995. Among other things, this agreement, also known as the Taba Agreement, called for prompt Israeli withdrawals from various Palestinian areas and expanded Palestinian self-rule.

Following Oslo I, in rapid order, came: The Gaza-Jerico Agreement also known as the Cairo Agreement (1994);The Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities Between Israel and the PLO ( August 1994); The Protocol on Further Transfers of Powers and Responsibilities (August 1995); The Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron (January 1997); The Wye River Memorandum (October 1998); The Sharm el-Sheik Memorandum (September 1999); The Camp David Meetings in (July, 2000); The Agreement on Movement and Access (November 2005); and, most recently, during 2013-2014, the unsuccessful attempt by now former Secretary of State Kerry to restart the so-called peace process.

Although these dozen or so hollow agreements, protocols and meetings made for powerful photo ops and fine dining, in practice they provided little more than cover… cover for Israel to steal more and more Palestinian land and moral cover for the US to speak of justice while, in reality, stoking the flames of racial and religious hatred through billions of dollars for Israeli settlements and weapons.

The Growth of Settlements

To some degree, the Oslo Accords are based upon the 1978 Camp David Agreement that resulted in a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. At the time of the agreement, there lived some 7,400 settlers in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem), and 500 in Gaza.
Fifteen years later, at the time of the 1993 Oslo Accords, there were some 262,500 settlers in the West Bank.

Seven years later, at the Camp David Summit of 2000, there were a total of 362,945 settlers in the West bank with 169,969 in East Jerusalem.

By 2013, some 20 years after the Oslo Accords, the number of settlers grew to 520,000, across the West Bank,including 200,000 in East Jerusalem.

Today, there are approximately 250 settlements and “outposts” in the West Bank… home to some 800,000 illegal settlers… constituting approximately 13% of Israel’s population.
Among them are 13 settlements and 12 solely Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem where 200,000 Israelis live. The population of East Jerusalem is now down to 37% Palestinian. Area C of the West Bank is now 99% settler occupied.

Empowered by the election of Donald Trump and his nomination of David M. Friedman, long aligned with its settler far right, as Ambassador to Israel, it has approved more than 3,000 new units in the occupied West Bank, and signaled a green light to take what little else remains.

The Bleeding Hearts of the Whitehouse

One need not be a soothsayer to note a steady unbroken pattern of Israel swallowing more and more of the occupied West Bank even as US politicians, republican and democrats alike, convene feel good peace conferences or wax on about the need for justice for Palestinians.

As then President, Jimmy Carter noted “There has to be a homeland provided for the Palestinian refugees who have suffered for many, many years.” Ronald Reagan, spoke of “autonomy talks to pave the way for permitting the Palestinian people to exercise their legitimate rights.”

George H.W. Bush criticized the presence of illegal settlements in the West Bank noting “Outposts, yeah, they ought to go.”

President Clinton opined about the need for the creation of a new Palestinian State based on the idea of self-determination for the Palestinian people.

George W. Bush called for a halt to Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian lands needed for a state.

Several years ago Barrack Obama decried…“more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time.”

Though these sentiments have been echoed by each occupant of the White House over the last 40 years, in reality they’ve reflected little more than a conspicuous political subterfuge to garner votes while providing Israel unlimited funds to support its endless aggression.

The cold hard reality is US politicians care far more about the domestic political mileage and influence of American Zionists than they do abstract notions of international law or justice for Palestinians.

One simply can’t have it both ways… calling out for justice while subsidizing Israeli hatred and violence with an open checkbook and empty rhetoric. It’s just not possible to be a neutral and detached arbiter at the same time courting votes.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Israel simply does not care. 68 years of its history, and counting, has shown that it has and will continue to do whatever it wishes to Palestinians unless and until the United States holds it accountable by ripping up the blank check or until the pain and suffering of its colonial enterprise becomes just too much for Israelis to bear.

Enter Donald Trump

Donald trump is a simple man with a simple mind. It’s his way or none. He loves the challenge of being the smartest, toughest and most creative thinker in the room even when he knows he’s far from it. To Trump there’s nothing like the grand dare, even when he knows he’s not up to it. And when all else fails, he simply makes up the narrative to suit his view. In Trump’s world honesty is for the weak, reality for those who can’t lie and then simply move on.

