SleeplessinGaza | May 23, 2010
84 B – Special Edition: Jordan Valley Solidarity Fathi Khdarat shows us how they use materials like mud & hay to renovate and build houses in Jiftlik as a form of resistance against the occupation! See Israeli military helicopters train in the area! Existence is Resistance is a volunteer program that helps Palestinians remain on their land. Fathi says the Israelis know that if they control water they control life and this is what they are doing in the largest agricultural area in Palestine. How much water does Israel give a village of 5000 people?
Meet Ex-farmer Ahmad Abu Falah who is now volunteering to build houses for people, like the house that was built for him. What happened to his old home? See the settlement built in place of Al Ajaj refugee camp. See the rubble of demolished homes!
What is the whopping package any settler gets from the Israeli Authorities to come settle the Jordan Valley? In addition to the freebies, checkout the discounts private companies have to give settlers for services! The American Hadasa, GNF and other Zionist organizations also poor money into the illegal settlement activities in the area to encourage settlers to move in.
How is Israel destroying Bedouin life? Visit Um Issam in her home where 3 families live. The Israelis have destroyed four of their previous homes.
Bethlehem – The international aid agency Oxfam demanded Monday that Israel compensate Palestinians in a northern Jordan Valley village after soldiers destroyed at least $29,000 of aid.
In a statement, the charity said villagers in Al-Farisiya were forced into poverty when soldiers demolished 79 structures in the village, including homes, stables, sheds, water tanks, two tons of animal fodder, fertilizer and wheat.
An initial assessment by Oxfam and other NGOs in the area calculated that the demolitions affected 113 Palestinians, half of them children and identified as some of the poorest in the area. Water tanks and irrigation pipes provided by Oxfam were among the damaged goods.
Oxfam’s advocacy officer, Cara Flowers, said the area looked “a natural disaster had taken place,” adding that “With no access to shelter, water or fodder for their goat and sheep herds, an entire community is being forced to leave their land.”
Under zoning regulations established under the 1994 Oslo Accords, Al-Farisiya falls in “Area C,” the 60 percent of the West Bank which is under full Israeli administrative and military control.
Last year, Israeli authorities declared village land a “military zone,” and some residents who have lived in the village for decades were issued eviction notices in June.
The UN has reported an increase in demolitions across Area C, and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions recently reported that Israel has “returned with a vengeance” to its policy of demolishing Palestinian homes.
Flowers said “The Israeli authorities are obliged to protect the lives, property and livelihoods of civilians under their occupation. The authorities should now offer alternative accommodation and compensation for damage done, some of it to internationally donated material, but more importantly, to the lives of Al-Farisiya’s residents.”
A decision by Israel’s Supreme Court to double a 15-month jail term for a policeman who shot dead an unarmed Palestinian driver suspected of stealing a car has provoked denunciations from police commanders and government officials.
Yitzhak Aharonovitch, the internal security minister, condemned the judges for “sending a terrible message to police officers.”
On the advice of police lawyers, the accused policeman, Shahar Mizrahi, had appealed his conviction last year in the expectation that the ruling would be overturned by the Supreme Court.
Aharonovitch and Dudi Cohen, the police commissioner, said they would immediately seek a presidential pardon for Mizrahi. “I won’t merely support a pardon bid, I’ll lead it,” Aharonovitch said.
But groups representing Israel’s large Palestinian minority said the outrage at the doubling of the 15-month sentence for Mizrahi reflected the reality that the police force expected impunity when it used violence against Israel’s Palestinian citizens, who comprise a fifth of the population.
At Mizrahi’s original trial last year, the district court judge, Menachem Finkelstein, ruled that the policeman had acted “recklessly” during an operation to stop car thefts in the Jewish town of Pardes Hanna in 2006.
Despite his life never being in danger, Mizrahi had used the butt of his gun to smash the window of a car in which Mahmoud Ghanaim, 24, was seated and shot him in the head from close range. The court also noted that Mizrahi had changed his testimony several times during the investigations.
According to Mossawa, an advocacy group, 40 Palestinian citizens have been killed in suspicious circumstances by the security forces over the past decade. Mizrahi is the first policeman to be convicted in such a case.
