Building For Sale, All Bids Considered: the UN and the Middle East

Originally published at al Jazeera, highly edited in 2 parts the week of April 29, 2018 as “Israel and the Loss of Collective Hope”  The unedited original was published May 1, 2018 in CounterPunch. The below is the unedited version.

 

Building For Sale… All Bids Considered.

It sits on First Avenue, just off of 41st Street, overlooking the East River in New York City. It opened to great applause and expectation. A wishful answer to the madness that had become a world unleashed with the scent of blood and the all too customary wail of mourn.

It was to be our collective hope. A grand oath by which, together, the world could find answers to the greed and arrogance of states long unbound in their historical feed upon those less powerful. It has not worked.

Founded in San Francisco on October 24, 1945, the United Nations opened with endless promise. As proclaimed in its lofty preamble, the original 51 member states committed themselves to saving “ succeeding generations from the scourge of war… [reaffirmed]… faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights… of nation’s large and small… to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from… international law [could] be maintained… to ensure… that armed force [would] not be used, save in the common interest.”

With all too comfortable ease, 73 years later, these passionate words of humanity have once again proven themselves to be little more than idle gossip in which the powerful not only craft the tone of the debate but set about to ensure its content reflects their unique and predatory vision of the rule of law.

For those who have come of age to the U.N. promise, we’ve long been witness to state terrorism that has become the international norm whether carried out by imperial fiat, proxy march or by the U.N. itself. After all, was it not the United Nations failure to act decisively against the unlawful U.S. led invasion in Iraq that essentially provided a papal-like blessing to its destruction?

Loud on bark, little on bite, the U.N. has long served as the world’s most impressive moot court… debating whether commas or semi colons should punctuate its impressive pronouncements before the predictable veto sends the Security Council home for dinner and the resolution to the scrap heap of rhetorical history.

In what has become a political art form of pain and punishment, with repeated rerun a handful of powers have used their veto to ensure that the Security Council is long on vent but short on action.

In first place stands Russia/Soviet Union which has used its veto 123 times... more than any other permanent member of the Security Council. Most recently, on April 10,, 2018 Russia blocked a resolution to identify who was responsible for the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma in Syria. This follows a similar veto by Russia on February 28, 2017 regarding sanctions on chemical weapons use in Syria and then another, on November 17, 2017, when it vetoed efforts for a 30-day renewal of a commission investigating chemical weapons attacks within Syria. To date since the conflict began in 2011 Russia has used its veto 12 times regarding Syria on issues which include condemnation of the bombing of Aleppo and ceasefires. Earlier it vetoed a Security Council condemnation of its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

In second place stands the United States. It has exercised its veto power some 79 times since the U.N. opened its doors to the facade of justice. Since 1972, it has neutered Security Council action more than any other permanent member and, since 1982, the grand protector of Israel has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of it… more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members.

Most recently, it vetoed a resolution proposed by Kuwait condemning Israeli attacks upon thousands of Palestinians during the Great March of Return that called for an independent investigation into mass killings and injuries that have ensued. On December 18, 2017 it vetoed a draft resolution approved by 14 of the 15 members of the Security Council urging countries to refrain from establishing embassies in Jerusalem. So predictable was this veto, rumor has it the UN press office prepared news of its use long before the actual vote.

In its most basic form, the veto power ensures that permanent members of the Security Council can, as they choose, prevent any collective UN action whether a diplomatic or armed response to an international crises… thus sacrificing the will of the world community to their own narrow geo-political program.

U.N. inaction, or sanctioned violence, has long betrayed any meaningful effort to serve as the world’s neutral arbiter to ensure equal and just application of international law and the pursuit of world peace.

While examples of meaningless, indeed failed, political debate abound, two in particular … one of recent vintage, the other as old as the body itself… expose the U.N. as little more than an excuse for yearly September get-togethers of world leaders. In between, career politicians, ensconced in Manhattan high rise splendor, debate, ad nauseum, issues of life and death as the refugee and body counts swell.

Yemen

Recently, the U.N. Security Council issued a stinging rebuke of Houthis, in Yemen, for their alleged launch of a number of missiles fired at the capital city of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. It also chastised those that are apparently ignoring the U.N.’s one sided arms embargo directed only at Houthi leaders.

Meanwhile, for more than three years, the United States, the UK and other U.N. power brokers have provided military advisors, weapons, training and intelligence to Saudi Arabia in its cruel and indiscriminate attacks upon a largely civilian population constituting the most impoverished state in the Arab world.

With more than a thousand such documented air raids, Saudi Arabia has apparently looked to Israel for moral inspiration as it has unleashed a relentless campaign to destroy Yemen’s essential infrastructure leveling more than 70 health facilities. Many of these have been public health hospitals staffed by Doctors Without Borders (MSF). These attacks on medical facilities constitute a clear violation of internationally recognized Rules of Law.

In one such attack, on the Abs Hospital in Northern Yemen, 19 were killed and dozens injured. At the time the Saudi bomb exploded in the hospital compound, its maternity ward was filled with 25 women there to give birth.

Just this past week the Saudi-led coalition carried out multiple airstrikes on a wedding in Northwest Yemen. It has been reported that at least 33 were killed and 55 injured by an American made bomb including the bride. Most of the victims were women and children.

In a country heavily dependent on its fishing industry, hundreds of fishing boats have been destroyed, and fishermen killed, by warships and helicopters in the Red Sea… manned by Saudi coalition partners. As of September 2017, the Yemen Data Project has recorded 356 air raids targeting farms, 174 targeting market places and 61 air raids targeting food storage sites.

Like the “security” embargo in Gaza, a blockade of Yemen’s ports ensures that millions of Yemenis live under threat of mass starvation and disease… denied the most basic foodstuffs and medical supplies. Under international law these steps constitute a war crime or crime against humanity.

Since Saudi Arabia began its military intervention in Yemen, in March of 2015, more than 10,000 civilians have died and three million others have been displaced.

It has been estimated that 19.3 million Yemenis… more than two-thirds of the population … do not have access to clean water and sanitation.

The charity, Save the Children, estimated hunger and disease would kill at least 50,000 Yemeni children in 2017, alone.

The World Health Organization has reported more than 815,000 suspected cases of cholera in Yemen and, so far, approximately 2,500 deaths. About 4,000 suspected cases are being reported daily… more than half of which are among children under 18. Children under five account for a quarter of all such cases.

Described by U.N. officials as the world’s “largest man-made crises”, the international body dedicated to stave off the scourge of war and to ensure human and equal rights for all, has done nothing of consequence to end the suffering, indeed, full on genocide now underway in Yemen.

Despite its grand rhetorical preach, the United Nations has imposed no sanctions on any of its architects nor has it passed any measures against those supplying arms or other material aid or consult to the Saudi-led coalition.

Palestine

Stolen from age-old Palestinian villages, no state has offended, with such brazen regularity and uniform betrayal, the core principles of the United Nations than has Israel. Since literally its first day, when the U.N. announced to the world that Palestine was relegated to history and Israel crafted as a Middle East extension of Europe, Israel has flaunted international law in its march of ethnic cleanse.

With mayhem its mantra even before its artificial declaration of statehood, Israel’s Zionist framers never blinked at the use of unbridled terror to obtain their goal. The bombing of the King David Hotel, in 1946, by the Irgun… a UK designated terrorist organization… took the life of 91 mostly civilians. While this massacre and the assassination of UN mediator Folke Bernadotte, in Jerusalem in 1948, by the group Lehi, momentarily captured the eye of the world, for well over a decade Palestinians and British, alike, were victimized by the horror of a non-stop drive by Zionists in their chase of statehood.

During this period, hundreds of British police and military personal were injured or assassinated by explosives, snipers or lynching. Jewish terrorists attacked the British and Palestinian infrastructure, en masse, as they robbed banks and bombed military and police installations, government offices, and ships. They sabotaged railways, bridges, and oil installations using booby traps, ambushes and vehicle blasts with the kind of cold detached execution that the world would once again see just this past week… not from the Irgun, but by its heirs in the Israeli military.

There is no need to recast, in full, the nightmare that has befallen tens of thousands of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators over the last several weeks in Gaza…leaving 39 dead and at least 2900 wounded… many critical. By now, the massacre has been well recorded.

Suffice it to say, Israel, ever-more the victim, would have us believe it has acted in self defense against a horde of dangerous activists including women and children flag bearers and those engaged in prayer. Rampaging protestors who inexplicably threw themselves into harm’s way and thousands of rounds of incoming Israeli sniper fire… just because.

Not surprisingly, most killed or injured suffered gunshot wounds to the rear of their heads or backs. In the parlance of forensic science, these entry wounds are consistent not with attack but flight.

Civilian massacres are, of course, very much an essential part of the Israeli historical narrative. A walk down its memory lane shows an unbroken pattern of carnage perpetrated upon the most vulnerable of its enemies… real or imagined.

Operation Protective Edge”

In 2014, Israel undertook a cruel assault on Gaza as it once again targeted its two millions civilians with massive disproportionate force. According to a United Nations report “the scale of the devastation was unprecedented… tallying more than 6,000 airstrikes, 14,500 tank shells and 45,000 artillery shells unleashed between July 7 and Aug. 26.”

Many of these explosive devices, in particular artillery and mortars, were used in densely populated areas and designed to have a “wide-area” impact to ensure that anyone or anything within the contact area would likely be killed, injured or damaged due to their explosive power and imprecision.

One non-governmental organization reported a 533% increase in the use of highly explosive artillery shells in comparison to those used in Israel’s earlier attacks on Gaza in 2008 and 2009.

As noted by the U. N., haphazard strikes in densely populated neighborhoods, on residential buildings, the use of explosives with wide-area affects and the destruction of entire neighborhoods in Gaza likely constituted a violation of the prohibitions of indiscriminate attacks against civilians and was therefore a war crime.

When Israel’s thirst for retribution was at last satisfied, 2310 Palestinians were killed… the majority of them civilians. Among them, 551 children and 299 women lay dead. More than 11,000 others were wounded, a third of them children, with over 1,000 left permanently disabled.

Many of those killed or maimed were targeted while seeking refuge in various shelters including U.N. schools. Twenty civilians lost their lives and dozens more injured in an overnight attack on the Jabaliya elementary school where more than 3,000 displaced civilians had sought refuge.

In another such attack, 16 people were killed and more than 200 wounded when a U.N. shelter in northern Gaza was bombed. These strikes were but two of six upon U.N.-run schools or shelters during Operation “Protective Edge.” Of significance, the coordinates of the U.N. sites had been provided to Israel, some repeatedly, well in advance of their attack.

Criminal not just for the loss of life, the concentrated Israeli onslaught was designed to cause lasting devastation on a community already overwhelmed by poverty and still reeling from the last major assault on its infrastructure just a few years earlier.

Among the infrastructure leveled were hundreds of factories, dairy farms with livestock and orange groves. 138 schools and 26 health facilities were damaged and thousands of homes totally destroyed or severely damaged. The lone power station and major sewage pipe in Gaza, serving 500,000 inhabitants, were destroyed. 10 out of 26 hospitals were damaged or destroyed. 203 mosques were damaged, 73 destroyed… along with two of Gaza’s three Christian churches.

Approximately six weeks after it began, the Human Rights Council of the U.N. held an emergency session regarding the bloodbath in Gaza.

In the strongest of terms, a resolution was passed which, in relevant part, condemned “the widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from… the latest Israeli military assault on the occupied Gaza Strip, by air, land and sea, which has involved disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks, including aerial bombardment of civilian areas, the targeting of civilians and civilian properties in collective punishment contrary to international law and other actions, including the targeting of medical and humanitarian personnel, that may amount to international crimes.”

Though the resolution called for an immediate ceasefire, predictably, it was ignored by Israel. Only one country voted against the resolution… the United States.

Although an investigation into the massacre of 2014 is currently underway at the International Criminal Court, to date, the United Nations itself has undertaken no affirmative steps nor imposed any sanctions against Israel for its 50 day slaughter in Gaza.

Operation Cast Lead”

In 2008-2009, during “Operation Cast Lead”, Israel dropped more than 100 tons of explosives on Gaza during its first 9 hours. In the days to come, tens of thousands of its civilians were exposed to white phosphorous shells fired into crowded residential areas… not as incidental cover to otherwise legitimate use of force, but rather as a primary weapon of war in violation of international law. Almost a dozen such shells struck the main Gaza City compound of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) where some 700 civilians had taken shelter, causing numerous deaths and injuries. {pg 93}

On the day before the hostilities ended, three phosphorous shells landed in another clearly marked U.N. facility. One landed in a classroom setting it on fire and killing two brothers as they slept, severely injuring their mother and a cousin, and wounding a dozen others who had sought refuge there. As with all other U.N. facilities, Israel had advance notice of its coordinates.

Burning white phosphorus produces a hot, dense, white smoke consisting mostly of phosphorus pentoxide which produces horrific burns. It sticks to the skin of its victims, penetrating their bodies… resulting in liver, heart and kidney damage and, in some cases, multiple organ failure… thus creating a greater risk of death than other burns. These weapons are particularly dangerous because white phosphorus burns unless deprived of oxygen or until it is completely exhausted.

Throughout the attack, Israel made broad use of a dual-purpose improved “conventional” artillery shell designed to avoid international prohibitions against the use of traditional cluster bombs.

Intended as an anti-armor and antipersonnel weapon, each artillery shell separates into 24 sub-munitions, containing more than 1,200 fragments that explode to create a wide and dense area of coverage within a 350-foot radius killing and wounding indiscriminately. One example of their destructive potential was an attack on an UNRWA school being used as a shelter in Jabaliya, on 6 January, which killed 43 Palestinians. On that occasion, Israel acknowledged the use of the shells.

Defense News estimates that Israel fired 7,000 artillery rounds of this type during its attack on Gaza in 2008-2009.

The United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict ruled that these attacks constituted violations of international human rights and humanitarian law as well as possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. 1394 Palestinian men and women were killed, including 345 children.

South African Jurist Richard Goldstone, a former international war crimes prosecutor and member of the U.N. team that issued the report, described the Israeli conduct as “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”

With the Obama administration taking the lead in defense of Israel, the U. N. took no steps to hold it accountable for repeated violations of international law during the massacre.

Lebanon

Not one to limit its breach of international law and the law of war to its attacks in Gaza and the West Bank alone, Israel has a long and well documented history of human rights violations and war crimes during its not infrequent assaults on Lebanon.

Here, too, the United Nations has watched largely in silence as Israel has targeted civilian communities and U.N. facilities, made us of prohibited weapons of war and participated in massacres against defenseless women and children.

In July of 2006, the Israeli Air Force (IAF), some ten to fifteen minutes apart, dropped two bombs, at least one of which was precision guided, on a private three story residence in the small South Lebanese village of Qana. 28 civilians were killed. 16 were children.

Video broadcast by Arab TV showed the bloodied bodies of women and children, recovered from the rubble, who appeared to be wearing nightclothes. The dead, who ranged in age from nine months to 75 years, had sought refuge in the building during a period of conflict with Hezbollah.

While the Security Council expressed the United Nations’ “extreme shock and distress” at the bombing and offered its condolences for the deaths, it took no further action against Israel for this atrocity.

On August 7, 2006, two missiles fired by an Israeli jet destroyed three apartment buildings in the Chiyah suburb in the Lebanese capital of Beirut. At least 50 corpses were recovered from the rubble. Later that same day, the IAF struck another building in the Lebanese city of Ghaziyeh. 16 civilians lost their lives in this attack.

The next day, Israel once again struck Ghaziyeh firing 5 missiles into three buildings… killing up to 14 civilians and wounding 33 others. As with the attacks in Qana and Chiyah, the U.N. expressed its condolences but did little else.

Ten years earlier, on April 18, 1996, the IAF targeted a U.N. compound in Qana where some 800 civilians had sought shelter from Israeli bombardments during its sixteen day battle with Hezbollah. Suddenly, with no warning, Israel began to attack the clearly marked compound with a mix of high-explosive artillery rounds that included deadly anti-personnel shells. When the massacre ended, 106 civilians had been killed and another 116 injured.

Like the attack on Qana a decade later, the U.N. expressed its condolences for civilian losses. However, it took no further steps against Israel despite a finding that the attack reflected a “callous disregard for civilian lives and a breach of the laws of war on directly or indiscriminately targeting civilians.”

This is not to suggest that the United Nations was completely indifferent to the shelling of its compound as the General Assembly, by a vote of 66 to 2 with 59 abstentions, passed a resolution demanding that Israel reimburse it to the tune of 1.7 million dollars for the cost of repairs to its compound.

Predictably, the United States and Israel voted against the resolution. Not surprisingly, Israel ignored the bill. The U.N. took no subsequent steps against Israel for its refusal.

The Invasion of 1982

In 1982, the Israeli army invaded Lebanon to stop attacks from the PLO that, at the time, was using South Lebanon as a home base. Already deep in the midst of a civil war, internal Lebanese fighting provided convenient cover for Israeli violence often directed at Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, alike. For three years, Israel occupied Beirut unleashing massive and indiscriminate attacks on communities it identified as home to Palestinian and Lebanese enemies.

While the full scope of Israeli violence will never be known, some of its own soldiers described the wholesale use of prohibited weapons of war against civilian populations as “… insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs.”.

According to a rocket unit commander during one period, they fired around 1,800 cluster bombs containing over 1.2 million bomblets. When Israel ran out of cluster bombs, it asked the United States for an emergency shipment of 1,200 replacements. Surprisingly, it refused. Other soldiers described the wholesale use of long prohibited phosphorous weapons as primary weapons of war.

During its 10 week siege on the PLO, Israel hit five U.N. buildings, 134 embassies or diplomatic residences, six hospitals or clinics, one mental institute, the Central Bank, five hotels, the Red Cross, Lebanese and foreign media outlets, and countless private residences.

It is estimated by some that during the Israeli onslaught, about seventeen thousand Lebanese and Palestinians diedOther estimates are much higher… most were civilians. Tens of thousands of others were wounded. Lebanese officials claimed that a quarter of them were under fifteen years of age.

While much of the world watched the Israeli use of weapons of mass destruction with horror, little action was undertaken to intervene. When one commanding officer was asked how Israel could have consciously inflicted such widespread pain and suffering directed at a largely civilian population he tersely replied “We’re a special case, as is commonly known. We’re allowed to do anything. Why? Because we can.”.

It was this arrogance of power… a sermon of almost divine designation… which led Israel to participate in one of the most appalling massacres of the day. Yet as history has proven, time and time again, it stands not alone.

Sabra-Shatila

Located in West Beirut, today, the refugee camps of Sabra-Shatila remain home to tens of thousands of Palestinians. While some were driven out of Palestine as youngsters in 1948, most are direct descendants of those who fled the first wave of full-on Israeli ethnic cleansing to seek safe-harbor in Lebanon.

While the full extent of the carnage remains little more than dark chronicle, between September 16-18 of 1982, some 3,500 Palestinian civilians, mostly women, children and elderly were raped, tortured, mutilated and murdered, in Sabra-Shatila, by Israel’s allies… Christian Phalangists.

During the coordinated bloodbath, Israeli troops surrounded camp perimeters preventing anyone from escaping the slaughter or moving to intervene. Against the echo of repeated gunshots and endless shrieks, Israeli soldiers did nothing but wait their turn.

After the butchery concluded and Israeli troops withdrew, journalists and observers from the Multinational Peacekeeping Force entered Sabra-Shatila.