For decades presidents have determined that they could pontificate to the world about justice for Palestinians but finance Israel in its drive to purge them from the river to the sea without costs that they were unwilling to bear.

However, these same presidents discerned a bright red line beyond which they could not cross without unleashing consequences far too explosive to contemplate… namely, moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the capital of Palestine in Jerusalem.

Apparently Donald Trump does not care.

To the politically naive, such a move would be of little practical consequence… a mere symbolic gesture. To millions of Palestinians, indeed hundreds of millions of Arabs, moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem without their specific invitation would constitute a point of no return… a veritable disaster in waiting.

In one fell swoop, it would signal an end to two separate yet related fictions that, since Oslo, have helped to enable a relative calm in Palestine even in the presence of the loss of much of it to settlers: 1) that the United States was interested in even the semblance of neutrality and 2) that the PA has the ability to represent the traditions and aspirations of the Palestinian people with meaningful capability and authority.

So, Mr. Trump, proceed at your own peril. If you feel, as Ambassador-to-be Friedman does, that Jerusalem is “Israel’s eternal capital”… proceed with your folly. Move the Embassy.

To millions of Palestinians, the only answer will be militant and fierce resistance, and it will come… as sure as the early morning call to prayer.

From war to more war

Originally published January 23, 2017 Al Jazeera/InDepth

From war to more war

Experience tells us it matters little whether a liberal democrat or an autocratic republican sits in the White House.

Well, it’s over … and good riddance. What began with a purchased Nobel Peace Prize and a lecture to the Middle East, under the then omnipotent eyes of Hosni Mubarak, has ended with a parting bang … yet another round of massive US air strikes in Libya and Syria.

Forgive my cynicism, but if history is, in fact, a fair guidepost of what comes to be, Barack Obama’s parting shots at so-called “jihadi” camps most likely did little more than slaughter civilians … thereby enticing 10 times as many others to pick up a gun or a bomb and strike back, however possible, wherever feasible.

Eight years ago the world held its collective breath for what would prove to be an all-too-brief moment with the election of a self-professed anti-war “liberal” to the most powerful and deadly office in the world.

In October 2002, then Senator Obama, an orator of rare talent with keen mind and extraordinary youthful vigour and promise, announced he was “opposed to dumb wars”. He was going to be different. He said so. He lied.

Wartime president

Well … not quite. He was different. After all, he’s the only two-term president in US history who has waged war every single day of his eight years in office. Indeed, not to be outdone by the hawkish George W Bush, Obama conducted air strikes on seven countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria. That’s three more than Bush bombed.

During his two terms, our peace president ordered a total of 563 “special” air strikes, largely carried out by drones, that targeted Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, in particular, compared to “but” 57 such strikes under Bush.

While impossible to know for sure, the total number of those killed by these attacks during attempts to target three dozen or so “terrorists” – including US citizens afforded no due process – apparently resulted in the deaths of almost 1,200 civilians . As a parting peace gesture, Obama left behind “Special Operation Forces” deployed to more than 130 nations; that’s 70 percent of the world’s countries.

On the other hand, let’s give some credit where credit is due. Obama did slap around Benjamin Netanyahu to the tune of $38bn, largely for weapons, before refusing to veto the toothless settlement resolution in the United Nations.

War means profit, and that’s something that brings a huge smile to the face of the new president. The US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan alone have earned the American weapons industry trillions of dollars and counting.

Saudi Arabia, which has obtained more than $100bn worth of weapons during the Obama administration, heard its “concerns” about how US-made weapons were being used in Yemen before proceeding to purchase another 153 tanks, and hundreds of machine guns in a deal worth $1.15bn.

Egypt also felt the pinch of Obama’s pacifist hand when he required that it make “credible progress towards democracy” before releasing billions in military aid frozen since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power after the military coup that toppled the elected government of President Mohamed Morsi. We all know how well Egypt has been progressing in its steady slither towards democracy.

Perpetual warfare?

Perhaps, in a strange sort of way, the election of Donald Trump, consumed by the chase of money and women in that order, may at day’s end be the best thing in years that has happened for the prospects of peace in the Middle East.