As of yesterday, an online petition calling on the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, to pardon Mizrahi had attracted more than 5,000 signatures in a few days, and a Facebook page supporting the policeman had 1,300 fans.
Gideon Levy, a columnist with the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, warned yesterday that those “siding with Mizrahi are eager to have a police force that kills — but just Arabs, of course.”
Jafar Farah, the director of Mossawa, said: “The atmosphere of racism in Israel is being used to destroy the legal system from the inside, using the justification that Arabs are being killed.
“The reality today is that the police can kill an Arab citizen in any circumstances and know that there is almost no chance they will pay a price. The safeguards are being stripped away.”
Relations between Israel’s Palestinian minority and the police have been marked by profound distrust since late 2000, when police shot dead 13 protesters and wounded hundreds more during largely non-violent demonstrations in the Galilee at the start of the second intifada.
A subsequent state commission of inquiry found that the police had a long-standing policy of treating the country’s 1.3 million Palestinian citizens “as an enemy” and recommended that several officers be prosecuted for their role in the 13 deaths.
After a long delay, state prosecutors announced in 2008 that no one would be charged.
In several speeches since he took over as security minister last year, Aharonovitch has promised measures to restore the minority’s faith in the police, including recruiting more police officers from the Palestinian population and fighting high rates of crime in Arab communities.
According to a police report submitted to the parliament earlier this year, only 382 of more than 21,000 police officers are Muslim — or less than two percent.
At the appeal hearing last week, the Supreme Court increased Mizrahi’s jail sentence after ruling that Judge Finkelstein had not given enough weight to the victim’s life and the value of deterring similar police behavior in the future. Under police regulations, Mizrahi was entitled only to shoot out the car’s tires or fire at Ghanaim’s legs.
Immediately after the ruling, Mr Aharonovitch reported that he had called Mizrahi to tell him: “Your fight has become all of our fight.”
He was backed by several retired police commanders and a Likud MP, Danny Danon, who said he would submit a bill barring the indictment of police officers who open fire when they believe they are in danger.
In a sign of the mounting pressure from police groups on the Supreme Court, it issued a rare “clarification” statement of its judgment, pointing out that Ghanaim’s car was travelling too slowly to have ever put Mizrahi in any danger.
Farah added that Mossawa’s investigations had revealed that, despite police claims, Ghanaim was the documented owner of the car he was driving.
The police, Farah added, had supported Mizrahi throughout the case and had continued paying his police salary after his conviction.
The court’s decision to increase Mizrahi’s sentence came in the wake of strong suspicions that police officers executed a Palestinian driver in East Jerusalem last month, shooting him twice in the head from close range as he lay on the ground.
Moments earlier, Ziad Jilani, who was married with three children, had fled on foot after driving into a detail of police, injuring several officers, in the Wadi Joz neighborhood. Witnesses said a stone had smashed his windscreen seconds before he swerved.
In one of the few other recent prosecutions of a policeman for killing a Palestinian citizen, Rubi Gai was acquitted last year of the manslaughter of Nadim Milham, who was shot in the back during a police search of his home for weapons. Witnesses testified that police had beaten Milham and that he was shot as he fled.
A survey published last month by Haifa University found that only one in five Palestinian citizens expressed faith in the police.
Aharonovitch upset the Palestinian minority last year during an inspection of undercover narcotics agents in Tel Aviv. He was caught on camera telling one detective dressed as a drug addict he looked like “a real Araboosh,” a derogatory Hebrew term for Arabs.
The minister, who is a member of Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right party Yisrael Beiteinu, apologised but added that the comment was a “moment of banter.”
Mahash, the justice ministry’s police investigations unit, has been harshly criticized for the small proportion of complaints against the police it agrees to investigate. It rarely prosecutes officers.
The police have also refused to cooperate in imposing official sanctions on wayward officers, with critics saying that officers found to have acted negligently or violently towards Palestinian citizens are often rewarded with promotion.
The state commission of inquiry into the killing by police of 13 Palestinian protesters in October 2000 recommended that several officers be dismissed from service or denied promotion. The recommendations were disregarded.