In a letter to her husband, Janet Lee Stevens, an American journalist wrote,

I saw dead women in their houses with their skirts up to their waists and their legs spread apart; dozens of young men shot after being lined up against an alley wall; children with their throats slit; a pregnant woman with her stomach chopped open, her eyes still wide open, her blackened face silently screaming in horror; countless babies and toddlers who had been stabbed or ripped apart and who had been thrown into garbage piles.”

Late in 1982, the U.N. General Assembly declared the carnage an act of genocide… condemning Israel in the “strongest terms for the large-scale massacre of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.” However, neither the U.N nor any other international body ever took action against Israel or its proxies for the massacre.

Conclusion

This travel has been a painful journey. Perhaps most difficult of all is the certainty that none of these atrocities are isolated in time and place as so much an historical anomaly. It is very much who we are and what we have become.

Long before Sabra-Shatila, Israel drove a million Palestinians from their ancestral homeland through a conscious determined ransack fueled by rape, murder and arson. The history of Deir Yassin, Ramleh and Lydda is well known and documented. These villages were a small but deadly part of the ethnic cleansing begun by Zionist para-military forces in the days leading up to the declaration of Israeli statehood.

Not much has changed in the decades since, as Israeli regulars have added Qibya, Rafah, Jenin, Beit Hanoun and other Palestinian communities to the ranks of those etched among the annals of uncharged and unprosecuted war crimes.

Elsewhere, today, in Rohingya, Syria, Kashmir and other war zones throughout Africa and Southeast Asia, rape, torture, forced displacement, carpet bombing, and prohibited chemicals continue to be the preferred weapons of war… with civilians the prime targets.

The International Committee of the Red Cross notes that, in 1859, one protracted war caused 40,000 military casualties but only one civilian death.

Since that time, we have seen the expansion of the Law of War and the passage of the Convention for the Amelioration of the Wounded in Time of War which serves as the precursor to the Geneva Conventions.

Both hallmarks of international law were designed to safeguard people and property that did not contribute to warfare… and to protect civilians and civilian communities from unnecessary destruction and hardship. Yet, despite evolving principles and efforts to insulate non-combatants from the horrors of war, now more than ever, they have become the prime victims of its intended death and destruction.

At one time wars were fought by armies” said a U.N. report entitled “The State of the World’s Children.” Today, however, civilians bear the brunt of modern conflict.

Indeed, according to UNICEF, during this century, the proportion of civilian to military casualties has increased from 5 percent in World War I to 50 percent in World War II to 90 percent in the conflicts over the last few decades. Most civilian casualties are children and women.

Can it be mere coincidence that the dramatic increase in violence and civilian casualties parallel the establishment and growth of the United Nations as constituted?

Does the fact that 5 permanent members of the Security Council ultimately dictate where and when the U.N. acts with independence and certainty all but guarantee that it will never be more than a political playground dominated by the few as they pursue their own unique partisan agenda?

In 2018, it is simply not enough to issue press releases or pound the speaker’s podium from on high exalting lofty U.N. ideals to those foolish enough to buy the sale. Toothless resolutions condemning war crimes, crimes against humanity or violations of any of the other hundreds of UN covenants and prohibitions remain but a tease unless and until that world body acts with resolve to ensure international promise and equal application of law becomes reality.

It is long past time to permit a world body to be shared equally by a world community.

For more than seven decades, the hallways of the United Nations have served as exciting field trips for young students and world visitors. I know… I was one.

Awed by the majesty of the General Assembly, with its impressive French murals, green marble desks, matching lecterns and UN emblem on gold backdrop, tourists escape the reality of the moment with an inspiring recorded narrative of its accomplishments.

Yet, in real time, in real places, hundreds of millions of the worlds poorest, most frail, and vulnerable pay the price daily for the hollow promise that is the UN.

The Attack on Al Jazeera

Originally published July7, 2017 in CounterPunch

 

The Attack on Al Jazeera


Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple, who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free open encounter?

—John Milton, Areopagitica: A Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing

The march from fake news to no news is as straight and unbroken as the runway from Washington D.C. to Riyadh.

Tyranny knows no truth… just unbridled power and a drive to extinguish it whether by mob appeal or the slam of a prison gate. Today, we are witness to a unity of drive and purpose, in both West and East, where full scale attacks on debate and dissent have become very much the norm… with news outlets shuttered, journalists jailed and thinkers shamed.

Whether it is the most recent royal family in Washington, the perpetual caste in KSA or the wannabe one in Cairo, diversity of thought, identity and purpose is under siege in ways not seen since Galileo dared to suggest that a central tenet of Christian cosmology… the Earth lies at the center of the universe… was factually untrue. Charged with heresy, Galileo was forced to recount and abjure.

Today, in many places, the channel of peeling truth from cosmetic reality has moved well beyond the mere papal process of 16th century Europe to the full-on embrace of singularity of thought… be it coerced by force, banishment or closure.

Nowhere is this more painfully evident than it is, today, in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) where a coalition of states, along with an assist from the African state of Egypt,  have challenged Qatar’s independence by a subterfuge checklist that, in reality, boils down to their fear of Al-Jazeera and what it represents.

Since its genesis, Al-Jazeera has served as much more than a mere signpost of speech or thought… popular or otherwise. Its existence, alone, stands as a safety valve against those closed societies that embrace repression as so much a check against the light of day of which they fear.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has no autonomous media, nor does it endure political parties, unions or human rights groups.  The government treats online journalists, writing for state approved news outlets, the same as it does print and broadcast journalists… subjecting them to exacting regulation and content based intimidation.

The internet, alone, is the sole means, within KSA, by which a relatively robust exchange of information, from within and without the state, can circulate. However, its closely monitored “citizen-journalists” are subject to strict filtering mechanisms that scrutinize and, often, block their internet content.

Indeed, authorities regularly monitor websites, blogs and chat rooms, as well as the content of e-mail and mobile-phone text messages.

Sites that contain “harmful”, illegal, anti-Islamic, or offensive material are blocked… as are those that carry criticism of Saudi Arabia, the royal family, or the other Gulf States.

So, too, sites that call for political reform or are critical of the current political and social landscape are blocked, as are human rights websites (“Country Profile: Saudi Arabia” August 6, 2009) making the country one of the world’s most repressive with respect to freedom of expression whether online or in print.

For those whose print and internet communications, or blogs, cross the rigid and narrow divide of government criticism, they run the risk of swift state reprisal… often arrest and detainment, without specific charges, for critical or controversial remarks. Others have been accused of blasphemy, inciting chaos and defaming the king and state which can bring punishments that can run into years of imprisonment and, at times, include flogging.

Several cases speak volumes about a Saudi state that, very much the norm, seeks to silence dialogue with ruthless punishment meted out against those who dare to dissent.

For example, Raif Badawi was arrested in 2012 on a charge of “insulting Islam through electronic channels.”  Subsequently he was prosecuted for apostasy and criticizing the regime on his blog… which included material critical of “senior religious figures” and  suggested  that Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University had become “a den for terrorists.

For pure speech, and nothing else, Badawi was convicted on several charges, in 2013, and sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. In 2014 his sentence was increased to 10 years in prison, 1000 lashes, and a fine. The first 50 lashes were administered on January 9, 2015 with the remainder postponed more than a dozen times since.

Following his arrest, Amnesty International designated Badawi a prisoner of conscience, “detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.” Human Rights Watch has noted: “The charges against him, based solely to Badawi’s involvement in setting up a website for peaceful discussion about religion and religious figures, violate his right to freedom of expression”.

Meanwhile, Badawi’s attorney, Waleed Abu al-Khair, himself a prominent human rights activist, continues to serve a 15 year sentence on charges imposed on him in 2014 stemming solely from his criticism of human rights abuses in KSA. Among other things, Waleed was found guilty by a security court of:

… Disobeying the ruler and seeking to remove his legitimacy

… Insulting the judiciary and questioning the integrity of judges

… Setting up an unlicensed organization

… Harming the reputation of the state by communicating with international organisations

… Preparing, storing, and sending information that harms public order.

In March of 2016, Saudi Arabia sentenced journalist, Alaa Brinji, to five years in prison plus an eight year travel ban for tweets in which he criticized religious authorities and voiced support for the right of women to drive and for jailed human rights activists.

KSA is ranked 168th out of 180 countries in Reporters without Borders (RSF) 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Bahrain

Bahrain, an island Kingdom located off of the eastern coastline of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, is no more respectful of speech and press freedoms.  It was listed 164th in the most recent RSF world rankings.  It sees independent and vigorous journalism as an ever-present danger to its ability to control the state’s domestic narrative and to maintain political power.

Infamous for jailing large numbers of journalists… in particular photographers and cameramen… Bahrain has a recent history of targeting political dissidents, as well. Their crimes are typically little more than the will to challenge blanket restrictions upon assembly and prohibited speech.

Journalists and dissidents convicted of charges that include unlawful demonstrations and supporting “terrorism” typically receive long sentences. Often mistreated in detention, many have been imprisoned for life. Others have been sentenced to death.

Not long ago, a raid by Bahrain security forces left five people dead and hundreds detained. Recently, a court sentenced two young anti-regime protesters to death; two others were imprisoned for life and eight received sentences of 3 to 10 years. Nine of the pro-democracy activists saw their nationality revoked.

Just this past month, Al-Wasat, the island’s sole independent newspaper, was closed in yet another government effort to control the free flow of information among its population of a bit more than one-million.

Describing it as a temporary suspension “until further notice”, the government accused this highly respected newspaper of “dissemination of information that affects national unity and the kingdom’s relationship with other countries.”

Egypt

When it comes to state repression of media freedom, Egypt stands alone. As we say in the law, it’s “sui generis”… one of a kind.

Since the revolution of 2011, and the subsequent military coup of 2013, more than a dozen journalists have been killed. None have been the subject of proper and thorough investigation. No one has been held accountable.  Countless others have been injured, many tortured, by security officials after having been swept up for little more than covering demonstrations.

Although precise figures are difficult to obtain, it has been estimated by various human rights groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), that, today, hundreds of journalists, bloggers and social media activists are entombed in maximum security prisons throughout Egypt. Many will spend years in detention… uncharged and untried. Others face long jail terms, including life sentences, in political witch hunts   targeting those seen as enemies of the state… often subjected to mass trials, by the hundreds, denied even a modicum of due process. In 2015 alone some 600 activists were sentenced to death in show trials of pro-democracy campaigners.

Under a terrorism law adopted in August 2015, journalists are obliged to report only the official version of “terrorist” attacks. Failure to do so renders the offender subject to punishments ranging from a loss of government license to fines and imprisonment.

In the summer of 2015, three privately owned newspapers were prevented from printing, articles that were critical of the Egyptian President.

Earlier this year, the government banned circulation of an edition of an Egyptian weekly newspaper with an image, on its cover, of famed ex-football player Mohamed Aboutrika and his mother.  Designated a “terrorist” for his support of the presidential bid of the Muslim Brotherhood‘s Mohamed Morsi in 2012, today, Aboutrika lives in Qatar where he works as a sports analyst.

Recently, Egyptian authorities suspended two issues of a privately owned newspaper after it published a front-page editorial blaming the interior ministry for the Palm Sunday church bombings,

In December of 2016, Egypt’s president ratified a new law regulating media outlets which extended his control over them. The law creates three regulatory bodies… two to oversee state-owned press and media organizations and a Higher Council for Media Regulation to “regulate” all of Egypt’s media outlets… whether public or private. It has the authority to fine, or suspend, publications and broadcasters, and to issue or revoke foreign media permits.

To understand the full nature and extent of Egypt’s current effort to control what is reported, and how, one need only consider who has been targeted, and for what, since the military coup that brought al-Sisi to power.

In 2016, the head of Egypt’s Journalists’ Union and two board members stood trial in Cairo… charged largely with spreading “false news.” Described as  an “effort to muzzle the media,” after a seven month trial the three were convicted of harboring two journalists who wrote for a website critical of the government and sentenced to two years in prison and fined $650.00.

Other prominent journalists have been swept up in what has been described as little more than a government effort to create a “state of fear.” According to CPJ, photojournalist Mahmoud Abou-Zeid, known as “Shawkan”, has been imprisoned since 2013, along with 700 others, for covering the dispersal of a pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-in.  Recipient of the CPJ International Press Freedom Awards in 2016, “Shawkan” remains imprisoned and untried despite deteriorating health.

Others, on a CPJ list of detained Egyptian journalists, include Mahmoud Abdel Naby, a correspondent for Rassd News Network (an alternative media network based in Cairo), who has been imprisoned since 2013. Also arrested, in 2013, were RASSD executive director, Abdullah Al-Fakharany, co-founder, Samhy Mostafa and Amgad TV presenter Mohamed al-Adly.

According to CPJ, the trio was charged with “spreading chaos” during the government dispersal of the sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adaweya.

CPJ has also adopted as human rights cases the matters of Abdallah Shousha from Amgad TV, Omar Abdel Maqsoud from Misr al-Arabia, Sabry Anwar from El Badil, Mohamed El-Battawy from Akhbar Al-Youm, Abdelrahman Abdelsalam Yaqot  from the Karmoz website and Hisham Gaafar, director of the Mada Foundation for Media Development

Others held include freelance journalists Hassan El-Kabbani and Ismail Alexandrani, detained for several years without trial, and well-known human rights activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, who is serving a five-year prison term based upon protest charges alone.

Egypt is ranked 161 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

The GCC Attack on Al-Jazeera

According to the Egyptian human rights group, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, and news reports between May24 and June 12, 2017, state authorities blocked access to at least 64 websites… including dozens of alternative news sources. The number was considerably higher than the 21 sites security officials announced had been censored for “spreading lies” and “supporting terrorism.”

The information blackout came in the wake of similar moves by GCC members, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, which blocked access to websites, in their respective countries, run by the Qatari-funded network Al-Jazeera.

Although the GCC claimed the block was necessitated by an alleged hack of Al-Jazeera and an ensuing fake news report, it proved to be the first information broadside in a coordinated effort to control an independent narrative available to several hundred million viewers in one of the most volatile regions of the world.

In the days to come, what began with a move to control website access quickly escalated to a complete break in diplomatic relations in which the GCC and Egypt demanded of Qatar that it close the international network, Al-Jazeera, and defund  various other news sources including Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed, Middle East Eye, Arabi21 and Egypt’s Rassd News Agency.

Although other demands were made of Qatar, it is clear that a prime focus of GCC and Egypt, in the staged diplomatic crises, is a desire to once again limit access to independent news sources by the region’s restive populations.

Indeed, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Saudi Arabia controlled almost all of the public dialogue through the purchase of most of the popular Arabic newspapers employing  many of the region’s most respected journalists of the day. Although the government permitted some diversity of thought and expanded coverage of Arab and international issues, no critical discussion of Saudi Arabia and its royal family, direct or otherwise, was permitted.

To some degree, this standard was relaxed by virtue of a joint venture between the Saudi controlled Orbit Communications Company and BBC which introduced the Arabic language television station to the region.  It proved, however, to be short-lived… closing less than two years later because of growing censorship demands, by the Saudi Government, which included refusal to permit the station to air prominent dissident viewpoints.

That was to soon change. In 1996 Al-Jazeera opened, staffed largely by those same dissenting voices that lost their jobs with the Saudi closure of the Arabic-language BBC news service. Though funded by the Qatari government, the new network was empowered, like no other, with broad editorial discretion.

From the beginning, Al-Jazeera was controversial… broadcasting dissenting opinions on important issues, including from opposition figures silenced domestically in their own nations, at a level unheard of in the region.

Al-Jazeera’s availability throughout the Middle East changed its information landscape  . . . introducing a level of freedom of speech, on TV, that was previously unheard of in the region.

In just five years, it became the most widely viewed Arab television station for news. Within ten years, three-quarters of Arabs looked to it as their primary source of information.

Al-Jazeera became an instant counter-force to the tailored news of Saudi and Egyptian controlled media in particular. It presented controversial viewpoints regarding the governments of many Arab states on the Persian Gulf… including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and, even, Qatar. It also aired particularly contentious views about Egypt and its judiciary.

From its start there was a backlash against Al-Jazeera which manifested itself in a variety of ways and intensified over time. Thus, in May of 2002, Bahrain banned Al-Jazeera’s broadcasts from within its borders… due to the channel’s comments about Bahrain’s municipal elections… labeling it as “serving Zionism”. Saudi Arabia soon jumped on this row and reportedly pressured advertisers to avoid the channel almost from the day it opened its doors.

Most contentious of all, however, was its coverage of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions during the Arab Spring. Criticized by some for its “pro-democracy” bent, Al-Jazeera was, all at once, greeted with tremendous support by people in the streets yet disparaged by autocratic states in the region which feared the reach of the democratic movement to their own capitals.

Of all the states in the region, none has been more fearful or punitive towards Al-Jazeera than Egypt… which has long targeted it in a transparent drive to maintain government control of information for this nation of ninety million having seen both a revolution and military coup in this decade, alone.

Indeed, Egypt’s recent decision with the GCC to use Al-Jazeera as a handy pretext to divert attention from internal political repression and failure is by no means of recent vintage. Since the military coup of 2013, the regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has proven resilient, and arguably desperate, in looking elsewhere to craft convenient foils in its own political and economic missteps.

To look toward Egypt, as a veritable primer in state repression of free speech and information, is a perverse understatement. Thus, not long after the coup, charges were filed against legendary Al-Jazeera television host, Ahmed Mansour, an Egyptian national, who was tried, in absentia, on allegations dating back to Tahrir Square in the final days of the successful 2011 revolution.

Tried in secret, without notice, counsel, or an opportunity to be heard, Mr. Mansour’s persecution, like so many others in Egypt, are routinely rejected by the broader world community as so much a sham… a political vendetta lacking independence and reliability.

Indeed, when Egypt sought Mansour’s extradition from Germany to face a fifteen year sentence, it refused the request taking note that “Egypt’s judicial system is politically motivated.” Not long before, the African Union, of which Egypt is a member, concurred…, holding that the Egyptian judiciary is politically controlled and corrupt.

On other occasions the al-Sisi government has purposely targeted Al-Jazeera journalists.  In 2013, ten of its employees were accused of spreading “false news” while covering public demonstrations against the military coup that removed President Mohammed Morsi. Ultimately, only three… Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste… were detained.  Greste was held in prison for over a year, while Mohamed and Fahmy spent 437 days in detention before being released.

This past December, Al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein, an Egyptian national, was detained upon arrival at Cairo’s airport. Not long thereafter, Egypt’s interior ministry accused Hussein of “disseminating false news and receiving monetary funds from foreign authorities in order to defame the state’s reputation.” Six months later he remains in custody.

In May, a Cairo court sentenced a former editor-in-chief of Al-Jazeera Arabic, Ibrahim Helal, to death, charging him, in absentia, with endangering national security.

Information Control

Make no mistake about it, the demand that Al-Jazeera close its door, as so much the price of regional “peace”, is nothing short of a desperate autocratic drive to strip the human spirit of its thirst for knowledge and its innate right to grow.  It will not happen.

For time immemorial, those in power… whether by force of arms, royal edicts or the shade of a ballot box too small to effect meaningful change… have sought to control the dialogue as a desperate effort to hang on to power that is not theirs to own. It will not happen.

The marketplace of ideas transcends time and place. It is a community that knows no wealth, authority or limits. It is a boundless souk that welcomes all… no matter race, religion or gender.

From the time of Plato to Avicenna to de Beauvoir to Marx, women and men of principle and courage have struggled in pursuit of truth. Many have paid the ultimate price, in their search for it, while others have fled it… sated with the fleeting comfort born of fame or fortune and little else.

Al-Jazeera is one voice of many.  It competes with a crescendo of other information partisans who seek to influence today’s vision and tomorrow’s journey. This competition of ideas demands the freedom that is untempered speech… if it is to work, and work well.