Unlike Obama – who has spent his lifetime wanting to be loved and who figured the best way to earn it was by proving just how tough he could be – Trump has spent his life proudly ensuring there’s just nothing there to love and, seemingly, could not care less about it.

Maybe, when it comes to war, the shrinks are right: those who need to prove just how tough they can be are far more dangerous than those who just don’t give a damn. Hope surely springs eternal.

But wait a minute; these guys in the Trump cabinet seem awfully familiar, don’t they? Isn’t that retired General James “Mad Dog” Mattis wearing an Armani suit? Wasn’t he the general who lost his tour of duty because Obama found him too hawkish on Iran as he pushed the military to punish it and its allies through more covert actions to capture and kill Iranian operatives and interdict its warships? Didn’t he only recently oversee combat operations throughout the Middle East?

And that other guy in the corner – the one looking awfully nervous sitting there without his chest full of medals – can that be retired Marine General John Kelly? Wasn’t he in charge of Guantanamo; you, know, the guy that challenged Obama any time the president had the temerity to bring up the subject of closing it? Didn’t he lose a son to combat in Afghanistan against the Taliban?

How about that third guy? He looks an awful lot like retired Army Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn, whom Obama forced out of the Defense Intelligence Agency (the Pentagon’s version of the CIA) because of his description of Islam as a “cancer” and saying “fear of Muslims is rational”. What’s the worry with him as National Security Adviser? No problem.

Does anyone really think that Trump can – or cares to – reign in a collection of misanthrope generals with likely a century or more of battle scars … those warriors that see peace as very much a pastime of the meek … who see moderation as soft, quiet as weak, and talk but prelude to attack ? Of course not.

Profits and more

What of Trump himself? Though he’s gone on record as being opposed to regime change and committed to allies assuming more of their own military costs, he’s often expressed a hawkish stand on the Middle East, specifically with regard to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and sees other threats, real and imagined, against the US almost everywhere.

That translates to money – big money. Indeed, Trump has called for tens of thousands of additional troops; a Navy of 350 ships; a significantly larger Air Force; an anti-missile, space-based Star Wars-style programme; and an acceleration of the Pentagon’s $1 trillion “modernisation” programme for its nuclear arsenal.

War means profit, and that’s something that brings a huge smile to the face of the new president. The US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan alone have earned the American weapons industry trillions of dollars and counting.

It’s not by accident that in the days following Trump’s election, stock values for military contractors soared: Lockheed Martin – up 4.8 percent; Northrop Grumman – up 5.1 percent; Raytheon – up 6.2 percent; General Dynamics – up 4.1 percent; L-3 Communications – up 5.4 percent; Textron – up 2.2 percent; Boeing – up 0.76 percent; Huntington Ingalls – up 6.5 percent.

While hope may spring eternal, reality flows from bitter experience. Here, that experience should tell us that it matters little whether a liberal democrat or an autocratic republican sits in the White House.

In the history of the US, colonialism has always found a “welcome” host in the Middle East, with or without its age old network of surrogates. It knows of no such restraint as political party or allegiance.

Profit and military madness make for a bad combination indeed. That marriage will continue as eight years of unabated war will surely grow to 12.

It’s Not Just Settlements

Originally published in Al Jazeera December 30

It’s Not Just Settlements”

Last week, the world stood fixated at a largely symbolic gesture of the United Nations in which it found, or did not, the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank of Palestine to be illegal. Although the Security Council, with rare uniformity, chastised Israel for flaunting the law of occupation, the resolution, crafted with ambiguous lawyerly precision, left experienced thinkers on the subject debating just what it means.

In its most ambitious read, some would argue it appears the decree concerned the occupation as a whole and swept within its prohibitive reach all settlement activity since 1967 when Israel seized the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from Arab- Palestinian control. Others view its advisory language as helpful through its continued embrace of the time-tired two state solution and its apparent call for a return to the status quo ante of some 15 years ago when illegal settlements had not as yet swallowed much more than 75 percent of the West Bank. In its least appealing landscape painting, it would appear the resolution seemingly bestows upon already completed settlements de facto legitimacy and addresses only that part of the building gorge currently underway or planned for tomorrows yet to come.