In one notorious case, the commission found that Benzi Sau, a northern Border Police commander, had acted with gross negligence in allowing snipers to shoot at stone-throwing demonstrators. Despite suggesting a ban on his promotion for four years, he rapidly rose through the ranks, becoming head of the Border Police in Jerusalem in 2001 and national head of the Border Police in 2004.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. A version of this article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi.
Based on reports from the Afghan National Directorate of Security, a house in Regey village in Sangin district of the southern Helmand province was hit with a rocket launched by Nato troops on Friday. [...]
Reports surfaced on Saturday that a helicopter gunship fired on villagers who had been told by fighters to leave their homes as a firefight with troops from Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) was imminent.
According to witness accounts, men, women and children fled to Regey village and were fired on from helicopter gunships as they took cover.
Abdul Ghafar, 45, told AFP, a French press agency, that he lost “two daughters and one son and two sisters” in the attack.
He and six other families fled to Regey, about 500 metres from their village of Ishaqzai, after being warned about the imminent battle, he said.
Men and women took shelter in separate compounds, he said, ahead of an expected firefight between Taliban fighers and Nato troops.
“Helicopters started firing on the compound killing almost everyone inside,” he said, speaking at the Mirwais hospital in Kandahar city.
“We rushed to the house and there were eight children wounded and around 40 to 50 others killed.” Ghafar said he took three girls and four boys to the Kandahar hospital.
He said: “Three of the wounded are my nephews and one is my son.
“One of the wounded children is four years old and has lost both parents.”
The BBC said it sent an Afghan reporter to Regey to interview residents, who described the attack and said they had buried 39 people.
Civilian casualties are an incendiary topic in Afghanistan, though surveys have shown that most are caused by Taliban attacks.
Colonel Wayne Shanks, an Isaf spokesman, said the location of the reported deaths was “several kilometres away from where we had engaged enemy fighters”.
Isaf forces had fought a battle with the Taliban, Shanks said, but an investigation team dispatched after the casualty reports emerged “had accounted for all the rounds that were shot at the enemy”.
“We found no evidence of civilian casualties,” he said.
Yesterday’s radio guest Gordon Duff just broke a big story:
Gordon is skeptical of the Zionist claim that their troops, unlike American soldiers, don’t suffer from PTSD. If this is true, Gordon says, maybe it’s because American soldiers are fighting and dying for a Zionist-orchestrated series of lies, and are treated like “broken toys” when they come home; while Israeli soldiers are committing genocide for their own national benefit, and are relatively well-treated by their US-taxpayer-funded regime.
But there is a simpler explanation: In claiming that its soldiers are immune to PTSD, Israel is implicitly confessing that its troops are psychopaths.
In On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman shows that throughout history, 5% of the soldiers — the psychopaths and borderline psychopaths — have done 95% of the killing. As Grossman explains, studies by S.L.A. Marshall and associates showed that the vast majority of World War II infantry soldiers found ways to avoid firing at the enemy; and archeological evidence suggests that the same was true of previous wars.
Normal human beings can only kill at tremendous psychological cost, and thus find ways to avoid killing on the battlefield, even if it means losing their own lives. A non-psychopath who kills in wartime will almost certainly suffer some form of PTSD upon returning to civilian life.
Marshall’s studies spurred the development of intensive Pavlovian conditioning methods that raised the shoot-to-kill ratio to 50% in the Korean war, and 90% in Vietnam. That, Grossman suggests, is why PTSD rates skyrocketed. Normal, non-psychopathic men were being effectively turned into killers for the first time in history. When they came home, they couldn’t live with themselves.
It is a tribute to the American character — to the fact that only about 5% of American men are psychopaths — that our troops suffer from so much PTSD.
The Israelis, on the other hand…how to put this politely?