At times, Al-Jazeera is surely right… at others, mistaken. Ultimately, it matters not. Al- Jazeera is a much needed voice… and a welcome space for the freedom of voices in agreement and opposition.

Voices bring thought. Thought brings information. Information is knowledge. Knowledge is power.

Parallel Worlds: Gaza and Israel

Originally published December 29, 2017 in CounterPunch

 

Parallel Worlds: Gaza and Israel

History is inexplicable.  It has a way of seizing the chosen few to deliver a commanding message that transcends the tapered, often rote, confines of time, place and journey.

Like the mystery of magic, defining moments seem to find powerful launch through the flash of a sudden second and echo through the voice of those destined to become iconic well beyond the rhyme of powerful lyric alone.

To them, theirs is a journey of the ages. For those fortunate enough to witness such passage it is a transcendent reminder that greatness is measured not through acquired wealth or power but by the prompt of the principle, courage and sacrifice of the few.

Who can forget Faris Odeh, 15 years old when he stared down a tank with little more than a stone in his hand, murdered by Israel in Gaza?  Or 23 year old Rachel Corrie, on that mist covered morning, armed with a bullhorn as she faced off against a bulldozer to save a home, murdered by Israel in Gaza.

And now legend has taken 29 year old Ibrahim Abu Thuraya from us.  Disabled but not disarmed, he had the boldness to stand his ground clutching his weapon, the flag he loved… murdered by Israel in Gaza.

What is there about a tiny enclave known as Gaza that so offends, so alarms, so intimidates Israel? It would be far too easy to say nothing and simply reduce it to Tel Aviv’s voracious chase of its off-shore gas reserves or its potential as a Mediterranean tourist coastline …once cleansed of its native population and the destruction which bears the marked Star of David.

No. Gaza terrorizes Israel not by force of arms but through the endless resound of its resilience and the muscle of its inspiration.

To millions of Palestinians under siege in Palestine, or those forcibly exiled by a Diaspora now 70 years of age, and to its chorus of supporters worldwide, Gaza stands as a shining beacon of resistance and hope.  Yet, to romanticize Gaza is to lend excuse to Israel and no such apologia will be offered here.

50 miles from the destruction that is Gaza sits Tel Aviv… as so much a marker of grotesque Israeli indifference.

Indeed, not a day passes without a new tease from the “third hottest city” in the world and “party capitol of the middle east” whether it’s the pristine Mediterranean seashore, cosmopolitan restaurants, coffeehouses, and galleries or hip after hour dance and bar scene of the “City that Never Sleeps.”

Ranked as the 25th most important financial center in the world, Tel Aviv has the third-largest economy of any city in the Middle East and draws well over a million international visitors annually to its numerous upscale hotels. Home to Israel’s only stock exchange, it has some 70 skyscrapers as tall as an American football field and includes one with 80 floors topped by a spire 150 feet in height.

Described as a “miniature Los Angeles,” Tel Aviv has been called one of the 10 most technologically influential cities in the world. Serving as home to numerous venture-capital firms and scientific research institutes, it has hundreds of startup companies, textile plants and food manufacturers.

Israel’s second largest municipality, Tel Aviv never wants for “culture” and entertainment. Its population of almost half a million, with an unemployment rate of approximately 4% and income 20% above the national average, can choose from eighteen of Israel’s 35 major centers for the performing arts. The Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center is home of the Israeli Opera and the Cameri Theatre. The Heichal HaTarbut is Tel Aviv’s largest theatre and home to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

But an hour’s drive, yet worlds away, sits Gaza; home to two million Palestinians.

Once known, in polite social circles, as the earth’s largest open air prison, it long ago moved on from jail to Israeli administered death camp. Whether by embargo or bombs, it is simply impossible to watch the life and death of the coastal enclave without seeing Israel’s criminal plan unfold.

With the first blush of sunrise, the streets of Gaza City fill rapidly with those who’ve survived its ritual night of darkness illuminated solely by bursts of another Israeli bombing run.  For them, with each passing hour, the taste of daylight portends a constant race against what little time remains to shop at empty markets, rush for medicines long gone, or dangerously dated, search for missing bottled water, or attend to the needs of family too paralyzed or ill to join the chase.

While Tel Aviv remains a constant tease of new ventures, glorious dining and enrapt theater going, Gaza lives a repetition of bare survival… at least for the lucky.

For others, it’s an endless wail of mourn as infants are laid to rest with lungs once barely filled with the breath of life. Alongside them sleep the young who, traumatized by the unbearable pain of living, tragically surrendered to the calm of willing death. Next to them lie the “elderly” who grew old and ill far too soon while their generation is coming of age and power everywhere else.

By now, it seems some have grown inured, indeed, comfortable with the visible suffer that is uniquely Gaza. Unlike an explosive genocide that unfolds overnight, impossible for many to ignore, Gaza has long simmered out of sight…out of mind.

Entering its second decade of complete isolation and embargo, Gaza periodically, inevitably, explodes from mindless rage in which Israel seeks to “mow the lawn” for little more than the embattled enclave’s determined resilience.

In late 2008 through early 2009, Israel unleashed an all out military attack on the defenseless population of Gaza. When the toxic white phosphorous cleared, some 1,417, mostly civilians, lay dead along with 13 Israeli soldiers… 4 from friendly fire.

In 2014, Israel undertook a 50 day all-out assault on Gaza as it once again targeted the entire enclave with massive disproportionate force.

Although some debate continues over the exact results, according to most estimates up to 2,310 were killed of whom 1,492 were civilians, including 551 children and 299 women. Another 10,895 were wounded including 3,374 children of whom 1,000 were left permanently disabled. 

Among the infrastructure leveled were 220 factories, dairy farms with livestock and the orange groves of Beit Hanoun.  138 schools and 26 health facilities were damaged and thousands of homes totally destroyed or severely damaged. The lone power station in Gaza and its transmission lines was targeted and severely damaged.  Sewage pumps and a major sewage pipe serving 500,000 inhabitants were destroyed. 10 out of 26 hospitals were damaged or destroyed along with several TV stations. 203 mosques were damaged, with 73 destroyed … along with two of Gaza’s three Christian churches.

Israel lost 66 soldiers and 5 civilians, including one child. 469 Israeli soldiers and 261 civilians were injured.

Four years later, conditions have only worsened in Gaza. Where once the UN announced it would be uninhabitable by 2020, for all intents and purposes, that day has come and gone. Yet the determination of its people continues on.

Gaza Today

Today, years of Israeli attacks and siege, have left Gaza reeling from an absence of a basic infrastructure capable of meeting even the minimal needs of its two million people.

Whether its electricity, clean water, healthcare, or sewage treatment and waste management, Gaza is undergoing a very public humanitarian crisis now entering its second decade.

In Gaza, abject poverty is rampant. At 41.1 percent, the unemployment rate is the highest in the world. Its youth unemployment is 64 percent. Currently there are 50,000 young women and men with university and graduate degrees unable to find work in their chosen fields… or any other. That figure grows each year by some 17,000 to 18,000. While once the industrial and production sectors offered more than 120,000 job opportunities per year, now less than 7,000 such positions become available.

Although thousands of homes damaged or destroyed during Israel’s attack in 2014 are still in need of repair, the construction sector is practically idle and essentially out of business. It used to contribute to about 22 percent of local production and offered some 70,000 job opportunities.

Sixty per cent of Gaza lives under the poverty line. Over a fifth of it lives in “deep poverty.” According to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), “over 80 percent of the people in Gaza depend on humanitarian assistance.”

Another report by UNOCHA found that over 80 percent of its displaced families have borrowed money to get by in the past year, over 85 percent purchased most of their food on credit, and over 40 percent have decreased their consumption of food.

According to UNICEF a third of Gaza’s children suffer from chronic malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies that can stunt development and affect overall health.

In other, less visible, ways, the residual impact of years of Israeli attacks and a decade long siege have produced a palpable and deleterious psychological impact on the people in Gaza.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack OCHA estimated that at least 373,000 children required psychosocial support. Today the UNRWA Community Mental Health Programme has found that Gazans are experiencing increasingly higher levels of stress and distress. The World Health Organization (WHO) has found Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to be widespread with studies indicating that upwards of 54% of Gaza’s children, teens and adults either symptomatic, or suffering from its full-on effects.

According to WHO between 10 and 20 percent of the population suffer from severe mental illness. Because of isolation, community pressure or lack of treatment opportunities the figure is likely much higher. Once unheard of, suicide has now becoming a familiar occurrence in Gaza clearly suggesting that the coping skills of Palestinians are being exhausted. Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor reported at least 95 people tried to commit suicide in the Gaza Strip in the first quarter of 2016, a nearly 40 percent increase from previous years.

Life in Darkness

For nearly a decade, Tel Aviv has held a yearly blackout in support of Earth Hour. Meanwhile, millions of nearby Palestinians struggle to eke out a life of bare existence with twenty-one hours of darkness each and every day.

Indeed, while Tel Aviv has converted an idle power station named “Gan HaHashmal” (Electricity Park) into a public park, recently OCHA published new data that shows electricity for Gaza has dropped to a total of just three hours daily and at times that vary from day to day. Lacking any advance notice as to when the electricity will go on, or off, the most rudimentary of life’s work is left largely to little more than blind wish leaving familial, educational, employment and health tasks either undone or incomplete.

According to the WHO, power cuts and fuel shortages have created constant crises for Gaza’s 14 public hospitals; threatening the closure of essential health services leaving thousands of people without access to life-saving medical care.

In Shifa hospital, tiny premature babies, some with multiple infections or congenital diseases, lie crammed in incubators fighting for life as lights sputter. With electricity virtually cut off, their life support is entirely powered by a generator with unpredictable current.

At any given time, power loss threatens the lives of hundreds of the new-born and adults in neonatal and intensive care units and some 658 patients requiring bi-weekly haemodialysis, including 23 children. Refrigeration systems for blood and vaccine storage are also at risk.

With adversity often the mother of invention, many in Gaza have struggled to keep pace with the needs of energy through use of poorly vented generator systems and candle light when available. According to Al Mezan, 29 people including 24 children have died since 2010 from fire or suffocation incidents related to attempts to overcome power outage. In one such tragedy, three siblings were killed after their home caught fire from the candles being used during the power outage.

Water Crises in Gaza

While Tel Aviv holds a yearly contest with an award of free parking to the family that has consumed the least amount of water, in Gaza it would be a competition without a challenge.

As a result of repeated attacks that have targeted Gaza’s water infrastructure… and a 10 year embargo on materials necessary for its repair, a crises in the making has now reached one of epic proportions unmatched anywhere else in the world.

For two million people, it is estimated that 3% of the water of Gaza remains fit for human consumption. In particular, it poses grave risks to its children.

As a result of untreated sewage dumped into the Mediterranean Sea, agricultural chemicals and unfiltered seawater, the rest of Gaza’s water is dangerous; 68% of it biologically contaminated during storage or transportation to Gaza’s households. Indeed, recent studies have shown Gaza’s water contains a large concentration of chloride… as well, nitrate rates two to eight times higher than the WHO recommends.

Recently the UN warned its underground water aquifer, upon which the territory is almost entirely dependent, will soon be completely contaminated; stripping Gaza of access to all its water.

With the shortage of clean water comes the well based fear of a deadly cholera epidemic… particularly in a community with an unusually young population.  This is all the more likely where signs of acute malnutrition and severe wasting are an increasing phenomenon among the young children in Gaza.

Healthcare Dying

Cancer rates are exploding in Gaza. A decade of Israeli wars has poisoned its soil and water, leaving depleted uranium in their wake. Daily spray of insecticides used by Israel to clear border areas, have exacerbated what is becoming a deadly environmental disaster to a community long under siege through every means possible.

According to the head of oncology at Shifa Hospital, today Gaza produces 90 cases of cancer per 100,000 people compared with 65 in 2010. These statistics are particularly ominous given the unusually young population of Gaza with 60% of its residents under 25. Due to a lack of early diagnosis and treatment options in Gaza, women with breast cancer are dying at rates two to three times those receiving first world care.

On top of its energy crises, Gaza suffers from a chronic shortage of hospital beds, medical equipment and specialist physicians.

Treatment for an estimated 6,000 cerebral palsy patients is particularly problematic with many families unable to cover the cost of its specialized care. Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesman for Gaza’s Health Ministry notes:

The poor financial conditions of families (means they) cannot take responsibility for their children who suffer from cerebral palsy or provide them with medical care such as physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy.

According to the World Bank, 56 % of all Palestinians have no access to “reasonable and customary” healthcare. For those few, in Gaza, with the financial ability to obtain necessary health care, a lack of embargoed “sensitive” medications has created a “very very dangerous” situation with dozens of drugs unavailable… including antibiotic skin ointment and medicines to treat infants born with hypoglycemia and to counteract venomous snake bites. The UN reports that 34% of essential life preserving drugs at the Central Drug Store in Gaza are completely out of stock.

According to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel  (PHRI), the public health system is not able to provide specialized treatments for complex medical problems in a variety of fields including neonatal care, cardiology, orthopedics and oncology. Moreover, nearly 50 percent of Gaza’s medical equipment is outdated and the average wait for spare parts is approximately six months. With few functioning mammography machines and the unavailability of radiation treatment, lumpectomies and plastic surgery, women with breast cancer routinely receive mastectomies as the only option.

The energy crisis has shed light on the huge rise in babies born with congenital, and other, disabilities who are waiting to leave Gaza for specialist treatment in Israel or elsewhere. For many, the wait for the much sought after exit permit can prove too long to survive.

Recently, three seriously ill babies died after permits to grant the children treatment in Israel were denied by the Palestinian Authority.  Earlier this year, a 5 year old girl with cerebral palsy died while waiting permission from Israel to leave for external treatment.  Not long thereafter, another 5 year old boy and 22 year old man died waiting permission to obtain treatment outside of Gaza.

Ka’enat Mustafa Ja’arour, 42, died of uterine cancer while awaiting a response to her permit request for treatment at a hospital in Jerusalem.  In May, 52-year-old Talat Mahmoud Sulaiman al-Shawi, a resident of Rafah, died after being denied entry to Israel to treat a kidney tumor. In August, Fatin Nader Ahmed, 26, died in hospital, while awaiting a travel permit for treatment for her brain cancer.

So far this year, 20 patients have died after their exit permits were either denied or not granted in time. Physicians report that another 10 who, in July, died of cancer but could have been saved if they had been transferred elsewhere for treatment.

A short distance from Gaza, Israeli patients receive the benefit of complex medical treatment from some of the finest and most specialized hospital and emergency care centers in the world.

The Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center has been selected as one of the world’s top 10 medical destinations specializes in adult and pediatric neurosurgery, orthopedic and surgical oncology, kidney-pancreas transplants, liver transplants, micro neurosurgery and trauma.

The Assuta Hospital, in Tel Aviv, is part of Israel’s largest private medical service and offers surgeries and diagnostic procedures in all fields of medicine; including cardiology, oncology, gynecology and urology.

The Wolfson Medical Center, on the southern border of Tel Aviv, addresses a wide range of health conditions from malaria to diabetes and heart conditions and specialty care in ENT, orthopedics, infectious diseases, pediatrics, OB/GYN, family medicine and psychiatry.

Meanwhile, back in Gaza, Yara Bakheet, age 4, and Aya Abu Mutalq, age 5, are laid to rest… denied access to basic medical treatment that would have saved their lives but for Israel’s delay in granting an exit visa for treatment.

Gaza Lives

In the light of this nightmare, some wonder what can drive hundreds, at times, thousands of young women and men to the edge of steel barricades and barbed wire that make their home a prison built of walls but not of silence.  Yet they struggle on as they toss stones at soldiers hundreds of yards away and ignite fires that pose no threat but speak loudly of freedom.

Ultimately, it’s the indefatigable spirit of these 140 square miles of self-determination that threatens the myth, indeed, puts the lie to the grand sale of an all powerful and democratic Israel.

What little mark Israel has built and, ultimately, will leave behind in the assembled home it seized has been erected not by the call of principled purpose but the drive to become but another mini-empire in a region long known for despots that have placed economic and political profit before people.

At day’s end, it’s a legacy that knows no home, or welcome, but that of brute force.

For empires large and small, real or sham, history is but a predictable march of gaudy pretense.  Gilded shacks built of shallow stilts and tattered shrines, theirs is homage to little more than empty tease. It’s who and what they are… it’s what they do… at least until they crash. And sooner or later they all crash.

Be assured, Israel will not be the exception.

Yes, empires come and go like so much a cheap, but deadly, chase for a call in eternity that welcomes no such guest.  For the learned, it’s a lesson of history acquired not by 140 characters but by keen informed observation. For far too many, empty sound bites have, today, become a defining vision without a view.

Yet, there are crossroads in history where an image, a single glance, depicts more powerfully than the finest of poetic verse, a statement of principle, determination and sacrifice which inspires the winds of time for evermore.

Somewhere, right now Faris Odeh, Rachel Corrie and Ibrahim Abu Thuraya smile down upon us as history’s hope and eternity’s message.

When Zionism Rubs Up Against Reality

Originally published at CounterPunch April 13, 2018

 

When Zionism Rubs Up Against Reality

“The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.”

With these commanding words, Robert H. Jackson, Chief Counsel for the United States, opened the War Crimes Tribunals at Nuremberg, Germany not long after the conclusion of World War II.

Empanelled to hold accountable military, political and judicial leaders for violations of international law… including war crimes, crimes against humanity and the law of war… the tribunals imposed personal accountability for genocide directed at Jews and others marked by the German state as a challenge to its declared racial, religious and political supremacy.

Although these offenses took many forms, at their core, each derived their evil from a common intersect that those targeted by the state for eradication were not just inferior, but unworthy of life itself… men, women and children, young and old, reduced to little more than objects of  surreal derision whose mere existence contaminated the state’s supremacist lens.

There is no secret about the campaign of terror unleashed by the Third Reich as it swallowed states and triggered international violence unseen before or since. Nor are its tools of open warfare against military and civilians, alike, subject to any serious debate. While some choose to contest the number of victims or recast the precise instruments of persecution, no serious observer of history doubts the role that box cars, ghettos, siege, and ovens played in a conscious effort to silence the diversity of life while much of the world looked away.

The assault on humanity did not unfold overnight, or in a vacuum, with a sudden roundup. It followed a well calculated and implemented historical rewrite… a slow, but steady, recast of entire peoples… stripping them of their history, culture and collective purpose and decency.

What began with the burn of books and silence of press soon moved on to a successful reach of propaganda that cast a dark pall across millions whose wrong was to speak a different language, embrace another faith or to demand justice.   Once there, it was a short walk to assault and worse.

The Repeat of History

With conscience, and vision as an outsider looking in, today, it is simply impossible not to feel an overwhelming sense of sheer revulsion when, if one is a caring being, an honest scan comes across Israel.

Forget about humanity and compassion or any broad notion of enlightened collective purpose. By now, Israel has reduced these cornerstones of fundamental decency to fabled fiction… a successful narrative of perverse existence that crushes truth and justice as little more than tedious impediments to its own, now decade’s old, ethnic and racial pogrom against others.

Israel is good at what it does. Damn good. No, not its slaughter, torture and endless detention and land theft; these are givens. A dark, very public, almost proud record of “achievement” that stands essentially unparalleled when it comes to recent contempt for international norm and law.

Like those before, what it really excels at is the grand lie… the convenient historical rewrite; the excuse; the ability to recast yesterday, today and surely tomorrow as so much a duty-bound journey in which no outrage is beyond the pale, no crime too extreme, no offense too offensive. Always, of course, cast in the talisman of survival. It’s a skill… a dodgy political art-form that converts inconvenient truth into self serving dogma with all too predictable deadly consequence.