To make matters worse, despite its gratuitous dicta, the resolution remains very much a toothless declaration sans any enforcement mechanism whatsoever… essentially relying upon a sudden burst of Israeli conscience to reverse a steady march of indifference to international law that has led Israel’s way since the very first day it was manufactured from stolen land in Palestine.

Predictable in immediacy and urgency, the Israeli Prime Minister threw his weekly tantrum accusing the world of a dark conspiracy organized by the soon to be ex-President of the United States who, on his way out the door after years of obsequious obedience to Israeli will, has suddenly discovered that it’s ok to say no… well… maybe… or perhaps, to its glaring intransigence. But then again, it’s kind of hard to take seriously “pressure” exerted by a country that has just enriched your military coffers and occupation to the tune of 38 billion dollars.

Not satisfied with the echo of his own vitriol, Netanyahu was just beginning. Next, he singled out Senegal, one of the most impoverished countries in the world… and a mover of the resolution… for economic reprisal. Its offense is having the temerity to believe in the rule of law and being housed in the international building with flags of 193 Nations and the State of Palestine that sits overlooking the East River of New York City.

Today, Netanyahu told the world just what he thinks of the United Nations and its resolution when he announced plans to move ahead with construction of thousands of new housing units in Jerusalem, in particular. “Israel does not turn its cheek”, Netanyahu proclaimed as he went on to prophesy a “plan of action” against the UN directly.

Netanyahu should quit while he’s ahead, but he just can’t. There’s no incentive. Like the earlier 400 plus resolutions critical of Israeli policies, as worded, the most recent condemnation by the UN can do little more than cry out for justice in the night from a state built from the marrow of genocide.

I get “bombast”, “brash” and, at times, even “bully”. However, it’s the two legged beasts that feed on the innocent I do not. Netanyahu is very much that kind of beast. An ogre who lives in a world surrounded by dark, deadly thoughts. With delusion his ally, dishonesty his friend and death his messenger, he thumbs his nose at the world as his reign of state terror consumes more and more civilian victims guilty of no offense other than the air they breathe and free life they seek.

When the history of our times is written, an honest accounting will no doubt add Netanyahu’s wicked shadow… and that of his predecessors… to the list of fiends that have seen the world as little more than a playground within which to use their toys of death and despair… always, of course, for the right reasons and always, of course, against the meek and defenseless among us.

To the world of Stalin, induced famine was the prime weapon of choice, though mass execution and exile helped him dispose of tens of millions he viewed as “enemies of the people.”

To Kissinger, the world, particularly Indochina, was very much a small chess game. Civilians were mere pawns ripe for sacrifice through high-tech weaponry, including biological and chemical warfare, to enforce his worldview at any cost. Millions lost their lives to his cerebral game board.

To Pol Pot, struggle was little more than purification, erasing through starvation, overwork and execution a quarter of his people whose sole crime was to see life through a prism that collided with his own, no matter how soft their view or backward his sight.

In Rwanda up to half a million women were sexually assaulted, mutilated or murdered, along with an equal number of male Tutsis, as enemy agents of the Hutu state; machetes and rape induced AIDS the plentiful weapons of preference.

These are but a few of the extremes of genocide, those rare cases we are told noted mostly for mass murder, systemic rape or group starvation… the worst of the worst. Yet genocide does not demand of us an immediate mountain of bodies or an explosive rage of terror for international law to take hold.

As it turns out, in what increasingly seems to be more than mere passing coincidence, the legal definition of “genocide” enacted by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 260A (III) Article 2 was born in 1948, the very same year as Israel… which has since gone on to become both expert at its application and legendary in its denial.

In relevant part, under the applicable Convention, genocide means “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; or (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”. Each and every one of these sign-posts of genocide has been perpetrated by Israel, seemingly with almost proud boast, and no accountability, for almost 70 unbroken years.

One need not rest upon obtuse historical footnotes to find abundant, indeed systemic, acts of extermination carried out by Israel since 1948 against Palestinians… very much a cognizable “national, ethnical, racial or religious group” as those terms are contemplated and commonly understood and applied under international law.