Andrzej Lobaczewski, in his seminal study of political psychopathy Political Ponerology, writes:
“The pathocratic phenomenon [a society ruled by psychopaths and those who catch the psychopathic contagion] has appeared many times in history…[it sometimes] occurs when the religious association itself succumbs to infection…succumbs to destruction from within, its organism becomes subordinated to goals completely different from the original idea, and its theosophic and moral values fall prey to characteristic deformation, thereby serving as a disguise for domination by pathological individuals. The religious idea then becomes both a justification for using force and sadism against nonbelievers, heretics, and sorcerers, and a conscience drug for people who put such inspirations into effect.“
Clearly the “religious idea” of Zionism has undergone this kind of pathological shift. Israel is a psychopathic state par excellence. Its soldiers slaughter innocent Palestinian children by the hundreds as they play on sidewalks and schoolyards as a de facto national policy:
“Two thirds of the 621 children (two thirds under 15 years) killed at checkpoints, in the street, on the way to school, in their homes, died from small arms fire, directed in over half of cases to the head, neck and chest – the sniper’s wound…Clearly, soldiers are routinely authorised to shoot to kill children in situations of minimal or no threat.” (British Medical Journal 10/16/04)
There are countless eyewitness accounts of these child-killings. For example, Chris Hedges, wrote in Harper’s magazine (October 2001) that he had been in several war zones, but he had never seen soldiers luring children within range of their guns, then gut-shooting them for sport, until he saw Israeli soldiers doing it in the Occupied Territories.
The Israeli soldiers who gut-shoot Palestinian children for sport apparently feel no remorse, and therefore suffer from no PTSD. Israeli society and its judicial system feel no remorse either, which is why they have never prosecuted the child-killers, and why polls show that more than 90% of Israeli Jews approve of the criminal destruction of Gaza by Operation Cast Lead.
A society that slaughters innocent children without remorse is a society of psychopaths.
The International Crisis Group has dismissed alleged links between Eritrea and Somali insurgent group al-Shabab following calls from an United States lawmaker to designate the country a state sponsor of terrorism.
In a letter sent Tuesday, U.S. Congressman Ed Royce advised Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to add Eritrea to the country’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
The letter was sent following a July 11 terrorist attack in Kampala, Uganda that killed at least 76 people, including one American. Somali Islamist group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the bombings.
The group, which is loosely affiliated with al-Qaida, explained the attack was in retaliation for Ugandan Peacekeeping troops in Somalia supporting the U.N.-backed government.
Royce, the lead Republican on the Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives, said Eritrea’s support of al-Shabab was “well documented,” and urged Secretary Clinton to take action before the group begins targeting the United States.
There is evidence Eritrea has provided support to Somali insurgents in the past, but the Director of the International Crisis Group in Nairobi, E.J. Hogendoorn, says that support was aimed at groups fighting Ethiopian forces. Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991 after a 30-year civil war and the two nations have maintained a tense peace since.
According to Hogendoorn, that support was not aimed at terrorism or given to al-Shabab fighters.
“There is very little evidence to suggest that Eritrea has, or is currently, supporting al-Shabab. In the past Eritrea has supported certain insurgencies in Somalia in an effort to continue its proxy war with Ethiopia. The evidence we have seen so far suggests that support for Hizbul Islam, rather than al-Shabab. While we are concerned about the activities of Hizbul Islam, there is no evidence to suggest that Hizbul Islam supports terrorist acts against neighboring states,” said Hogendoorn.
Hizbul Islam, like al-Shabab, is battling Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government to create an Islamic State on the Horn of Africa. But Hizbul Islam controls relatively little territory in Somalia and is considered a much less significant threat than the al-Shabab forces.
And, according to Hogendoorn, evidence suggests that Eritrea withdrew its support of the group in 2009.
While al-Shabab has made threats against the United States in the past, the analyst also told VOA the group posed a much greater threat to the security and stability of east Africa than to the interests of the United States.
Congressman Royce previously voiced concern about Eritrea’s terrorist connections in 2009. The representative introduced an amendment affirming that the country’s support of Somali insurgents posed a direct threat to the U.S., which was voted down in the U.S. Congress.
If added, Eritrea would be subject to a variety of sanctions including diplomatic isolation, economic restrictions and weapons embargoes. The country would become the fifth state to receive the designation, joining Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria on the list.
Israel and the United States have signed an agreement to make the Arrow II ballistic shield capable of shooting down missiles at a higher altitude, the Israeli Defense Ministry said on Sunday.
The Arrow III will allow Israel “to deal with the threat of ballistic missiles with long range” and will give it “the ability to shoot down weapons of mass destruction outside the atmosphere”, the ministry said in a statement.