Unlike that rare explosive autocrat or passing despotic regime, Israel has perfected its crafted control of selective reality in time-tested ways nothing short of masterful. Long before U.N. anthropologists discovered a European state in the midst of an Arab history, Zionists mastered the skill of expedient deception.

Thus, almost a hundred years ago, European terrorists became celebrated freedom fighters as they slaughtered Palestinians asleep in their beds and cribs. The Nakba, a forced stampede of almost a million Palestinians sparked by mass rape and murder, recast with historical ease to become a voluntary transition… a move by restive villagers to find a better time in a better place.

Kibbutzim, those enlightened socialist communes that, with magic-like remake, blossomed from long barren deserts. Could that be the rubble of age-old villages and decomposed remains just below the veneer of the sand?

Settlements, an employment opportunity for a troubled work force in need of purpose and discipline. The siege of Gaza… not at all a premeditated embargo of food, medicine, water, electricity and movement to break the will of its two million people, but rather a generous helping hand to liberate them from the limitations of their primitive vision and Hamas terror.

Advancing itself as a democracy under siege, Israel has long since abandoned any pretense of equality and justice in its limitless thirst to seize what little remains of Palestine as it exalts a racist de jureJewish state in its quest.

This supremacist drive has been occasioned not merely with the passage of time or through a loss of interest by the world community alone. Along the way, to be sure, by design, Israel has successfully exploited the ignorance and fear of Arab and Muslim communities by the West.  Of late, it has found willing companion among some Arab states anxious to move on from proxy to full on partner as they’ve tired of the “dilemma” that is Palestine.

In Israel and the occupied territories, the catalog of ersatz narrative is endless. With a slap…  a stab, a book… a bomb; a prayer… a provocation, the Zionist tale has long since swallowed any semblance of relevance, let alone reality.  Yet, from time immemorial, much of the world has blinked, frozen in place, fixated by a steady broadcast of propaganda, both home spun in Israel and in echo abroad.

Yet, over the last ten days, that faux moral perch has begun to collapse as the winds of truth have blown away the mask of hate that is very much Israel. During this time, tens of thousands of peaceful unarmed demonstrators marched on the barricades of their Gaza prison only to be met by carnage.

It is unnecessary to repeat, in full, the tales of slaughter that ensued as hundreds of snipers, drones and tanks announced with deadly precision that all were fair game for nothing more than voice. When the tear gas cleared , “fortunate” young men, women and children, elderly and journalists, alike, lay paralyzed by a strain of chemical assault, similar to sporadic reported uses since 2001, which soon gave way to uncontrolled vomiting and trembles.

For others, less fortunate, thousands lay bloodied by explosive high velocity munitions designed to rip apart flesh and destroy organs. Some thirty-one were murdered. Almost all casualties shot in the back of their head or torso.

What is there about a peaceful march, the national flag, and a Dakbe song and dance that so enrages an occupation force as to drive its snipers to unleash deadly targeted fire as if surrounded by well armed enemy combatants?

The Law

Under international law, crimes against humanity include “murder and other inhumane acts carried out against any civilian population… when such acts are done or such persecutions carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.”

A war crime is an act that constitutes a “serious violation of the laws of war that gives rise to individual criminal responsibility and include intentionally killing civilians…  destroying civilian property… and serious violations of the principles of distinction and proportionality, such as strategic bombing of civilian populations.”

Under the law of war, military necessity is governed by several constraints: an attack or action must be intended to help in the defeat of the enemy; it must be an attack on a legitimate military objective, and the harm caused to civilians or civilian property must be proportional and not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

Under international humanitarian law, proportionality is a principle that governs the legal use of force in an armed conflict, whereby belligerents must make sure that the harm caused to civilians or civilian property is not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage expected by an attack on a legitimate military objective.

Finally, “the fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him”.

That is to say it is not an acceptable defense to simply say “I was just following my superior’s orders.”

For years, as some have debated the reach of international law, much of the world has stood in silence and, accordingly, very much complicit as Israel has carried out unspeakable offenses against a largely civilian population in Palestine.

Although often nuanced, if not complex, the application of law to facts is not magic. At times a plain read of well settled legal covenants in the light of events at hand can lead even an unpracticed but principled eye to conclude that violations of law have in fact occurred.

Not before has Israel’s indifference to international law been so clear, so visible, so compelling as it has been through the lens of its repeated slaughter, over the last ten days in Gaza, as thousands of civilians have simply marched and marched in peace to say “enough”.

Today, more than 70 years after the judgments at Nuremberg, we are witness to an undeniable paradox as those victimized long ago by notions of racial, religious and political superiority have themselves become willing accomplished adherents of that same evil doctrine.

In words that shook the silence of the courtroom with the majesty of the moment war crimes prosecutor Robert H. Jackson passed, to generations to come, a reminder of the obligation companion to humanity:

“We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow.”

The Marketplace of Ideas: Assaulting the First Amendment

Originally published March 13, 2018 in CounterPunch

 

The Marketplace of Ideas: Assaulting the First Amendment

A decade before he was to become President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson (the principal author of the Declaration of Independence) then serving as Minister to France, penned these words for the ages. It was the eve of the French Revolution and the world was ablaze with revolutionary ideas and potent words:

“The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution… Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Poetry of freedom, this verse has safeguarded the chase of truth in ways that no military might can provide or preserve be it in the United States or elsewhere.

Almost 250 years later, we are, again, witness to an evident onslaught upon the core of our collective freedom… the marketplace of ideas.

The Attack on Al Jazeera

Recently, in a brazen effort to forestall, if not censor, the release of a news report depicting the insidious impact of AIPAC upon core democratic institutions of the United States, a number of congressmen demanded that Al Jazeera be designated a “foreign agent” involved in the release of “deceptive propaganda.”

Citing nothing more than so-called favorable coverage of various movements including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah the legislators went on to declare Al Jazeera as a less than impartial news source airing “radical anti-American, anti-Semitic [and] anti-Israel broadcasts.”

The attack on the independence of Al Jazeera comes soon after the successful political drive to compel RT and Sputnik to register as foreign agents of Russia lest they be compelled to undergo intrusive, and possibly criminal, investigations of their networks.

The demand that Al Jazeera be forced to register under FARA as a foreign agent is little more than political pretext designed to control the narrative and limit the debate over some of the most compelling issues of our time. It is nothing short of an unconstitutional effort to control the free exchange of ideas and the marketplace within which they are debated.

Implicit in the First Amendment is a fundamental belief that the governed are far more capable than the government of distinguishing truth from falsehood and that the government’s role is not to regulate the content of the marketplace but to ensure it remains open to all ideas; those true and not… radical or conventional.

That these legislators, their constituents or lobbyists are offended by the content of various stories, opinion pieces or documentaries published or aired by Al Jazeera is of no constitutional moment.  To the contrary, information deemed by some to be offensive propaganda is to others relevant and probative of issues to be contested and resolved in an open and free society.

To be sure, it is the friction between conflicting narratives and opinion that furthers the reach of freedom not dampens it. It is the conflict between voices that not only empowers those who partake in the debate or listen to it but ultimately strengthens society as a whole.

Under the First Amendment, people may elect to embrace or promote “radical” anti-American, anti-Israeli or even anti-Semitic commentary or opinion; it is a choice left to them and them alone.  Neither the government nor any of its minions have the constitutional authority to limit access to information not in itself otherwise prohibited by law.

The marketplace must be open to all ideas – even false ideas. In an open marketplace ideas must “clash” and “grapple;” they must stand up to assault and prove their worthiness. Truth cannot be pampered, too delicate to be examined – truth must be tested, forged in the furnace of doubt and questioning.

And, where, as here, government seeks to reprimand Al Jazeera for ensuring our collective right to the widest diversity of information and opinion it is a punishment that penalizes all.

The History of Government Repression

Efforts to intimidate journalists or sculpt the popular political narrative of the day are not at all new in the United States. We are a country with a long and sordid history in which the government, or various groups within it, have endeavored to control what we hear and from whom.

Whether by legislative censorship, intimidation, arrest, or outright violence, those pundits who have strayed from trendy political consensus have often paid a dear price for their voice. Nowhere has that been more prominent or painful than within communities of color or among dissidents… sentinels that have dared to challenge the silence that is necessarily companion to safe-guarding the status quo.

Long before the revolution that gave birth to the First Amendment, newspapers played an essential role in the lifeblood of their communities… particularly in such major port cities as New York, Philadelphia, Charleston and Boston.

What began in earnest as largely a platform to share news about local commerce or amusing gossip soon swelled to become the bullhorn of challenge to British rule as editors realized criticism of the local governor attracted increasingly larger audiences. Not ones to sit in silence as subjects deigned to challenge Royal rule, governors began to shutter local newspapers… often leading to explosive street-side or courtroom battles.

In 1734, in what was to herald the first dramatic speech-based confrontation over the right of the press to criticize, indeed, mock the political rule of the time, the governor of New York ordered the arrest of John Peter Zenger after his paper published some satirical attacks.

When a grand jury refused to indict Zenger, the governor ordered the Attorney General to charge him with criminal libel. At trial, Zenger’s lawyers argued, with success, that truth was a defense against libel. The jury found him not guilty. That verdict was to set the stage for a generation of increasingly acerbic attacks upon the monarchy as colonial newspapers played a key role in fomenting the revolution.

Thus, beginning with the attack on the Stamp Act of 1765, newspapers and street corner pamphleteers, alike, provided essential news of what was happening throughout the colonies as they published rebel grievances such as “No taxation without representation!”  To be sure, Tom Paine’s explosive pamphlet, Common Sense (1776) is credited with not just ravaging the king’s prominence but galvanizing revolutionary fervor overnight in favor of independence.

Given the pivotal role that a free press and speech played in the revolution, the founding fathers showed no hesitation, whatsoever, in engrafting each within the First Amendment to the fledgling Constitution. While there is little record of any debate among the framers over just what limits, if any, rubbed up against a free press, James Madison, the principal drafter of the Bill of Rights, opined:

“… [that] even speech that ‘creates a contempt, a disrepute, or hatred [of the government] among the people’ should be tolerated because the only way of determining whether such contempt is justified is by a free examination [of the government’s actions], and a free communication among the people thereon.”

For more than two centuries, in the United States, this expression, nay, this wisdom, has  pitted those without power, but with striking voice, against those grown rigid and comfortable with the strength and arrogance that comes with position, elected or otherwise. It is a tension born of the drive to control not just the narrative but, ultimately, the body politic in ways that exalt the vision of the few at the expense of the many.

At times, it has been a battle born of legislative fiat while, at others, a desperate explosive rage that mistakes the messenger for the message and sees silence, even that obtained through deadly violence, as success. Ultimately, power sees no limits to its reach: self-preservation its sole aim.

In 1798, President John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts.  Although a broadside against immigrants and foreign nationals, its primary thrust was to outlaw any “conspiracy” against the government… largely by silencing people from speaking in a “false, scandalous and malicious” manner against it. Adams’ prime targets were newspaper, pamphlet and broadside publishers who printed articles disparaging of his administration.

Between 1798 and 1801, twenty-six dissidents of the day, many of whom were editors of “opposition” newspapers and all opposed to the administration, were prosecuted under the Sedition Act.  Some were imprisoned for “false, scandalous, and malicious writing against the said President of the United States.” Following furious debate over the meaning of a free press and opposition speech, by 1802, all of the Acts related to this expression were repealed or expired.

In 1823, Utah passed a criminal libel and slander law allowing journalists to be prosecuted under the same sorts of charges used against Zenger a century earlier. In relevant part, the statute made it a crime to “…intentionally and with a malicious intent to injure publish libelous statements.”

Not declared unconstitutional until some 130 years later, today, Utah still maintains, but does not enforce, a closely worded criminal defamation statute. Roughly a dozen other states still maintain criminal libel laws (Six years ago, Colorado repealed theirs which made it a felony carrying up to 18 months in prison and a fine up to $100,000 for the first offense).

As World War I raged abroad, the Government unleashed an unprecedented domestic campaign against those it considered disloyal to the effort. Though federal agents, local police, and volunteer vigilantes initially targeted left-wing and trade union activists for surveillance and harassment, the government’s attention soon evolved into an all-out effort to silence “subversive” publications. It was to continue on even after the end of the war.

With the passage of the Espionage Act of 1917, the Postmaster General ordered that mail be monitored to ensure that newspapers, books and magazines “… calculated … to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny… or otherwise embarrass or hamper the Government in conducting the war” were denied the use of the postal service. This was to end the circulation of Appeal to Reason, a magazine, with a circulation of more than a half a million, affiliated with the Socialist Party. Before the war was over, seventy-five different publications would be either censored or completely banned.

The following year, the Department of Justice prosecuted The Masses, a literary journal that published a veritable who’s who of the day’s socialist politics, for an issue that was identified as “treasonable material.”  Charged with conspiracy to obstruct conscription, contributors including Max Eastman, Floyd Dell, John Reed, Josephine Bell and Merrill Rogers faced twenty years of imprisonment on the basis of speech and speech alone.

Tried twice, with neither jury able to reach a unanimous verdict, the legal instructions of legendary jurist Learned Hand reaffirmed already accepted constitutional protections regarding free speech and press:

“I do not have to remind you that every man has the right to have such economic, philosophic or religious opinions as seem to him best, whether they be socialist, anarchistic or atheistic.”

The evolution of that message continued on, in 1931, in Near v. Minnesota, where the U.S. Supreme Court held that a prior restraint on newspaper publications is, in nearly all instances, a violation of the First Amendment’s press freedom clause.

In sum, the court held it impermissible for the government to bring a publisher before a judge to seek suppression of a periodical on the grounds that its publication would release “scandalous and defamatory” materials… in particular, as against public officers.

Finding it to be the “essence of censorship”, the court upheld the freedom of the marketplace of ideas to access almost all information as its participants pursued the search for truth unfettered by government control or manipulation.

Although some of these struggles produced fierce, at times, violent repression of press and speech, ultimately, most played out in aged courthouses remarkable as much for their fine wood benches and high backed leather seats as the solemnity of the moment.

While these diverse controversies went on to become the keystone of today’s First Amendment freedoms, at the time the most explosive sense of the moment was little more than sharp-tongued banter cast amidst a carnival like atmosphere.

Nowhere was that more entertaining than in the backdrop of The Masses trials where a band played patriotic songs in support of a campaign to sell Liberty Bonds outside the courthouse while, inside, one of the accused jumped to attention to salute the flag whenever he heard the “Star Spangled Banner.”

However, for black women and men of this First Amendment journey, free speech proved to be anything but an entertaining montage as “badges and incidents of slavery” often reared its hideous head in the ash-heap of fire-bombed newspapers and segregated cemeteries.

Beginning before World War I, the Bureau of Investigations initiated a country-wide surveillance of most black newspapers under the guise of the threat of communism.

Later to be renamed the FBI it targeted, in particular, the Chicago Defender (Defender), a wildly popular newspaper within African American communities especially in the North.  Unleashing an all-out attack on institutional racism and discrimination, the paper also played an active role in union organizing… in particular, among the Pullman who distributed copies of it as their trains traveled throughout the South.

The government attack on the Defender involved more than surveillance. In 1919, the FBI burglarized its offices… stealing its subscriber and distributor lists. Decades later, the government threatened to indict the Defender and other African American newspapers for sedition as a result of their protest against the treatment of African American servicemen fighting in World War II and their demand that the armed forces be integrated.

It has been reported that, in 1943, army bases were confiscating black newspapers deemed “prejudicial to military discipline.” Although suppression and threats to prosecute proved relatively short lived, historically other black speakers, publishers, journalists and their allies have not been so fortunate.

In 1837, a pro-slavery mob killed abolitionist editor Elijah Lovejoy originally of the St. Louis Observer, where his press was destroyed three times, and then of the Alton, Illinois, Observer.

Aaron Bradley, a black Georgia lawyer and politician in the 1860s and 70s, was arrested, time and time again, for use of such “insurrectionary language” as asking for reparations and telling former slaves to stay on the land and claim it for themselves under color of law. In 1865, he was sentenced for his speeches, by federal reconstruction authorities, to a year of hard labor.

On September 28, 1868, at least 200 African Americans and 20 whites were killed during the Opelousas massacre, in Louisiana, following a series of editorials in a local Republican newspaper urging African Americans to vote against Democrats who were then oppressing them. Emerson Bentley, a white editor for The Landry Progress, a local newspaper which promoted the education of black children, was beaten and seriously injured… and his paper destroyed.

In 1892, a black journalist, Ida B. Wells, who wrote about a lynch mob, “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases” was forced to flee Memphis, Tenn, and her newspaper, The Free Speech, was burned to the ground.

In 1898, a mob of some 2000 white men toppled the city government in Wilmington, NC, destroying the only African American newspaper in North Carolina, the Wilmington Daily Record. Troops sent to quell rioting ended up joining the rioters shooting unarmed African Americans as they did. The riot was “triggered” by a series of unpopular editorials by the paper’s editor, Alex Manly.

In 1903, Narciso Gonzales became the first known Hispanic American journalist killed because of his work. On his way home from his job at The State, a newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina Gonzalez was shot by then Lt. Gov. James Tillman. Gonzales had written an article critical of Tillman when he ran for governor calling him a “debaucher… blackguard and a proved liar.” Tillman was tried for the murder and acquitted… although he was carrying two loaded weapons while Gonzales had none.

The murder of Gonzalez was just one of many in which journalists of color or muckrakers have been targeted for the content of their investigative voice ranging from their work around political corruption to organized crime to their own personal beliefs.

Over the past 150 years, a steady succession of those who view their life’s work as essential to ensuring an informed community with knowledge about persons, places and events, no matter how controversial the story line or its messenger, have lost their lives to assassins bullets in a quest to silence their voices.

Writers, editors, photo journalists, radio hosts and political activists have been murdered, by white supremacists, anti-communists, Deputy Sheriffs, politicians and gangsters, alike, at their papers, in their homes, on assignment or walking to their cars.

The list, which includes a Pulitzer Prize winner and the named plaintiff in Near v. Minnesota, says as much about the tenor of the times as it does the risk attendant to being a recorder or commentator of a given age.

In 1877, J. Clarke Swayze of the Topeka Daily Blade was shot dead by the subject of a critical article he had penned.

In 1881, A.B. Thornton of the Boonsville News in Missouri was murdered by a local town marshal because of criticism from his newspaper. The marshal was acquitted at trial on the basis of a defense that the criticism was “too intense.”

In 1891, Ignacio Martínez, the publisher of El Mundo was murdered because of critical articles he wrote about the president of Mexico. His murderers fled and were never brought to justice.

In 1927, Donald Ring Mellett, of the Canton Daily News in Ohio, was shot dead for his crusading against mobsters infiltrating government. Later that year his paper won the 1927 Pulitzer Prize for public service.

In 1934, Howard Guilford, the editor of the Saturday Press in Minneapolis, was killed after an expose on corruption and organized crime. He had been the plaintiff in the ground breaking Supreme Court case of Near v. Minnesota.

In 1949, W.H. Bill Mason, the crusading host of a popular radio show at KBKI in Alice, Tx, was shot dead by a local sheriff in the midst of a political scandal he was airing regarding a US Senate race.

In 1962, Paul Guihard,  a French-British journalist for Agence France-Press, was murdered while covering James Meredith’s attempts to enroll at the all-white University of Mississippi. His murder was never solved.