Beginning with its mass expulsion, rape and murder at the onset of the Nakba (the Disaster) Israel has devoted itself to 68 years of non- stop genocide coming up for air only periodically to retool or to change the nature of its weaponry of choice. What started out with the expulsion, at gunpoint, of over 700 thousand Palestinians from their ancestral homeland set in motion a refugee stampede that has grown to more than seven million displaced and stateless people… providing the world more than a disturbing glimpse of what was to come decades later in Syria.

Over the years, Israel has found diverse ways to kill more than 500 thousand Palestinian civilians and injure or cripple three to four times as many, including tens of thousands of women and children. Whether by tank fire, rockets, or cluster or Phosphorus bombs, it has given new meaning to the evil of willful group slaughter.

In its thirst to ethnically cleanse all of Palestine of its remaining inhabitants, it’s made use of starvation, in violation of Protocol I (API) to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, as a method of war targeting foodstuffs, crops and livestock throughout the occupied territories. In particular, it’s destroyed more than a million olive trees which not only serve as an essential mainstay of Palestinian culture but, along with hundreds of thousands of razed fruit trees, constitute key products of a Palestinian national economy largely in various states of ruin.

In Gaza, Israel has targeted hospitals, schools, day-care centers, multi-story apartment complexes, UNWRA shelters and mental health clinics with a deadly proficiency that would make historic war criminals blush with envy. It has laid waste to thousands of its hardscrabble built homes and left upwards of a hundred thousand Palestinians internally displaced, indeed homeless… leaving many families at a breaking point.

For the survivors of the Gaza killing fields, Israel has made life unbearable over the last decade though a criminal embargo that not only guarantees insufficient caloric intake, fresh water and medicine, but denies to its 1.8 million survivors building materials essential for the reconstruction of its beleaguered, and largely leveled, infrastructure. Not satisfied with physical pain alone, with cruel, wanton abandon, it’s no stretch to find that its master plan has consciously induced levels of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder unmatched anywhere else in the world.

Given all these palpable elements of ethnic cleansing, it is reasonably projected that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020 thereby once again driving several million traumatized refugees out onto the road of an uncertain and dangerous Diaspora.

To describe Israel’s Gaza strategy as anything but one intended to cause “serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group” is to deny a very public and systematic orgy of punishment meted out to Palestinian civilians on the basis of group identity and dynamic… and nothing more.

In the West Bank, Israel’s calculus of pain and punishment is largely a difference without a distinction… one that varies in form but not intent or ultimate goal. Not satisfied with the 531 villages and localities it depopulated and completely eradicated during the early days of the Nakba, since 1967 Israel has stolen, resettled and annexed almost all of the West Bank, including much of East Jerusalem, in clear violation of Article 4 of the Geneva Conventions which prohibit an occupation force from doing little more than erecting limited bases for its own security needs in occupied land.

During this criminal land grab, it has approved, indeed subsidized, the construction of illegal housing for some 800,000, largely immigrant, settlers at the same time it has destroyed almost fifty thousand Palestinian structures, largely homes, many of them age-old, rendering tens of thousands of its indigenous population homeless, often destitute or dependent upon the largesse of already overcrowded housing of family or friends.

None of these facts about Israel’s sordid and deadly history can be dispatched as the product of mere hyperbole or unsupported hearsay. Claims of Israeli genocide have been substantiated time and time again by a host of independent human rights organizations and NGO’s, with no axe to grind, and include findings from respected groups from within Israel, itself. In point of fact, from its arrogant perch, Israel has not just committed unspeakable acts of genocide but done so with absolute transparency as if to say to the rest of the world… there we did it… and we are well beyond the reach of international law.

Make no mistake about it, the sum total of Israel’s efforts these past 68 years is nothing short of the deliberate infliction upon Palestinians, as a cognizable group, conditions of life and death calculated to bring about their physical destruction in whole or in part. In the presence of overwhelming evidence of premeditated Israeli genocide, to argue otherwise is to reduce the dark, evil and systematic deeds of Stalin, Kissinger, Pol Pot and the Hutu state to little more than a collection of misunderstood happenstance.

Yes, Mr. Prime Minister you should quit while you are ahead. Today, Israel stands charged with violations of but the law of occupation. Tomorrow, it might very well, indeed should, find itself seated in a well deserved international dock on trial for genocide.