Israel, which describes its Arrow system as a defense against Iran, says the upgraded version will cap off its multi-tier air defenses.
The Arrow is jointly produced by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries and the American firm Boeing Co. and has absorbed close to e1 billion in direct U.S. funds since its 1988 inception.
Israel’s defense forces have been planning to eventually operate three anti-missile systems: Iron Dome to tackle rockets with a shorter range of up to 60 kilometers; David’s Sling – known also as Magic Wand – which has a range of hundreds of kilometers; while the Arrow 3 is designed to shoot down missiles outside the earth’s atmosphere.
All three will be operated by anti-aircraft units of the IAF, which has been working to coordinate the functioning of its layer-cake air defenses.
Last year, the air force said that the Arrow III would take more than four years to complete and that would depend on what resources were made available for the project.
Two weeks ago U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Andrew J. Shapiro said the United States intended to expand its military aid to Israel in the hopes that such aid would allow Israel to reach tough decisions in its peace talks with the Palestinians.
Speaking at the Brookings Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington D.C., the assistant secretary spoke of the administration’s intention to enhance the annual security aid it provides Israel, saying that in “2010, the administration requested [from Congress] $2.775 billion in security assistance funding specifically for Israel, the largest such request in U.S. history.”
Specifically mentioning the in-development Arrow missile defense system, Shapiro had said that “given the threat Israel faces from short- and medium-range missiles, Israeli air and missile defense systems are an area of particular focus, including the Arrow Weapon System to counter long-range ballistic missile threats and David’s Sling to defend against short-range ballistic missiles.”
“For our part, we are working with Israel to upgrade its Patriot Air and Missile Defense System, which was first deployed during the Gulf War, and have installed advanced radar systems to provide Israel early warning of incoming missiles,” Shapiro added.
A day before that, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said that the United States would continue to maintain Israel’s military advantage as well as protect it in the diplomatic arena, adding that the American commitment to Israel’s security was “not negotiable.”
Many critics are perfectly content to be proven right when their critique of current affairs meets their low expectations. For such critics, being right demonstrates that their criticism and knowledge of political events are sound and well placed. But, for Palestinian critics, there is little joy in being proven right because it means that the political situation is just as grim as predicted.
Such is the case with the much-hyped “row” between Israel and the United States back in March following the announcement of 1,600 new housing units in the Israeli colony of Ramat Shlomo. While much was made of US President Barack Obama’s subsequent shunning of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House during their last meeting–including the unspeakable decision not to hold a joint press conference or even allow photographers to capture the meeting–critics properly noted that there was much ado about nothing. Alas, the critics were correct.
The latest, cordial, meeting between Netanyahu and Obama comes as little surprise. Palestinians have grown accustomed to seeing Israeli leaders warmly received in the White House, irrespective of the crimes perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians. Broad smiles have always greeted Israeli officials, even when Israel’s insatiable appetite for Palestinian land flies in the face of international demands for a freeze on settlement activity. Indeed, the White House always reminds us of the “unshakeable bond” between Israel and the United States even as Palestinian homes continue to be demolished.
But what many had not expected was the over-the-top nature of the reception Obama afforded Netanyahu in the face of Israel’s actions toward US citizens. Perhaps Obama forgot that just a month earlier, Israel carried out a brutal raid on a Gaza-bound humanitarian aid flotilla attempting to break the illegal Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Perhaps he forgot that a young American citizen was killed, execution-style, on board the lead ship, with one bullet to the chest and four, at close range, to the head. Perhaps he missed that the next day another young American, Emily Henochowicz, had her eye shot out by an Israeli-fired tear gas canister as she peacefully protested the flotilla raid. Perhaps he also forgot that, days later, a Palestinian man married to an American woman was executed after what appears to have been a traffic accident at an Israeli checkpoint.
Obama did not demand accountability for these acts of violence. Instead, he greeted Netanyahu with the usual broad smile, strong handshake and warm words that every US president has offered every Israeli leader, irrespective of Israel’s actions. The message: Israel will never be held accountable for its actions, whether toward Palestinians or toward any individual trying to protect Palestinians.