In 1970, Rubén Salazar, of the Los Angeles Times, was killed by deputies while covering a Chicano protest in East Los Angeles.

In 1981, Duong Trong Lam, of Cai Dinh Lang (the Village Temple) was assassinated in San Francisco by a member of an anti-communist group.

In 1984, Alan Berg, the progressive host of Denver based radio station, KOA, was murdered by a white nationalist group.

In 1989, Nhan Trong Do, a layout designer with Van Nghe Tien Phong, a Vietnamese language magazine in Fairfax Virginia, was assassinated. His murder remains unsolved.

In 1991, Jean-Claude Olivier a controversial Haitian radio show host on station WLQY-AM in Little Haiti, Miami, Florida was assassinated while walking to his car.

In 2001, less than a month after 9-11, Robert Stevens, a photo journalist for the Sun, in Boca Raton, Florida, was murdered when he opened an envelope filled with anthrax.

In 2007, Chauncey Bailey, the editor of The Oakland Post, a large circulation California based African American newspaper, was executed on his way to work by the target of his investigative reporting.

The Powers of the State Oft Repeat

In early 1971, as he ruminated about how to somehow still win in Vietnam, Richard Nixon exclaimed,

Kill the reporters”  

Not long thereafter, he preached to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

The press is your enemy.

Decades later that same refrain has found great comfort, in the Oval Office, with a steady drum beat of tweets from Donald Trump that echoes:

“The FAKE NEWS media (failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!

There is nothing new in this exhortation from a president who has threatened to cancel the broadcast licenses of media companies that offer negative coverage of him.

Indeed, well before his election, Trump made his distaste for press freedom very clear as he blacklisted reporters and entire news outlets from campaign events and told  supporters  he would “open up our libel laws” to sue journalists. “We’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before,” said Trump, obviously oblivious to the, now, almost three hundred year old failed attempt by the British crown to do the same to John Peter Zenger.

Often referring to journalists as “scum” and “slime”, Trump noted, after remarking how Vladamir Putin has murdered journalists, :

“… But I do hate them. I hate some of these people, but I’ll be honest, I would never kill them.”

And, a few hours later, following his threat against broadcast licenses, he commented to reporters:

“It is frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it.”

Trumps ignorant unconstitutional attack upon a free and robust press has inspired legislative efforts across the United States to try to silence the political speech rights of millions of supporters of the international BDS Movement. Currently, there are two dozen states that have passed some form of anti-BDS legislation and another 12 that have pending legislation.

However, to date, only in Kansas has the effort to silence BDS activity worked its way to court, not for want of legislative activity, but because no other claims have proven as yet ripe.

Under US federal law, the ripeness doctrine generally requires injury in fact before a constitutional challenge can be raised against a state legislative action no matter how silly or repugnant it may appear on its face.

In point of fact, but for Kansas, anti-BDS legislation has proven itself to be little more than loud public relations without any practical impact upon those who have organized or participated in boycotts against Israel as a core component of their First Amendment rights.

In Kansas, Ester Koontz, a Mennonite school teacher and BDS advocate, challenged a state requirement that contractors must certify they do not participate in any boycott of Israel to be eligible for various statewide programs.

Unable, in good conscience, to sign the certification, Koontz (who develops her school’s math curriculum and trains teachers on how to implement it) was denied an opportunity to participate in a statewide training program after she refused to sign away her First Amendment rights.

In quick order, the federal court blocked enforcement of the Kansas anti-BDS statute finding it impermissibly chilled Ms. Koontz’s speech rights by forcing her to choose between obtaining a state contract and her support of the boycott of Israel.

The court’s interim decision is entirely consistent with the landmark case of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Claiborne Hardware C. which was decided almost forty years ago.

In a unanimous decision that explored the tension between First Amendment rights of speech and association and potential monetary losses that might arise from economic boycotts directed largely at white owned businesses, the Supreme Court ruled that, to the extent a boycott is non- violent, it was protected by First Amendment guarantees of free speech, assembly, and freedom of political association.

As noted by Justice John Paul Stevens, the boycott ‘‘… sought to vindicate rights of equality and freedom that lie at the heart…” of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

”One of the foundations of our society is the right of individuals to combine with other persons in pursuit of a common goal by lawful means.”

Applying this well settled constitutional doctrine to other pending, or future, legislative misadventures, there is little doubt that efforts at anti-BDS legislation will suffer the same fate as those legislative prohibitions that were struck down when applied to civil rights activists in Mississippi in 1982… and ever since.

In the United States, the march from 1734 to 2018 has been a long, difficult and, at times, painful stretch for those who have dared to challenge institutional power or social tyranny be it through our press, our voice or our feet.

Along the way, women and men of principle, conscience, and courage have long sacrificed much to ensure that their voices be heard and that the pathway to ours is both wide and secure. Some have lost their liberty… others their lives. None, however, have surrendered their courage or determination to the political expedience of the moment.

At the forefront of this historic journey has been faith that, ultimately, truth can only rise in the marketplace of unrestrained ideas, diversity in thought and action is the only path to meaningful freedom, and government has no lawful place in dictating what it is we can say… or when, where, or with whom we might share that message.

A government that is empowered to insist today that an historical event happened in a particular way can insist tomorrow that it happened differently or did not happen at all. Governments lie. Governments get it wrong. Only a robust clash of ideas in an open debate has any hope of exposing Government lies and missteps.

To turn a familiar phrase around; the cure for government lies is not more government; the cure is open, robust debate.

Building For Sale, All Bids Considered: the UN and the Middle East

Originally published May 1, 2018 in CounterPunch

 

Building For Sale, All Bids Considered: the UN and the Middle East

It sits on First Avenue, just off of 41st Street, overlooking the East River in New York City. It opened to great applause and expectation. A wishful answer to the madness that had become a world unleashed with the scent of blood and the all too customary wail of mourn.

It was to be our collective hope. A grand oath by which, together, the world could find answers to the greed and arrogance of states long unbound in their historical feed upon those less powerful. It has not worked.

Founded in San Francisco on October 24, 1945, the United Nations opened with endless promise. As proclaimed in its lofty preamble, the original 51 member states committed themselves to saving

succeeding generations from the scourge of war… [reaffirmed]… faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights… of nation’s large and small… to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from… international law [could] be maintained… to ensure… that armed force [would] not be used, save in the common interest.

With all too comfortable ease, 73 years later, these passionate words of humanity have once again proven themselves to be little more than idle gossip in which the powerful not only craft the tone of the debate but set about to ensure its content reflects their unique and predatory vision of the rule of law.

For those who have come of age to the U.N. promise, we’ve long been witness to state terrorism that has become the international norm whether carried out by imperial fiat, proxy march or by the U.N. itself.  After all, was it not the United Nations failure to act decisively against the unlawful U.S. led invasion in Iraq that essentially provided a papal-like blessing to its destruction?

Loud on bark, little on bite, the U.N. has long served as the world’s most impressive moot court… debating whether commas or semi colons should punctuate its impressive pronouncements before the predictable veto sends the Security Council home for dinner and the resolution to the scrap heap of rhetorical history.

In what has become a political art form of pain and punishment, with repeated rerun a handful of powers have used their veto to ensure that the Security Council is long on vent but short on action.

In first place stands Russia/Soviet Union which has used its veto 123 times... more than any other permanent member of the Security Council. Most recently, on April 10,, 2018 Russia blocked a resolution to identify who was responsible for the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma in Syria. This follows a similar veto by Russia on February 28, 2017 regarding sanctions on chemical weapons use in Syria and then another, on November 17, 2017, when it vetoed efforts for a 30-day renewal of a commission investigating chemical weapons attacks within Syria.  To date since the conflict began in 2011 Russiahas used its veto 12 times regarding Syria on issues which include condemnation of the bombing of Aleppo and ceasefires.Earlier it vetoed a Security Council condemnation of its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

In second place stands the United States. It has exercised its veto power some 79 times since the U.N. opened its doors to the facade of justice. Since 1972, it has neutered Security Council action more than any other permanent member and, since 1982, the grand protector of Israel has vetoed 32Security Council resolutions critical of it… more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members.

Most recently, it vetoed a resolution proposed by Kuwait condemning Israeli attacks upon thousands of Palestinians during the Great March of Return that called for an independent investigation into mass killings and injuries that have ensued. On December 18, 2017it vetoed a draft resolution approved by 14 of the 15 members of the Security Council urgingcountries to refrain from establishing embassies in Jerusalem. So predictable was this veto, rumor has it the UN press office prepared news of its use long before the actual vote.

In its most basic form, the veto power ensures that permanent members of the Security Council can, as they choose, prevent anycollective UN action whether a diplomatic or armed response to an international crises… thus sacrificing the will of the world community to their own narrow geo-political program.

U.N. inaction, or sanctioned violence, has long betrayed any meaningful effort to serve as the world’s neutral arbiter to ensure equal and just application of international law and the pursuit of world peace.

While examples of meaningless, indeed failed, political debate abound, two in particular … one of recent vintage, the other as old as the body itself… expose the U.N. as little more than an excuse for yearly September get-togethers of world leaders. In between, career politicians, ensconced in Manhattan high rise splendor, debate, ad nauseum, issues of life and death as the refugee and body counts swell.

Yemen

Recently, the U.N. Security Council issued a stinging rebuke of Houthis, in Yemen, for their alleged launch of a number of missiles fired at the capital city of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. It also chastised those that are apparently ignoring the U.N.’s one sided arms embargo directed only at Houthi leaders.

Meanwhile, for more than three years, the United States, the UK and other U.N. power brokers have provided military advisors, weapons, training and intelligence to Saudi Arabia in its cruel and indiscriminate attacks upon a largely civilian population constituting the most impoverished state in the Arab world.

With more than a thousand such documented air raids, Saudi Arabia has apparently looked to Israel for moral inspiration as it has unleashed a relentless campaign to destroy Yemen’s essential infrastructure leveling more than 70 health facilities. Many of these have been public health hospitals staffed by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).  These attacks on medical facilities constitute a clear violation of internationally recognized Rules of Law.

In one such attack, on the Abs Hospital in Northern Yemen, 19 were killed and dozens injured. At the time the Saudi bomb exploded in the hospital compound, its maternity ward was filled with 25 women there to give birth.

Just this past week the Saudi-led coalition carried out multiple airstrikes on a wedding in Northwest Yemen. It has been reported that at least 33 were killed and 55 injured by an American made bomb including the bride. Most of the victims were women and children.

In a country heavily dependent on its fishing industry, hundreds of fishing boats have been destroyed, and fishermen killed, by warships and helicopters in the Red Sea… manned by Saudi coalition partners. As of September 2017, the Yemen Data Project has recorded 356 air raids targeting farms, 174 targeting market places and 61 air raids targeting food storage sites.

Like the “security” embargo in Gaza, a blockade of Yemen’s ports ensures that millions of Yemenis live under threat of mass starvation and disease… denied the most basic foodstuffs and medical supplies. Under international law these steps constitute a war crime or crime against humanity.

Since Saudi Arabia began its military intervention in Yemen, in March of 2015, more than 10,000 civilians have died and three million others have been displaced.

It has been estimated that 19.3 million Yemenis… more than two-thirds of the population … do not have access to clean water and sanitation.

The charity, Save the Children, estimated hunger and disease would kill at least 50,000 Yemeni children in 2017, alone.

The World Health Organization has reported more than 815,000 suspected cases of cholera in Yemen and, so far, approximately 2,500 deaths. About 4,000 suspected cases are being reported daily… more than half of which are among children under 18. Children under five account for a quarter of all such cases.

Described by U.N. officials as the world’s “largest man-made crises”, the international body dedicated to stave off the scourge of war and to ensure human and equal rights for all, has done nothing of consequence to end the suffering, indeed, full on genocide now underway in Yemen.

Despite its grand rhetorical preach, the United Nations has imposed no sanctions on any of its architects nor has it passed any measures against those supplying arms or other material aid or consult to the Saudi-led coalition.

Palestine

Stolen from age-old Palestinian villages, no state has offended, with such brazen regularity and uniform betrayal, the core principles of the United Nations than has Israel. Since literally its first day, when the U.N. announced to the world that Palestine was relegated to history and Israel crafted as a Middle East extension of Europe, Israel has flaunted international law in its march of ethnic cleanse.

With mayhem its mantra even before its artificial declaration of statehood, Israel’s Zionist framers never blinked at the use of unbridled terror to obtain their goal. The bombing of the King David Hotel, in 1946, by the Irgun… a UK designated terrorist organization… took the life of 91 mostly civilians. While this massacre and the assassination of UN mediator Folke Bernadotte,in Jerusalem in 1948, by the group Lehi, momentarily captured the eye of the world, for well over a decade Palestinians and British, alike, were victimized by the horror of a non-stop drive by Zionists in their chase of statehood.

During this period, hundreds of British police and military personal were injured or assassinated by explosives, snipers or lynching. Jewish terrorists attacked the British and Palestinian infrastructure, en masse, as they robbed banks and bombed military and police installations, government offices, and ships. They sabotaged railways, bridges, and oil installations using booby traps, ambushes and vehicle blasts with the kind of cold detached execution that the world would once again see just this past week… not from the Irgun, but by its heirs in the Israeli military.

There is no need to recast, in full, the nightmare that has befallen tens of thousands of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators over the last several weeks in Gaza…leaving 39 dead and at least 2900 wounded… many critical. By now, the massacre has been well recorded.

Suffice it to say, Israel, ever-more the victim, would have us believe it has acted in self defense against a horde of dangerous activists including women and children flag bearers and those engaged in prayer.  Rampaging protestors who inexplicably threw themselves into harm’s way and thousands of rounds of incoming Israeli sniper fire… just because.

Not surprisingly, most killed or injured suffered gunshot wounds to the rear of their heads or backs. In the parlance of forensic science, these entry wounds are consistent not with attack but flight.

Civilian massacres are, of course, very much an essential part of the Israeli historical narrative. A walk down its memory lane shows an unbroken pattern of carnage perpetrated upon the most vulnerable of its enemies… real or imagined.

 “Operation Protective Edge”

In 2014, Israel undertook a cruel assault on Gaza as it once again targeted its two millions civilians with massive disproportionate force. According to a United Nations report “the scale of the devastation was unprecedented… tallying more than 6,000 airstrikes, 14,500 tank shells and 45,000 artillery shells unleashed between July 7 and Aug. 26.”

Many of these explosive devices, in particular artillery and mortars, were used in densely populated areas and designed to have a “wide-area” impact to ensure that anyone or anything within the contact area would likely be killed, injured or damaged due to their explosive power and imprecision.

One non-governmental organization reported a 533% increase in the use of highly explosive artillery shells in comparison to those used in Israel’s earlier attacks on Gaza in 2008 and 2009.

As noted by the U. N., haphazard strikes in densely populated neighborhoods, on residential buildings, the use of explosives with wide-area affects and the destruction of entire neighborhoods in Gaza likely constituted a violation of the prohibitions of indiscriminate attacks against civilians and was therefore a war crime.

When Israel’s thirst for retribution was at last satisfied, 2310 Palestinians were killed… the majority of them civilians. Among them, 551 children and 299 women lay dead. More than 11,000 others were wounded, a third of them children, with over 1,000 left permanently disabled.

Many of those killed or maimed were targeted while seeking refuge in various shelters including U.N. schools. Twenty civilians lost their lives and dozens more injured in an overnight attack on the Jabaliya elementary school where more than 3,000 displaced civilians had sought refuge.

In another such attack, 16 people were killed and more than 200 wounded when a U.N. shelter in northern Gaza was bombed. These strikes were but two of six upon U.N.-run schools or shelters during Operation “Protective Edge.” Of significance, the coordinates of the U.N. sites had been provided to Israel, some repeatedly, well in advance of their attack.

Criminal not just for the loss of life, the concentrated Israeli onslaught was designed to cause lasting devastation on a community already overwhelmed by poverty and still reeling from the last major assault on its infrastructure just a few years earlier.

Among the infrastructure leveled were hundreds of factories, dairy farms with livestock and orange groves. 138 schools and 26 health facilities were damaged and thousands of homes totally destroyed or severely damaged. The lone power station and major sewage pipe in Gaza, serving 500,000 inhabitants, were destroyed. 10 out of 26 hospitals were damaged or destroyed. 203 mosques were damaged, 73 destroyed… along with two of Gaza’s three Christian churches.

Approximately six weeks after it began, the Human Rights Council of the U.N. held an emergency session regarding the bloodbath in Gaza.

In the strongest of terms, a resolution was passed which, in relevant part, condemned “the widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from… the latest Israeli military assault on the occupied Gaza Strip, by air, land and sea, which has involved disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks, including aerial bombardment of civilian areas, the targeting of civilians and civilian properties in collective punishment contrary to international law and other actions, including the targeting of medical and humanitarian personnel, that may amount to international crimes.”

Though the resolution called for an immediate ceasefire, predictably, it was ignored by Israel. Only one country voted against the resolution… the United States.

Although an investigation into the massacre of 2014 is currently underway at the International Criminal Court, to date, the United Nations itself has undertaken no affirmative steps nor imposed any sanctions against Israel for its 50 day slaughter in Gaza.

“Operation Cast Lead”

In 2008-2009, during “Operation Cast Lead”, Israel dropped more than 100 tons of explosives on Gaza during its first 9 hours. In the days to come, tens of thousands of  its civilians were exposed to white phosphorous shells fired into crowded residential areas… not as incidental cover to otherwise legitimate use of force, but rather as a primary weapon of war in violation of international law.  Almost a dozen such shells struck the main Gaza City compound of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) where some 700 civilians had taken shelter, causing numerous deaths and injuries. {pg 93}

On the day before the hostilities ended, three phosphorous shells landed in another clearly marked U.N. facility. One landed in a classroom setting it on fire and killing two brothers as they slept, severely injuring their mother and a cousin, and wounding a dozen others who had sought refuge there. As with all other U.N. facilities, Israel had advance notice of its coordinates.

Burning white phosphorus produces a hot, dense, white smoke consisting mostly of phosphorus pentoxide which produces horrific burns. It sticks to the skin of its victims, penetrating their bodies… resulting in liver, heart and kidney damage and, in some cases, multiple organ failure… thus creating a greater risk of death than other burns. These weapons are particularly dangerous because white phosphorus burns unless deprived of oxygen or until it is completely exhausted.

Throughout the attack, Israel made broad use of a dual-purpose improved “conventional” artillery shell designed to avoid international prohibitions against the use of traditional cluster bombs.

Intended as an anti-armor and antipersonnel weapon, each artillery shell separates into 24 sub-munitions, containing more than 1,200 fragments that explode to create a wide and dense area of coverage within a 350-foot radius killing and wounding indiscriminately. One example of their destructive potential was an attack on an UNRWA school being used as a shelter in Jabaliya, on 6 January, which killed 43 Palestinians. On that occasion, Israel acknowledged the use of the shells.

Defense News estimates that Israel fired 7,000 artillery rounds of this type during its attack on Gaza in 2008-2009.

The United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict ruled that these attacks constituted violations of international human rights and humanitarian law as well as possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. 1394 Palestinian men and women were killed, including 345 children.

South African Jurist Richard Goldstone, a former international war crimes prosecutor and member of the U.N. team that issued the report, described the Israeli conduct as “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”

With the Obama administration taking the lead in defense of Israel, the U. N. took no steps to hold it accountable for repeated violations of international law during the massacre.

Lebanon

Not one to limit its breach of international law and the law of war to its attacks in Gaza and the West Bank alone, Israel has a long and well documented history of human rights violations and war crimes during its not infrequent assaults on Lebanon.

Here, too, the United Nations has watched largely in silence as Israel has targeted civilian communities and U.N. facilities, made us of prohibited weapons of war and participated in massacres against defenseless women and children.

In July of 2006, the Israeli Air Force (IAF), some ten to fifteen minutes apart, dropped two bombs, at least one of which was precision guided, on a private three story residence in the small South Lebanese village of Qana. 28 civilians were killed. 16 were children.

Video broadcast by Arab TV showed the bloodied bodies of women and children, recovered from the rubble, who appeared to be wearing nightclothes. The dead, who ranged in age from nine months to 75 years, had sought refuge in the building during a period of conflict with Hezbollah.

While the Security Council expressed the United Nations’ “extreme shock and distress” at the bombing and offered its condolences for the deaths, it took no further action against Israel for this atrocity.

On August 7, 2006, two missiles fired by an Israeli jet destroyed three apartment buildings in the Chiyah suburb in the Lebanese capital of Beirut. At least 50 corpses were recovered from the rubble. Later that same day, the IAF struck another building in the Lebanese city of Ghaziyeh. 16 civilians lost their lives in this attack.

The next day, Israel once again struck Ghaziyeh firing 5 missiles into three buildings… killing up to 14 civilians and wounding 33 others. As with the attacks in Qana and Chiyah, the U.N. expressed its condolences but did little else.

Ten years earlier, on April 18, 1996, the IAF targeted a U.N. compound in Qana where some 800 civilians had sought shelter from Israeli bombardments during its sixteen day battle with Hezbollah.  Suddenly, with no warning, Israel began to attack the clearly marked compound with a mix of high-explosive artillery rounds that included deadly anti-personnel shells. When the massacre ended, 106 civilians had been killed and another 116 injured.

Like the attack on Qana a decade later, the U.N. expressed its condolences for civilian losses. However, it took no further steps against Israel despite a finding that the attack reflected a “callous disregard for civilian lives and a breach of the laws of war on directly or indiscriminately targeting civilians.”

This is not to suggest that the United Nations was completely indifferent to the shelling of its compound as the General Assembly, by a vote of 66 to 2 with 59 abstentions, passed a resolution demanding that Israel reimburse it to the tune of 1.7 million dollars for the cost of repairs to its compound.

Predictably, the United States and Israel voted against the resolution. Not surprisingly, Israel ignored the bill. The U.N. took no subsequent steps against Israel for its refusal.

The Invasion of 1982

In 1982, the Israeli army invaded Lebanon to stop attacks from the PLO that, at the time, was using South Lebanon as a home base.  Already deep in the midst of a civil war, internal Lebanese fighting provided convenient cover for Israeli violence often directed at Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, alike. For three years, Israel occupied Beirut unleashing massive and indiscriminate attacks on communities it identified as home to Palestinian and Lebanese enemies.

While the full scope of Israeli violence will never be known, some of its own soldiers described the wholesale use of prohibited weapons of war against civilian populations as “… insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs.”

According to a rocket unit commander during one period, they fired around 1,800 cluster bombs containing over 1.2 million bomblets. When Israel ran out of cluster bombs, it asked the United States for an emergency shipment of 1,200 replacements. Surprisingly, it refused. Other soldiers described the wholesale use of long prohibited phosphorous weapons as primary weapons of war.

During its 10 week siege on the PLO, Israel hit five U.N. buildings, 134 embassies or diplomatic residences, six hospitals or clinics, one mental institute, the Central Bank, five hotels, the Red Cross, Lebanese and foreign media outlets, and countless private residences.

It is estimated by some that during the Israeli onslaught,  about seventeen thousand Lebanese and Palestinians diedOther estimates are much higher… most were civilians. Tens of thousands of others were wounded. Lebanese officials claimed that a quarter of them were under fifteen years of age.

While much of the world watched the Israeli use of weapons of mass destruction with horror, little action was undertaken to intervene. When one commanding officer was asked how Israel could have consciously inflicted such widespread pain and suffering directed at a largely civilian population he tersely replied “We’re a special case, as is commonly known. We’re allowed to do anything. Why? Because we can.”

It was this arrogance of power… a sermon of almost divine designation… which led Israel to participate in one of the most appalling massacres of the day. Yet as history has proven, time and time again, it stands not alone.

Sabra-Shatila

Located in West Beirut, today, the refugee camps of Sabra-Shatila remain home to tens of thousands of Palestinians. While some were driven out of Palestine as youngsters in 1948, most are direct descendants of those who fled the first wave of full-on Israeli ethnic cleansing to seek safe-harbor in Lebanon.

While the full extent of the carnage remains little more than dark chronicle, between September 16-18 of 1982, some 3,500 Palestinian civilians, mostly women, children and elderly were raped, tortured, mutilated and murdered, in Sabra-Shatila, by Israel’s allies… Christian Phalangists.

During the coordinated bloodbath, Israeli troops surrounded camp perimeters preventing anyone from escaping the slaughter or moving to intervene. Against the echo of repeated gunshots and endless shrieks, Israeli soldiers did nothing but wait their turn.

After the butchery concluded and Israeli troops withdrew, journalists and observers from the Multinational Peacekeeping Force entered Sabra-Shatila.

In a letter to her husband, Janet Lee Stevens, an American journalist wrote,

I saw dead women in their houses with their skirts up to their waists and their legs spread apart; dozens of young men shot after being lined up against an alley wall; children with their throats slit; a pregnant woman with her stomach chopped open, her eyes still wide open, her blackened face silently screaming in horror; countless babies and toddlers who had been stabbed or ripped apart and who had been thrown into garbage piles.

Late in 1982, the U.N. General Assembly declared the carnage an act of genocide… condemning Israel in the “strongest terms for the large-scale massacre of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.” However, neither the U.N nor any other international body ever took action against Israel or its proxies for the massacre.

Conclusion

This travel has been a painful journey. Perhaps most difficult of all is the certainty that none of these atrocities are isolated in time and place as so much an historical anomaly. It is very much who we are and what we have become.

Long before Sabra-Shatila, Israel drove a million Palestinians from their ancestral homeland through a conscious determined ransack fueled by rape, murder and arson.  The history of Deir Yassin, Ramleh and Lydda is well known and documented. These villages were a small but deadly part of the ethnic cleansing begun by Zionist para-military forces in the days leading up to the declaration of Israeli statehood.

Not much has changed in the decades since, as Israeli regulars have added Qibya, Rafah, Jenin, Beit Hanoun and other Palestinian communities to the ranks of those etched among the annals of uncharged and unprosecuted war crimes.

Elsewhere, today, in Rohingya, Syria, Kashmir and other war zones throughout Africa and Southeast Asia, rape, torture, forced displacement, carpet bombing, and prohibited chemicals continue to be the preferred weapons of war… with civilians the prime targets.

The International Committee of the Red Cross notes that, in 1859, one protracted war caused 40,000 military casualties but only one civilian death.

Since that time, we have seen the expansion of the Law of War and the passage of the Convention for the Amelioration of the Wounded in Time of War which serves as the precursor to the Geneva Conventions.

Both hallmarks of international law were designed to safeguard people and property that did not contribute to warfare… and to protect civilians and civilian communities from unnecessary destruction and hardship.  Yet, despite evolving principles and efforts to insulate non-combatants from the horrors of war, now more than ever, they have become the prime victims of its intended death and destruction.

“At one time wars were fought by armies” said a U.N. report entitled “The State of the World’s Children.” Today, however, civilians bear the brunt of modern conflict.

Indeed, according to UNICEF, during this century, the proportion of civilian to military casualties has increased from 5 percent in World War I to 50 percent in World War II to 90 percent in the conflicts over the last few decades. Most civilian casualties are children and women.

Can it be mere coincidence that the dramatic increase in violence and civilian casualties parallel the establishment and growth of the United Nations as constituted?

Does the fact that 5 permanent members of the Security Council ultimately dictate where and when the U.N. acts with independence and certainty all but guarantee that it will never be more than a political playground dominated by the few as they pursue their own unique partisan agenda?

In 2018, it is simply not enough to issue press releases or pound the speaker’s podium from on high exalting lofty U.N. ideals to those foolish enough to buy the sale.  Toothless resolutions condemning war crimes, crimes against humanity or violations of any of the other hundreds of UN covenants and prohibitions remain but a tease unless and until that world body acts with resolve to ensure international promise and equal application of law becomes reality.

It is long past time to permit a world body to be shared equally by a world community.

For more than seven decades, the hallways of the United Nations have served as exciting field trips for young students and world visitors. I know… I was one.

Awed by the majesty of the General Assembly, with its impressive French murals, green marble desks, matching lecterns and UN emblem on gold backdrop, tourists escape the reality of the moment with an inspiring recorded narrative of its accomplishments.

Yet, in real time, in real places, hundreds of millions of the worlds poorest, most frail, and vulnerable pay the price daily for the hollow promise that is the UN.

Selective Outrage

Originally published on CounterPunch April 25. 2018

 

Selective Outrage

Not once, but twice, Donald Trump seized upon the specter of alleged chemical use, by Bashar al-Assad, to punish Syria with missile attacks.  With predictable and expedient faux rage, he risked elevating a seven year horror into a cataclysmic nightmare; at least that’s the common political sentiment.

Perhaps, this calculation is more than a bit frayed given the certainty of a choreographed agreement between Trump and Putin before the attacks began.

To be sure, only a political novice would overlook the bargain that enabled Trump to stage his domestic political show and afford Putin ample time to move his forces to avoid his own domestic fallout should any of the US missiles have missed their Syrian mark and fallen, instead, upon a Russian fighter jet or pilot.

Pardon my cynicism, but I have little doubt that when it comes to the Middle East, or elsewhere, neither of these autocrats sees much beyond their own political and economic self-interest no matter what flag their rhetoric comes draped in. It’s not just the way of the times, but the accomplished trait of each.

Perhaps, I’m being a bit too harsh on Trump, in particular. No doubt he was moved by images of Syrian children swept up in the crosshairs of military carnage that, for years, has denied them the laugh of youth in their native land.

Indeed, given his long and, very public, strong support of Muslim and Arab communities throughout the world, only a hardened skeptic would deny the president his just dues for his latest public tear-drop.

Can it be convenient overlook that I fail to recall candidate Trump’s criticism over thousands of Palestinian civilians and children slaughtered by repeated attacks from Israel upon Gaza, typically utilizing chemical weapons as a mainstay of their onslaught?

And have I missed Trump’s displeasure over hundreds of Palestinian kids, some as young as 13, detained by Israel without any modicum of due process or trial during his tenure in office? Or his pointed challenge to the policy of kidnapping children from their homes in the middle of the night to be subjected to endless Israeli interrogation without legal counsel and with sexual harassment the seeming mainstay of the inquisition?  And has his human rights concern over Syrian children not earned Trump the benefit of the doubt for his marked silence, these last few weeks, over Israel’s use of prohibited weapons of war and the outright assassination and cripple of hundreds, if not thousands,  of Palestinian youth on the border of Gaza?

Pardon my haste, however, consistency would seem to indicate that righteous indignation over attacks upon Syrian civilians would somehow not end up as so much companion silence when the victims are Palestinian.

But then again, Trump’s calculated quiet is not so unlike that of many world leaders who display almost pious devotion to Israeli power yet absolute indifference to Palestinian pain.

And what of those, with clear eyes and aching heart, who sit and watch, night after night,  paralyzed with disbelief, for decades, as millions of stateless people have been relegated to little more than a passing historical footnote.

Hardened by the mayhem that has, by now, grown so rote and stale at their side, many nod their heads in disgust and, with needless surrender, turn off the light and go to bed. Tomorrow is another day, a better one… or so they hope. It won’t be… unless we act.

Soul is not just pain we feel when faced with the hurt of the moment. It’s not a devotion to shed tears at the next image, offense, or slay sure to come. Nor is it made of voice alone… one that prevails at the tenth, fiftieth or hundredth outrage. Eventually, it can become so much a passé piqued cheer heard but among our own choir… and little elsewhere.

For some, history has a way of freezing moments in surreal times; of providing ample opportunity to nod in denial, as if we did not know when, all the while, we did know yet did not care. Or maybe we did… but did not dare to act.

Jews recall the box cars and ask where we were as furnaces overflowed with the ash of humanity. The Khmer Rouge farmed with the feed of millions while a world deadened by a river of Asian blood saw none and moved on.  In Rwanda, the machete defined our passing view while the swing of sharpened steel proved to be but a shadow beyond belief… one shriek and done.

Time and time again, we have proved that ours is a collective journey filled with endless promise but, alas, one often framed with narrow pretext and sheer denial.

For those of us ensconced from the safety of afar, it will always be better, tomorrow, as reality passes by leaving spectators free to decide what price is worth the cost… while others always pay.

Romance knows no age. It warms the heart no matter its touch or language. Suffer knows no difference. It’s a universal travel that reduces all to the lowest common denominator no matter the stone of its path. A dead child, a crippled woman, a funeral wail is a universal rite of mourn that knows no narrow race, faith or class. It’s the draw that connects all who pass-on, from this world to the next, and leave behind those stunned, no matter what their status, lost for all their days yet to come, desperate for reason, rhyme, and purpose.  It never arrives.  Memories may dim. Love never leaves.

How does one explain away the loss of laugh, the slip of smile, the end of endless hope; you can’t. But yet in Gaza for many after a decade of siege, attack, and boundless slaughter there is now only one way home… in victory or in death. What else can be said when martyrdom becomes an all too welcome respite to an endless life of suffer?

For weeks, now, Gaza has stood against the world. Armed with little more than purpose and determined principle, tens of thousands have willingly walked from the safety of their prison cell to the courtyard of casualty. With dozens murdered, thousands wounded, and hundreds crippled, the best and brightest of Gaza… its young, its women its elderly… have thrown caution to the gas filled wind facing off against ruthless snipers, drones and tank fire. No Israeli has been injured.

Yet, the Great March of Return continues. For Gaza, there is simply no choice. For us, there is.

For more than a decade, we have seen the rise of BDS… a powerful, peaceful, world-wide movement that, despite the insipid Israeli chant to the contrary, has not only educated hundreds of millions to the plight of Palestine but has cost the  pariah state billions of dollars in lost revenue. It’s not enough.

By design, BDS was intended to open a new, peaceful attack upon Israel… outside of the occupied territories… while decisions on the nature and extent of resistance on the ground is, as it must, left to Palestinians to determine for themselves.

Of necessity, over the years, Palestinian resistance has embraced a wide range of ever changing strategy and tactics. Decades ago, at times, it included pitched battles and spectacular isolated attacks. With the intifadas came popular uprisings that ran the gamut from mass boycotts and labor strikes to attacks with rocks and Molotov cocktails. In their deadliest days, they included martyrdom operations and isolated rocket and sniper fire.

In the years since, as Israel has increasingly resorted to mass slaughter, extrajudicial assassination, collective detention and community siege, the résistance has, per force, continued to evolve to meet ever changing exigencies.

At times militant and fierce, some Palestinians have embraced their international and lawful right to armed struggle… be it as individuals or as a member of a movement or a group. Many have chosen a mask and rock over silence in an ever present clash not just for land, but collective dignity. Hunger strikes have ensured that thousands detained behind bars have, still, the freedom to speak with command and purpose. Others have elected peaceful challenge with the slap of a hand or turned their voice to song or psalm to ensure that those who follow will know well from where they come.

Today, outside of Palestine, there are millions who, through their collective voice and determination, tell the world Palestinians are not alone as they struggle to reclaim their home and obtain the equal justice that is a birthright for all who walk this earth.

By BDS, mass protest, and petition this movement of Muslims, Christians, Jews and non-believers, alike, have united to challenge the Israeli narrative in creative ways that are companion to the resistance on the ground in Palestine. Yet, there is more to do.

No Israeli political leader, politician, or other mainstay of that state should receive calm passage through any of our own. Where they walk, where they talk, what they say must be challenged by protest at each and every step along the way. Their lobbyists, PR firms, corporate partners, banks and funded think tanks must understand that to support Israel is to invite a boycott of their own.

Political leadership in our own countries must come to realize that our collective resolve carries a political price for their willing, blind obedience to Israel. Visiting academics, scientists and artists that fail to challenge Israeli apartheid, occupation and ethnic cleansing, themselves, must understand that the sale of their soul is not a purchase of ours.

Not all that long ago, the world community came together, as one, to break the back of apartheid in South Africa. It did not happen overnight. Nor was it accomplished through the prism of one view or a single overarching political strategy or without great personal sacrifice.

Resistance demands diversity in thought and action.  It is a lesson learned…  and taught…  by those among us that have blazed a long, and often difficult, path in the march of freedom throughout the world. The challenge to Israel is, today, no different.

History has shown that, without the ever-present voice of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King’s legacy would be very different than the one we honor now.

Those who find comfort in Gandhi’s passivesalt march, yet deprecate the notion that throughout his journey he understood militant resistance was, at times, a necessary means to liberation, do not know the reality of the steps he took along the way.

Offered a chance to end his imprisonment after 17 years if only he renounced violence as a legitimate means of fighting apartheid, Mandela refused and returned to his cellfor ten more years.

This is by no means a call to arms or a plea for violence. It is, however, a verse of solidarity and love for our Palestinian brothers and sisters on the front lines of occupied Palestine.

In the darkest of their hour, they are not alone.

Today, throughout the world, their family in resistance stands with, and for, them as they struggle for their freedom by any means necessary.

Thirteen Russians: a Defense Lawyer Decodes the Mueller Indictments

Originally Published in CounterPunch February 26, 2018

 

Thirteen Russians: a Defense Lawyer Decodes the Mueller Indictments

“A courtroom is not a place where truth and innocence inevitably triumph; it is only an arena where contending lawyers fight not for justice, but to win.”

Though there is disagreement  about the exact wording used by the legendary defense attorney, Clarence Darrow, in describing what he did better than anyone of his day, perhaps of any day, the sentiment outpaces its many incarnations and puts to rest the preaching that trial proceedings or pleadings are necessarily a welcome home to justice.

Ultimately, it’s a search in look for a happy and honest end that, for most, is ever present but just never quite gets there.

Darrow spent his life in the trenches of migrant and trade union camps among anarchists and suffragettes… those who believed collective struggle was more than slogan driven chants that seem to find an almost recurring desperate chorus each and every electoral cycle.

Though remembered largely for his timely, but far too brief, court-room burying of obedient evangelical submissions, he went on to “Inherit the Wind” in real time for real people.

Having tried and saved the lives of over 150 accused in capital punishment cases, Darrow had that unique ability to speak to jurors, in court and out, well above and beyond the seductive devotee roar of the crowd or the crime of the moment. In courtrooms from coast to coast, he reduced often complex legal theories to simple steps while deconstructing cases  built of overt acts but, in reality, frequently maneuvered by little more than pain and passion.

Like any seasoned defense attorney, Darrow spent hours consumed not with the literal language of a given charging instrument but the nuanced message contained somewhere in between each fine line.  For those of us who have been there, that study says as much about what a prosecutor has, and where they plan to take it, as it does what an accused did that swept them within the eye of the storm.

While endless debate has been unleashed with the most recent indictment returned by the grand jury empaneled by Special Counsel Mueller, most of it is but more tea leaves to be read as so much wishful partisan cheer for Putin… or jeer for Trump.

Watching journalists and fans, alike, weigh in, with expert certainty, on matters of complex litigation and sophisticated criminal procedure, as if a mere cotton candy purchase may pass time with sweetened fancy,  however,  it provides little informed answer by way of what a “case” is, or is not, and where it may ultimately lead.