Some pundits may pontificate that this is merely a change in tactics on the part of Obama, that he is moving from the “stick” to the “carrot” in the hope that Israel will see the error of its ways, change course and become a law-abiding actor. But on this, the pundits and Obama should take some lessons from the Palestinian Authority, which has spent the last 17 years offering carrots to successive Israeli administrations (from changing the discourse to focus on Israeli security rather than Palestinian freedom to actually serving as Israel’s security subcontractor) in the mistaken belief that somehow if we Palestinians offer enough carrots to Israel, its appetite for Palestinian land will be sated. For all these carrots, Palestinians have achieved nothing and instead a fatter, more emboldened “rabbit” has emerged demanding even more concessions from the Palestinian people.
The pundits will argue that the carrots are working and will point to Netanyahu’s recent statements in which he indicated that he is willing to take “bold steps” for an undefined, conditional “peace” and even pressed for direct rather than indirect talks with the PLO. But the pundits will ignore reality: the peace process has only ever served to provide Israel with legitimacy while masking its ongoing violations of human rights. From 1993 to 2000, for example, as the world greeted the peace process with great fanfare and 34 countries established diplomatic ties with Israel, it carried out the largest expansion of the settlement enterprise in its history, including a doubling of its settler population as well as one of the largest revocations of residency rights of Palestinian Jerusalemites. In short, while the world focused on handshakes, Israel continued to carry out its policies of replacing one people with another. And on this path, Israel will continue.
Indeed, for all of his talk of “peace”, Netanyahu has also indicated that he will not halt settlement activity and home demolitions will continue as planned. The blockade will continue and Palestinians will continue to be imprisoned in large Bantustans. In short, Israel continues to act as it always has, unless it sees a stick. And the time for sticks is now.
But the US is too afraid to use its annual three-billion-dollars-US-assistance-to-Israel stick. Instead, it will continue to turn a blind eye to Israel’s colonization, while promising an increasingly compliant and complacent Palestinian leadership that, for domestic reasons, the Palestinians will have to wait until mid-term elections, or maybe second-term elections before the stick will be used against Israel.
All the while, Palestinian critics will continue to watch the handshakes and smiles, with that sickening feeling that we know we are right but wish we were wrong.
Diana Buttu is a human rights lawyer and a former legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team.
Most international experts consider that it is the national jurisdiction of Lebanon, and not the Special Tribunal of Lebanon (STL), that should have investigated and prosecuted the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005. They argue that according to the UN Resolution 1664, the bomb attacks are not counted as crimes that needed to be tried by an international tribunal. In fact, the UN had only previously taken such a measure – to set up a new international tribunal – to prosecute the most serious international crimes, as genocide and ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia and the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda. Significantly, the Israeli genocide against Palestinian and Lebanese peoples has never led to the creation of a similar international court.
For example, the July 2006 war caused heavy loss of human life, population displacement and massive destruction in critical infrastructure and properties in Lebanon. Most of them were the result of serious violations of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Protocol on the protection of the victims of international armed conflicts. These violations were war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, there was no UN resolution which recognized them as such, or even condemned them. The UN Security Council did not create an international commission, let alone a court, to investigate the violations of the international law committed during the war.
This is in strong contrast with the case of Hariri’s assassination. It suggests that the Western powers think that some deaths are more important than others from a political view. This hypocritical stance has damaged the credibility of international law and has persuaded many people that international justice is driven by political considerations.
Therefore, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon was the first international court set up exclusively to prosecute less serious crimes that are only international because the UN Security Council decided they should be so. This demonstrates that there was a clear political purpose behind the creation of the tribunal.
There is no doubt either that the enemies of Lebanon, Syria and Arabism – first of all Israel and the Bush Administration- saw the tribunal as a tool to accomplish their goals – those that they failed to achieve in the battlefield against the Resistance or by killing thousands of Lebanese in Beirut, Qana or many other places of the country.
In this context of manifest international injustice and double standards, who can trust an international tribunal which has been set up by those who express day by day their anti-Lebanese views? Someone has only to read UN reports about the implementation of the Resolution 1701 to see that Lebanon is always the guilty party. Israel’s daily provocations and threats, including violations of the Lebanese air space, are mostly ignored or played down.