To acquire a meaningful glimpse of what the most recent indictment… and, perhaps, those yet to come… augurs for the future, one must necessarily understand not just what an indictment is and is not, but why some are pursued at all during the life of a complex investigation.

The Grand Jury Process

Indictments are not verdicts of guilt proven beyond a reasonable doubt as found by a unanimous jury of twelve following a full and fare adversarial proceeding in which both sides get to challenge and recast evidence or introduce their own.

They are simply pleading instruments; basic charging documents that reflect probable cause sufficient enough to convince a majority of typically 23 jurors who heard all the relevant evidence that various crimes were committed and that certain defendants participated in them.

As for the proceeding, itself, under federal law, while live testimony is the usual, preferred way of presenting evidence to a grand jury, hearsay is permitted. Often an agent simply reads to jurors from reports he or she generated that include what a witness said about what they saw or did or what another source told them.  Unlike a trial, where jurors can assess firsthand the credibility of each witness through direct and cross-examination, in the grand jury no such vehicle for challenge or impeachment exists. Indeed, not at all a search for the ultimate “truth”, prosecutors are under no obligation to present Brady material, that is to say, exculpatory evidence to grand jurors.

While federal judges oversee a grand jury presentation and are available to resolve unusual issues or conflicts that may unexpectedly arise during its term, unlike at trial, they are not physically present in the jury room and rarely make rulings on the admissibility of evidence that it hears. Nor do they provide legal or curative instructions about either the relevance or significance of evidence, nor define the elements of a given offense, nor provide final legal instructions before jurors decide whether to return what is known as a “true bill.”

For those stunned by this brief thumb-nail sketch of the ex-parte nature of the grand jury process and the ability of prosecutors… should they be so inclined… to essentially stage manage each case as so much a tailored grade B movie… welcome to the real world of the criminal bar.

Although there are “special grand juries” that issue non-criminal reports to a court that may release their findings, a federal grand jury almost exclusively hears “routine” criminal matters. It is empaneled for an 18 month period and, while it can be extended by the court for up to another 18 months, this rarely happens.

Indeed, while the specter of a “deep-state” grand jury sitting in some secret catacomb-like courtroom for 7 plus years targeting Julian Assange and Wikileaks has, for some, become a mantra of political faith, for them I suggest a long peaceful walk in the country. This prophecy is little more than an expedient exercise in convenient reality rewrite.

Most grand juries hear evidence related to multiple unrelated criminal matters with responsibility largely limited to that of reviewing evidence as it is introduced and issuing indictments (or not)  based upon investigations that have already been largely completed.

Although very rare, a grand jury can, as here, be empaneled to investigate a single matter and related offenses.  Given its by-in-large narrow focus, it is clear that the grand jury that returned the recent indictment against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities was, when empaneled, expected to do a lot of proactive hands-on work including a review of classified material as it proceeded.

In high profile, complex cases, these particular grand juries are essential to the underlying investigation itself because… unlike prosecutors and law enforcement agents… they can issue subpoenas and compel witnesses to answer questions under oath.

Generally, indictments are not rich with unnecessary or particularly graphic detail but rather provide a bare bones view of the government’s case. This is not by accident. Strategically, seasoned prosecutors know better than to memorialize prior testimony of witnesses which must be provided to the defense and can be later used for impeachment purposes should they be called to testify at trial on the government’s case in chief.

In relevant part under federal law a true bill must simply contain 1) a plain, concise and definite written statement of the essential facts constituting the specific offense charged and 2) allegations of each element of the offense so that an accused is provided fair notice of the charge against which they must defend.

Although by statute the burden of proof for a legally sufficient indictment is merely probable cause, under long settled Department of Justice policy, charges cannot be brought as a simply a means to harass an accused, to coerce a plea (where evidence to convict is otherwise lacking) or to secure additional time in which to build a case against those indicted to be tried at some future date. Likewise, an indictment may not be obtained simply to toll a statute of limitations that is otherwise in danger of lapsing thereby prohibiting a future prosecution of a given offense.

While prosecutors are under no obligation to present their case, in its entirety, to a grand jury, they are prohibited from seeking a true bill unless they possess sufficient evidence to prove one’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for the charges returned as of the time of the indictment.

That holds true for superseding indictments that add additional charges as evidence of new crimes, against those already charged, often unfold as prosecutors prepare for trial or add new co-defendants.

Although distasteful, yet entirely lawful, at other times superseding indictments are sought to bring added pressure upon defendants to dispose of a case by plea or to cooperate against others as they watch their own personal exposure increase exponentially with the return of a second or third indictment.

Likewise, there is nothing untoward or prohibited for prosecutors to obtain an indictment as a part of a broader strategy that includes an on-going investigation that may produce future related charges against, as yet, unknown co-conspirators or to induce cooperation agreements from them as they emerge.

The 13 Defendant Indictment

The recently returned indictment for Conspiracy to Defraud the United States is rich with comical imagery. Whether it’s a U.S. citizen standing in front of the White House holding a sign that reads “Happy 55th Birthday Dear Boss” or another depicting Clinton stating “I think Sharia Law will be a powerful new direction of freedom” or a person paid to ride in a cage on a flatbed truck wearing a costume portraying Clinton in a prison uniform, it appears a lot of money was invested, but little original creative talent expended, in crafting a nonetheless entertaining virtual SNL.

No less amusing were inventive hash tags that ran the gamut from “#IWontProtectHillary,” to “#Hillary4Prison” to “#TrumpTrain” to social media ads such as “Donald wants to defeat terrorism… Hillary wants to sponsor it”  to “Hillary is a Satan, and her crimes and lies had proved just how evil she is” to “Among all the candidates, Donald Trump is the one and only who can defend the police from terrorists.”

Likewise, giving snark a dilettante’s name, indeed, various fraudulent Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts were apparently set up by the co-defendants including the “Clinton FRAUDation” and, my favorite of all, under the name of “Woke Blacks” which, no doubt, swung the election to Trump through the ad: “[A] particular hype and hatred for Trump is misleading the people and forcing Blacks to vote Killary. We cannot resort to the lesser of two devils. Then we’d surely be better off without voting AT ALL.”

And then there were the memorable rallies such as “Support Hillary… Save American Muslims.”  Hopefully this one was recorded by the NSA to be shown over and over again on Turner Classic Movies as evidence of just how desperate and obtuse the US body politic had become by the time of the election in 2016.

Humor aside, the indictment returned by the DC-based grand jury includes a number of serious, often used, generic stand-alone offenses that are easy to prove and difficult to defend.

Indeed, over the years the Bureau of Prisons has been a frequent habitat for thousands of people of color, the poor and political dissidents charged with such crimes as bank and wire fraud, identity theft, money laundering, credit card fraud and visa violations… all of which are covered by the indictment at hand but conveniently overlooked by those partisans who wish to trivialize it as little more than desperate McCarthy like overreach.

Under federal law, identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception. It includes credit card fraud that covers s a wide range of activity such as:

+ False applications for loans and credit cards,

+ Fraudulent withdrawals from bank accounts,

+ Fraudulent use of telephone calling cards or online accounts, or

+ Obtaining other goods or privileges which might be denied if the applicant were to use their real name.

In one form or another, each of these designated offenses were set forth as overt acts in the indictment returned against the identified Russian nationals and each carries a significant prison sentence upon conviction.

Thus, the Department of Justice prosecutes cases of identity theft and fraud under a variety of federal statutes including the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. This now 20 year old law prohibits “knowingly transfer[ring] or us[ing], without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law.”  It carries a maximum term of 15 years imprisonment.

Schemes to commit identity theft or fraud may also involve violations of other statutes such as identification fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1028), credit card fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1029), computer fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1030), mail fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1341), wire fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343), or financial institution fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1344).

Each of these offenses carries substantial penalties as high as 30 years imprisonment.

Likewise under federal criminal law one who submits a visa application that knowingly contains false information can be charged with a fraud against the U.S. government. And when, as here, multiple defendants are charged with participation in the same underlying offense conspiracy to commit fraud becomes the designated charge.

In relevant part “whoever knowingly forges, counterfeits, alters, or falsely makes any immigrant or non immigrant visa… for entry into, or as evidence of, authorized stay or employment in the United States, knowing it to be… falsely made, or to have been procured by means of any false claim or statement is guilty of a violation of 18 U.S. Code § 1546.

Upon conviction of such offense, and absent aggravating circumstances, one faces a sentence of up to 15 years imprisonment to be followed by deportation.

According to the so-called “Russian” indictment, most of the defendants committed a per se violation of the applicable statute by falsifying the reason for their visit to the United States and accordingly faces significant criminal exposure upon conviction.

Although thousands of women and men have been convicted, imprisoned and deported for run of the mill visa violations no more serious than those set forth in the indictment this past week, a cursory search of such prosecutions reflects a clear and long standing preference for targeting political activists and dissidents.

Thus, Mousa Abu Marzook was arrested and detained for some 22 months in 1995 for failure to update his visa status by including his membership in Hamas. The head of its political wing, Abu Marzook, had lived in the United States for some 14 years as a lawful permanent resident… entirely before the group’s designation as a foreign terrorist organization in 1999. Ultimately, Marzook was deported to Jordan.

Mazen Al Najjar was accused of being part of Palestinian Islamic Jihad leadership and the editor of WISE (World and Islam Enterprise) Journal. Al Najjar was detained for 8 years for fraud arising from his overstay of his student visa and providing false information about his marriage to a US citizen for the purpose of obtaining permanent resident status. He was ultimately deported in 2002.

Mohamad Mustafa Ali Masfaka, also known as Abu Ratib, a Syrian singer and one time lawful permanent resident was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for failure to include pertinent facts in his immigration application. According to the Government, he was an unreported “operative” of the Holy Land Foundation from 1997-98. However, it was only years later, and after his involvement with HLF had ended, that it was declared a pro-Hamas terrorist organization.

Year before, in 1984, Joe Cahill, a famed Irish Republican and former Chief of Staff of the provisional Irish Republican Army, was deported from the United States for a second time on the basis of illegal entry. On this occasion, he entered the country through the use of a false Irish passport and provided untruthful information as part of his visa application.

After ten years of imprisonment, Joseph Patrick “Joe” Doherty, a volunteer with the Provisional Irish Republican Army, was deported from the United States, in 1992, for visa violations arising from his illegal entry through the use of a false passport.

In 2004, Elana Lappin, a British journalist, became another in a long line of journalists deported from the US for use of an improper visa to obtain entry in the country.

In 2010, Vicky Peláez pleaded guilty to working in the United States as an unregistered foreign agent for Russia and was deported in exchange for the government dropping the more serious charge of money laundering, thereby, avoiding any jail time.

At the same time, Anna Chapman (née Kushchyenko), a Russian national, had her British citizenship revoked and was deported from the US along with nine others in exchange for the government dropping criminal charges lodged against them. They were removed because of visa violations connected to their alleged work with the so-called “Ilegals Program” spy ring under the Russian Federation’s external intelligence agency, the SVR. According to charging documents the ten became “Americanized” as they spent years living under false names adopting American identities and building relationships with sources as they gathered intelligence information ranging from that about nuclear weapons to the gold market to personnel changes at the CIA.

Recently, Rasmea Odeh‘s U.S. citizenship was revoked for failure to include information about an almost 50 year old conviction in Israel which she had failed to include in her visa application when she entered the United States in 1994.

Convicted ,in 2014, and sentenced to 18 months in prison, after her conviction was reversed, she accepted a plea agreement which stripped her of her citizenship and deported her to Jordan.

Although the sentencing court praised Ms. Odeh for her years of service as an organizer among Palestinian women in Chicago, the judge went on to announce from the bench that the “immigration system relies on honesty.”

Why this Indictment?

There is abundant evidence that the various overt acts set forth, and criminal counts returned, in the recent indictment pose significant criminal liability and prison time for those charged.

Yet, understandably, many are torn by the reality that given their status as Russian nationals and the absence of an extradition treaty with Russia, the accused stand no chance of ever ending up in a US court lest they be foolish enough to risk arrest through a cross border passage into a country bound by the Interpol Treaty.

Indeed, typically, when the government does not know where the subject of an indictment is, or does, but knows they are beyond the reach of the court, indictments remain sealed in the hope that an unwitting suspect will one day make the mistake of returning to the United States or another country with which it shares an extradition treaty. Why then was the indictment returned, let alone unsealed?

As for the unsealing, the cynic in me says it was done as a matter of political expedience and power providing an opportunity for the Special Counsel to push back against the political narrative that has deflected the search for truth wrapping millions of Americans in the garb of hoax, fake news or witch hunt.

For many on the right or so-called left, this deflection has become a resounding glee club whether in defense of the president or to support Russia as the enemy of my enemy (the US) or the friend of my friend (Assad).

Others are terrified with the prospect of an indictment to come which names Assange, not as a journalist or publisher, but rather as a common co-conspirator involved in various overt acts related to an alleged hack or possible cover-up that ensued.

For them, Assange is the flawless golden calf beyond challenge or corruption and anything that might tarnish that sculpt must be staved off no matter where the truth may go or just how selective and unequally the law is applied to get there.

Be that as it may, in one fell swoop the public release of this indictment has with predictable political precision retired claims that there is no evidence that Russians and Russian entities conspired to use various publicity and social media platforms to defraud the United States in the run up to the election of 2016… as that term is commonly applied and historically enforced.

In point of fact, to whatever extent the White House was contemplating ending this now wide reaching investigation through a slow burn “Saturday-night massacre”, this indictment has likely turned it into an interesting chapter of what was… in a book yet to come.

As for the practical consequences of obtaining and unsealing the indictment, as a matter of both substantive and procedural law it makes perfect sense.

While a debate has raged on among legal scholars as to whether an obstruction of justice count may lie in the absence of a real-time predicate offense, the return of this indictment has now rendered it an interesting, but moot, point.

For those who believe a conspiracy to obstruct justice compels an actual underlying offense (I do not) or an investigation into one, with the arrival of these charges both prongs of this construct have now been retired to little more than a law school contest.

Conspiracies are not finite; members come and go, often without knowledge or familiarity with others who may share its broad brush aim or even just one of its narrow components. Conspiracies arise when there is an agreement among parties… a meeting of the minds… and overt acts carried out in furtherance of them.  Under federal law, all are equally responsible for the foreseeable consequences of a given conspiracy no matter what their individual role.

Some conspiracies involve an illegal end accomplished through lawful overt acts. Others a lawful end carried out by illegal overt acts. Overt acts are simply steps undertaken in furtherance of a particular end. “Impossibility” is no defense to conspiracy to commit a crime.

For example, an agreement to sell fake drugs is nonetheless a crime. Nor does impossibility render a conspiracy any less illegal. Accordingly, a conspiracy comprised of 6 undercover law enforcement agents and one civilian will, of course, not come to fruition but yet remains a crime. So, too, an agreement to illegally impact a given election through impossible means does not discharge its participants from accountability no matter how unrealistic the effort may have been.

By law, a conspiracy does not necessarily end when its intended goal is either reached or fails but can, by agreement, continue to include a host of on-going overt acts or activity intended to hide its existence.

Thus agreements to provide or pay for legal counsel or bail, to care for family, to hide or destroy records such as emails, text messages, audio and video recordings, to mislead investigators about meetings or discussions, promises to pardon, provide future employment or cash, to hinder or end investigations can constitute core components and tangible evidence of a continuing conspiracy as well as the discrete charge of obstruction of justice.

From a technical standpoint, the presence of a charged conspiracy empowers prosecutors to introduce various statements of defendants as evidence in chief against all co-conspirators that would otherwise be deemed to be hearsay and thus inadmissible. For example, if person A in the current indictment is overheard talking to person B about what, as yet, uncharged person X  has said or is to do in furtherance of the conspiracy, that discussion may be used against X to build a case against her.

Thus is provided a powerful tool in proving the reach and roles of those accused of criminal involvement.

From a practical standpoint under the applicable sentencing guidelines, there is no difference of consequence in sentence exposure arising from the conspiracy or the underlying substantive offense, itself.  That is to say, conspiracy to commit bank robbery and the robbery itself are essentially a difference without a distinction when it comes to sentence upon conviction.

The indictment returned not long ago is what is known in criminal law parlance as a “speaking” one. Well above and beyond the requisite bare bones recitation of events, its precision was intended to give notice of the nature and extent of a sophisticated multi-jurisdictional investigation.

To be sure, it’s unnecessary depth and breadth was crafted as much to serve as an enticement for others to cooperate as it was to lay the foundation for superseding indictments sure to follow. For those schooled in the prosecution or defense of complex criminal enterprises, this tactic is very much the norm.

The indictment itself is not static. As noted, it can, and likely will, be superseded to include new charges and defendants who, by additional overt acts or aims, shared the criminal intent set forth within the underlying indictment; namely to illegally impact the election of 2016 and thus to defraud the United States.

One need not be a soothsayer to envision a host of additional overt acts that may very well end up swept within the reach of the conspiracy found to date, or as evidence of a new one.  For example, a meeting, let’s say in a tower, between campaign officials and foreign nationals in which discussions about how to obtain an unlawful election edge, information or otherwise, could easily be weaved into a variation of the current conspiracy. Exchanges of emails, calls and texts before or after the meeting to further its aim are no less problematic for potential co-conspirators.

So, too, an agreement to provide a benefit such as the end of an international sanction law or to change a political platform  in exchange for campaign contributions or payments or large unsecured loans are the very kind of overt acts upon which criminal conspiracies are built and proven.

Evidence that individuals, candidates or staff  wittingly approved and abetted in the release and use of protected computer data to further one candidate at the expense of another, whether obtained by hacks or internal leaks, adds a new dimension to the case at bar as additional suspects are drawn closer to the gravamen of the prosecution.

These are but a few examples of just how an indictment currently involving 13 foreign nationals and entities and a relatively sedate but criminal social media campaign can explode as so much a launch pad overnight to draw dozens of additional defendants into a federal criminal court and, possibly, prison.

If history is, in fact, a guidepost of what is yet to come, the current complex investigation is not at all without precedent. As Richard Nixon was to painfully learn… what can begin quietly in the dead of night with an obscure offense born of arrogance and greed can tip the scales of justice in ways that even the most powerful of all cannot withstand or avoid.

Only time will tell.

On Resistance: BDS and Israel’s Declining Support Among Diaspora Jews

Originally published February 12, 2018 in CounterPunch

On Resistance: BDS and Israel’s Declining Support Among Diaspora Jews

 

Like its predecessor movement decades ago in South Africa, assessing the success of BDS against Israel today necessarily rubs up against the tension between Israeli hasbara (propaganda) and its reality as an effective organizing tool against it throughout the world.

Though Israel has repeatedly claimed BDS has proven to be a failed venture, it’s a contention very much in desperate search of fact. Indeed, one need only look at the hundreds of millions of dollars that Israel has spent in various anti-BDS efforts to discern that its impact is not just productive, but poses a dynamic threat to the status quo ante of the state.

Why else would it continue to invest such large, indeed, increasing amounts of money against a movement that it asserts has had no cognizable impact upon its policies or its future?

To be sure, Israel has spent vast sums of money on anti-BDS lobbyists and publicity and on a veritable army of social media trolls used to promote fantasy as desperate push back against the truthful and appealing fact laden argument and results of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

It has expanded its use of public relations and law firms throughout the world in an effort to silence the movement through attacks on academic freedom, faculty and students and by legislative fiat designed to criminalize, sanction and otherwise deter persons or groups that engage in support for the BDS effort.

To the extent that pro Israeli lobbyists such as AIPAC have been able to purchase some state and federal anti-BDS legislative enactments in the United States, ultimately they will prove to be, of no moment, costly pyrrhic victories as courts strike them down as unconstitutional infringement upon free speech and association.

Further evidence of BDS achievement can be found through Israel’s dramatic increase in the use of travel and immigration bans to sanitize and control the debate over its domestic agenda.

Of late, thousands of Jews involved in the worldwide BDS movement have been banned from traveling to Israel. This unprecedented step demonstrates Israel fears BDS as a powerful global movement which could sway its domestic policy debate if activist Jews were permitted to enter the state. Ultimately, suppression of contentious ideas is the best evidence that the message itself is one the censor’s pen fears most.

In other ways Israel’s well-founded fear of BDS is conspicuous. Thus, while its machinery of censorship has long hidden behind the talisman of national security to control the publication of so-called military activity, it has expanded exponentially to now include information about the growth and efficacy of the BDS movement worldwide.

Indeed, attempts to silence the discussion of BDS success have become increasingly widespread in the massive world of social media. Whether by “voluntary” compliance of social networks or through legislative enactments of the Knesset, here, too, Israel seeks to downplay the achievement of BDS at, literally, the very moment it expands its assault upon it.

It takes little observation to see the palpable disconnect between Israel’s bullish claims that BDS poses no challenge to the course of its domestic strategy and the marked reality it sees as the mounting voice of BDS becomes a dramatic threat to those very policies.

Israel’s desperate, knee-jerk response to a purely peaceful international boycott speaks powerfully about its success in exposing not just the tailored and false Israeli narrative, but its significant impact on various aspects of its society including economic, social and political norms.

As so much the arsonist pouring gasoline on the flames while shouting fire, fire, fire, Israel’s attempt to silence internal political discourse and debate over the rights and freedom of Palestinians by seeking to curb those Jews who choose to partake in it, is destined to fail.

In point of fact, ultimately, it will only serve to expand opposition to Israeli policies among growing numbers of so-called Diaspora Jews who historically have served as a blind rubber stamp to its agenda.

If the BDS movement presents any weakness to date, it is that some of its advocates have conflated participation in geo-political support for a boycott effort with personal empowerment to seek to define, at times dictate, the nature of resistance on the ground, in occupied Palestine.

Thus, some movements and individual activists, particularly among Jewish supporters have used the BDS platform to argue that resistance to Israeli oppression in Palestine must necessarily be limited to individual acts of non-violence or peaceful mass protest alone.

In deigning to “legitimatize” and promote one form of resistance, to the exclusion of  all others, advocates of such politically correct dogma subvert, indeed weaken, the core intent of BDS- namely that of an international movement designed to pressure Israel, as an adjunct to resistance in Palestine, as determined and defined solely by Palestinians themselves.

BDS was calculated to serve as an international movement to pressure from the outside an otherwise intransigent Israeli state and body politic. To some, however, it has apparently evolved to provide “entitlement” as full and equal partners in a decision-making process that is not theirs to partake in let alone to decide.

As with all international human rights movements and struggles, this disconnect is not one beyond repair.  Ultimately, it will be overcome as the BDS movement continues to grow and mature.

Diaspora Jews

Today, there are twice as many Jews living in New York City than in any city of Israel. As a whole, there are more Jews who live outside of Israel than within it.

Historically, almost all the world’s Jewry has supported Israel as so much a rite of passage from childhood when, beginning long ago, parents and grandparents spoke with glowing praise of a Jewish state built of principled hard work… anchored by democratic ideal.

It was a lie. A grand, perverse lie; one passed with success, in silence, among Diaspora Jews who knew nothing but families and lives built largely of tradition and belief, insulated and isolated from the appalling reality of a far-off Israeli state ripped from the age-old land and history that was, and remains, Palestine.

If truth is the ultimate linchpin of freedom, for some, calculated falsehood has proven to be an accomplished segue between manipulated historical fact and unworthy political survival. Nowhere is that more manifestly apparent, or proven, than it has been with regard to the grand sale of Israel.

In this tale, Israel provides to Jews the hope of a place to one day visit or live, to spend time and passage with those of “shared belief” or, in times of need, to find refuge from a seeming repetitive, cruel history that has sought to punish them in many places… for little more than being Jews.

Born in a time where tailored controlled verse was so much the rule and technology of the day, for decades Zionists successfully sold the narrative of an enlightened state under siege; a small, idealistic pond surrounded by an enormous voracious sea of enemies hell-bent on its destruction.

For children in Hebrew schools throughout the world, be they from the most orthodox of families to those who embraced Reform Judaism to others anchored somewhere in between, the idea of an unbreakable birth-bond between them and Israel became the driving primer of each day.

At yearly festivals, prayers sought to connect today’s families with Jews of a distant millennium together with those who live an essentially state-defined life of Judaism in Israel, one far removed from the theological underpinning of its birth.

From these Zionist sacraments, it was expected, indeed, became the almost preordained norm, that Jews outside of Israel were obligated to lend their obedient voice and moral and financial support to a state most knew nothing about other than the carefully crafted message passed down from generation to generation.

Wars came and went with Israeli figures elevated to iconic stature built from little more than body counts meted out by them, and their minion, upon largely defenseless civilians.

Over time, with doublespeak in the lead, no outrage proved beyond the pale. A brutal occupation became a necessary, but tempered, security step; apartheid a misunderstood gesture to enable Jews and Palestinians to pursue and strengthen their unique identities and faith, among themselves, in safety; embargoes of food, medicine and water a minimal construct to prevent the introduction of weapons of terror. And so it goes, on and on and on. An institutional state of successful rewrite that has long controlled the storyline that defined it.

As with all myth, sooner or later reality swallows a sculpted sale… be it of the moment, the person or the state. In this case, for Diaspora Jews, a reckoning with painful truth was to come…  and now grows, day by day, in particular among a generation of millennials weaned from dutiful support for a mythical place and time that did not, and does not, exist.

For a generation of Jews born against the pall of the atrocities of Deir Yassin and a hundred other ravaged, age-old Palestinian villages, the Hollywood classic “Exodus” proved to be a quixotic lure.  After all, who could withstand the good looks and charisma of Paul Newman or Sal Mineo.

For them, the desperate flight from the strangle of genocide to the welcome and safe arms of their own “homeland” was a tale that echoed throughout Jewish communities of the day with scant second thought or challenge. To do so was rank heresy.

For those of us who came of age later, during the militant days of the US civil rights and anti war movements, the journey from obedient cheer to unbridled challenge proved to be an essential leap of faith that moved many from complacency to confrontation. For some Jews of the time, the ring of challenge necessarily meant a de nova look at long settled misconceptions about just what Israel was, indeed, had always been. It was not a pretty picture.

For more than a few, it set in motion a life-long examination that often stumbled for want of fresh eyes or reliable information. Decades away from cell phones, YouTube, the internet, and alternative news sources, we were largely driven by information cast by but a hand full of structured reports within acceptable margins controlled by a few major media outlets.

Indeed, when it came to Israel, ours was not a generation moved by the reality of bombings, assassinations or collective punishment that unfolded in virtual time for all to see. To the contrary, we were force-fed the dreamy tempt of socialist kibbutzim bringing forth life from a barren desert… only later to learn that its sanded base was but a thin windblown veneer over the rubble of destroyed Palestinian villages and the skeletal remains of children.

Lest there be any failed memory or fidelity on our part, once a year, tens of thousands of    Holocaust survivors appear at memorials in Israel for those left behind, only later to be returned to the darkness of their own abject poverty.   And who can forget the grandmotherly smile of Prime Minister Golda Meir wrapped in her apron preparing blintzes for guests only later to proclaim, “there is no such thing as a Palestinian…[it’s] not as though there was a Palestinian people… and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them… they did not exist.”

Today, the Jewish community in the United States is very different from the one that I was reared in.  Generations have come and gone where the prettied-up narrative has long since been replaced by the reality of an open and honest examination, especially among young American Jews, of a state built of brazen land theft and ethnic cleansing; one maintained by occupation and apartheid punctuated by very public, periodic bursts of mindless death and destruction.

In the internet age, it is simply no longer possible to suppress or recast the horror of Palestinian life under the brutal control of an Israeli state that has long since held itself out as beyond the reach of international or humanitarian law in its drive to cleanse Palestine of its entire indigenous population. Today, this reality moves a generation of young Diaspora Jews in ways over fundamental human rights and social justice long ignored or rationalized away by their parents and grandparents.

Whether it’s the reality of Jewish picnickers overlooking Gaza and applauding with the blast of each phosphorous bomb exploding on civilians below, the death of infants for want of energy for incubators, mass incarceration of Palestinian children without formal charge or trial, the murder of defenseless unarmed demonstrators, rampaging “settlers” screaming death to Arabs or elected Palestinian “Israelis” ejected from the Knesset for daring to challenge the political rampage of  its Jewish majority, the daily nightmare that is Palestine increasingly resonates with anger and resistance among millennial Jews who shout, “not in our name.”

For decades Israel came to depend upon Diaspora Jews for political, economic and moral support that was provided without question or challenge as so much primordial identification.  Those days are gone. In demonstrations, meeting halls, academia, and through alliances with other social justice groups, a new generation of informed and outraged Jews has, at long last, rejected the notion of a Jewish state built on the back of endless Palestinian suffering and injustice. Indeed, more than a few challenge the very legitimacy of the state of Israel.

The idea of unconditional support for an authoritarian Jewish state has lost its long secure place as increasing numbers of millennial Jews see, and rightly so, silence as willing complicity.

The closure of Gaza is now more than a decade old as millions are held hostage, daily, to a cruel and systematic attack on their very existence. The occupation is more than fifty years old. Throughout Palestine, not a day passes without a new and very public Israeli outrage.

For Diaspora Jews, the battle against ruthless Israeli hegemony will neither be easy nor painless. At times, it will echo with the determined and peaceful call of BDS. Some will be drawn to the barricade of militant resistance and, perhaps, pay a terrible price for that step. Still, others will preach to the uncertain through prose or poetry that resonates with the sweet lyric of freedom.

Resistance demands determined diversity. It is long. It is hard. It is costly. For eleven million stateless Palestinians there is no alternative until justice be had.

The Apprentice: the Education of Mohammed bin Salman

Originally published in CounterPunch May 04, 2018

The Apprentice: the Education of Mohammed bin Salman

 

Looking back over the course of a long impassioned life as attorney and activist, nothing has been a greater source of education and inspiration, for me as a person, than the decades spent working in the Middle East, Gulf and Africa.

Enrolled, there, as almost a student of life, I’ve seen and learned much in age-old cultures bound by tradition, sculpted by faith… a merger of weighty impressive consequence. Indeed, the winds of ancient history have a way of softening the arrogance that comes with the almost reflexive birthright that is the relative infancy of the West.

Like everywhere else, the young women and men of these regions are surely their most valuable resource. It is to them we look to build our future just as they protect our collective past. Yet, long ago, I learned wisdom is not a pre-ordained inheritance but rather comes with the passage of time and the knowledge and experience that is companion to that travel. It is a lesson that 32 year old Mohammed bin Salman has not yet mastered.

Like an empty rap of Kanye West, bin Salman relishes his meteoric rise to the world stage where he is known simply as MBS. Shifting between traditional look and Gucci flash, depending on his imperial sale of the moment, he enjoys the trappings of endless wealth and political power without understanding, let alone exercising, any of its sophisticated, nuanced responsibility. Nor has he displayed an expansive mark of humanity in his reach for autocratic role.

Stamps of enlightened growth, these are dares that care less about age or position than keenness to listen, look and learn. On all fronts bin Salman has failed the test.

As the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the heir apparent to the throne of his father, bin Salman evidently wields un-tempered authority to shape the domestic future of his state at the same time he controls its growing belligerent role in international relations.

It appears he now speaks as the full voice of the Saudi state in all matters large and small.

Long on pomp, short on circumstance, bin Salman has puffed about the world as if his is a journey at the center of its universe. Along the way, in a very short and inexperienced trek, he has left a wake of carnage in Yemen, destabilized the Gulf and Middle East, continued autocracy at home and, now, reduced a seventy year struggle for freedom, dignity and statehood in Palestine to meek surrender to the blank voice of ignorance that finds comfort in the White House.

Since the onset of the Nakba, Saudi Arabia has supported the fundamental right of Palestinians to self determination, justice and statehood. While its backing has run the course from financial to military to political assistance on the world stage, at no time has any Saudi leader shown public insensitivity or contempt for Palestinians to determine what is in their own best interests in their homeland and Diaspora. With sudden, ugly declaration, that was all to change this past week.

As reported by Israeli media, in a meeting with the heads of Jewish organizations in New York City bin Salman not only indicated that Palestine was not a priority but went on to declare:

“It is about time the Palestinians take the proposals and agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining.”

These are not words of a sophisticated principled leader schooled in the history of his region or the humanity of his faith. Nor do they reflect the common shared bond between the suffer of eleven million victims of European induced genocide and millions worldwide who support Palestinians in their effort to reclaim their home. Nor do they bespeak one with the education or capacity to look beyond the narrow rush of the moment to traverse the path of a complicated world driven by an ever-changing political, religious and social landscape.

To the contrary, they are language of a petty shill… an apprentice who would sell his soul, and soon his thrown, to the highest bidder without care or concern for anything or anyone but his own political and economic self-interest. Can it be this is why bin Salman finds such comfort with the likes of Donald Trump and Jared Kushner?

Looking back over the vindictive bombast of bin Salman in a room full of Zionist powers, a seasoned political observer is necessarily torn by one of two equally disturbing conclusions: either his malevolence was spewed in a moment of rash spectacle or was very much a calculated choice to announce to the world his break with Palestine… knowing, full well, his words would not remain within the confines of that meeting.

Perhaps the answer to this question is best captured through a revisit of bin Salman’s body of international and domestic practice as he has consolidated power these last few years. Ever cast in a veneer of reform; don’t be fooled… at day’s end it would appear to be but a cheap shibboleth.

Long accused of subsidizing terrorism, Saudi Arabia had, until of late, maintained the public face of a relatively quiet, stable regional actor. Over the last three years that has changed.

Under the control of Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia and its allies have unleashed a vicious and indiscriminate bombing campaign in Yemen that has left over 10,000 civilians dead and three million others displaced.

Already the most impoverished state in the region, as a result of his novice rage, it is estimated that 19.3 million Yemenis do not have access to clean water and sanitation. To date, there are over 1 million suspected cases of cholera that will prove most deadly of all for at risk malnourished young. Just this past year, hunger and disease took the lives of at least 50,000 children.

Not satisfied with exporting daily carnage in Yemen, in June of 2017 bin Salman triggered a reckless diplomatic crisis with Qatar that continues to date. It resulted in the imposition of trade and travel bans and the severance of diplomatic relations among various states in the region… thereby, foolishly adding to it’s already over the mark explosive life.

Cast as a move to reign in Qatar’s alleged support of terrorism, the inexplicable Saudi leap made no sense until understood it occurred with the blessing, if not encouragement, of another apprentice… Donald Trump… who was oblivious to the fact Qatar is home to the largest US military base in the Middle East with more than 11,000 troops.

Less than six months later, bin Salman apparently orchestrated yet another Middle East crisis when Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri mysteriously announced his resignation while on a state visit to Saudi Arabia.

Much to the delight of his host, he publicly denounced Iran and Hezbollah for sowing the seeds of regional instability… thereby, for the moment, fueling it by falling in line with the geo-political narratives of the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Reportedly, upon arrival at Riyadh’s airport, Hariri was surrounded by police that confiscated his cell phone and those of his bodyguards. Not long thereafter, Lebanon’s President announced the Prime Minister’s resignation was coerced and that he was essentially a hostage.

Upon his return to Lebanon, Hariri suspended his resignation and then rescinded it in the days that followed. To date, he has remained silent about just what happened in Saudi Arabia.

Nevertheless, no one with seasoned knowledge or experience doubts that the events were, in fact, orchestrated by bin Salman to obtain an ill-composed and short lived benefit… at great, irresponsible, risk to the region.

Under bin Salman, we have seen a breakthrough in some gender based repression that has long been a hallmark of state policy. Among other changes, for the first time, women recently participated in municipal elections; they are also, now, allowed to drive. Elsewhere, the Saudi workforce has opened a bit to include women and, recently, the government allowed the first public concert by a female singer.

In the world of international politics, paradox is often the preeminent bell-weather of short sight or lost vision. On this score, bin Salman has excelled at the contradiction, through domestic policies, that have sought to empower women yet, all at once, struck a blow at other hallmarks of an enlightened tolerant society.

Not long ago, mass arrests were ordered throughout Saudi Arabia without a modicum of judicial protection or due process for those seized. While the full number of those detained remains unknown, estimates range from several dozen to several hundred. The government also confiscated over $106bn worth of private assets, including “real estate, commercial entities, securities and cash” which it claimed were part of an “investigation” into corruption. In what was described as a “consolidation of power”, those swept up included members of the royal family, government ministers and some of the Kingdom’s most moneyed men.

At day’s end, 30 were detained at the notorious 5 star prison at the Ritz Carlton Hotel until they paid “fines” of billions of dollars to purchase their freedom. It has been reported the Ritz proved to be an unhealthy stay for 17 who required hospitalization for physical abuse. One subsequently died showing signs of extreme mistreatment.

Elsewhere, the cruel face of Saudi justice has been on display through beheadings that, over the last several years, have risen above 600… with many executed for non-violent charges such as drug offenses. On just one day in 2016, the government held a mass execution of 47, including respected Shia Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

This year alone, 48 have been beheaded through arcane, flawed criminal justice proceedings which fail to adhere to international standards and are often dependent upon confessions obtained by torture.

For those fortunate enough to avoid the executioner’s sword, severe sentences are imposed upon human rights activists who dare to speak out.

Saudi Arabia has long prohibited public gatherings… including peaceful demonstrations in support of social reform. It has banned independent human rights associations imposing lengthy prison terms upon their founders for any breach of the embargo.

Targeted by “specialized” criminal courts, those who engage in criticism, dissent or other means of freedom of expression, are routinely swept up by “security” forces… often through raids in the middle of the night.

Although attacks on activists predate the ascendency of Mohammed bin Salman to Crown Prince, it is important to understand they continue even as he has been proclaimed as the voice of reform.

Recently, Mohammed al-Otaibi was sentenced to 14 years in prison and Abdullah al-Attawi, to 7 years for offenses including “forming an unlicensed organization”… relating to a short-lived human rights group they set up in 2013.

They join a long list of others who have faced a similar silence. Among them are prominent human rights defenders (attorneys) such as Dr Abdulkareem al-Khoder and Dr Abdulrahman al-Hamid, both founding members of the now disbanded independent Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), who received sentences of ten years and nine years respectively. They are two of the 11 founding members of ACPRA who are either already behind bars or awaiting trial for calling for political and human rights reforms.

These are but a few of the thousands who are prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia. While reform can be a slow march, indeed, given the history of Crown Prince bin Salman, there is simply no reason to believe that it is a stride that will ever reach their deep dark cell.

Generally, history is the best meter of days to come. Yet, with youth, there is always room and hope for growth as experience can provide insight into better times and places if only the travel is one of honest search. Although hope springs eternal, having apparently rejected, in its entirety, the tradition and culture from which he has come, it would appear that the road ahead for 32 year old Mohammed bin Salman is, sadly, not one likely to better with age.

Indeed, not long ago, bin Salman opined that without America’s cultural influence on Saudi Arabia, “we would have ended up like North Korea.”

Perhaps, when next in New York City, Crown Prince bin Salman’s time would be better spent were he to stop and ask people of color, Native Americans, the LGTBQ community, immigrants, refugees, the elderly, unwell and US Muslims about America’s cultural influence.