FALSE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST SYRIA
Shortly after the assassination of Rafiq Hariri on February 14, 2005, the pro-West and anti-Syrian forces in Lebanon launched a campaign to blame Syria for the crime despite the lack of any evidence of Syrian involvement. These forces forgot Syrian efforts to protect Lebanon from the Israeli aggression because they were actually against Arabism and some of them had supported the signature of a “peace treaty” with Israel in 1983, which was only an imposed surrender to the Zionist entity and was later annulled due to the pressure of the Lebanese population.
Amid massive protests from a large number of Lebanese who had been pushed to believe that Syria was undoubtedly guilty of the crime, Damascus put an end to its 29-year military and intelligence presence in Lebanon. Soon after, the United Nations called for an investigation into al-Hariri’s assassination.
Damascus claimed that Washington wanted to use the UN investigation to put an end to Syrian influence in the region. The Bush Administration considered Syria to be one of its main enemies in the Middle East and it explains that the first investigations of the Tribunal were aimed at finding any kind of evidence implicating Syria in the murder. More recently, US neocons believed that the UN probe would undermine the attempts by the Obama administration to engage Syria diplomatically just as it would prevent Damascus from successfully making a case for the Israeli withdrawal from the Syrian Golan Heights, which Israel took over in 1967 and is obliged by the UNSC Resolution 242 to return to Syria in exchange for peace.
In Lebanon, politicians aligned with the March 14 coalition (made up by anti-Syrian and pro-West political parties) insisted once again that Syria was to blame for the former PM´s death. They also extended their criticism to the Resistance, which supported strong links with Syria and opposed to Western and Israeli influence on the country.
Some experts already then warned that the STL was politicized. Joshua Landis, co-director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, claimed that “a lot of people have their hopes pinned on this, particularly the people from the Bush administration.”
Some senior US diplomats claimed that Syria was being uncooperative and, as a consequence of it, the Security Council might impose sanctions on Syrian officials: the president, the prime minister, the defense minister, the foreign minister and members of Parliament. Under these proposed sanctions, UN member states would have been prohibited from hosting these officials and their assets in those countries would have been frozen.
The first reports from the UN International Independent Investigation Committee (IIIC) appeared to support claims by the US and Lebanon´s 14 March camp that Syria was implicated in the murder. Detlev Mehlis, the first IIIC Commissioner released in October 2005 an interim report which claimed that there was “converging evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement” in the assassination.
Mehlis was actually a favorite of the pro-Israeli neocons who served in the Reagan Administration. His investigation of the 1982 La Belle Discotheque bombing attack in West Berlin was used as pretext by the US government to launch a 1986 air attack on Libya. Mehlis concluded that Libya was behind the Berlin attack conveniently at the same time that neocons in the US administration, including Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, Paul Wolfowitz, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Scooter Libby, and others were calling for an attack on Muammar Qaddafi. The fact that he was appointed as the IIIC Commissioner is a clear evidence of strong Israeli influence on the tribunal.
Key to Mehlis´s assertions were the testimonies of two witnesses, Hussam Hussam and Mohammed Zuhair al-Siddiq, who said that Syrian and Lebanese officials had ordered the attack on al-Hariri´s convoy. Siddiq claimed that Damascus and former Lebanese President Emile Lahoud had given the order to kill Hariri. He added that four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals and a number of Lebanese and Syrian politicians were also involved.
In October 2005, Mehlis published a report, whose electronic version mentioned the names of some Syrian officials who were allegedly involved in the assassination. Some Western media then claimed that the conclusion of the investigation would show that Syria had played a decisive role in the crime.
However, some weeks after the release of the October 2005 interim report, Hussam and Siddiq’s testimonies were found to be unreliable. Hussam started trying to sell his story to several Lebanese media outlets. When his name and role as a witness were leaked by New TV later that year in November, he abruptly left the country for Syria. Days later, he reappeared on Syrian state television and fully changed his testimony, claiming that he fabricated the tale after being tortured, drugged, and offered money by March 14 leaders.
For his part, former Syrian secret intelligence agent Mohammad al-Siddiq also proved to be a false witness. He left France after obtaining a fake Czech passport and fled to the United Arab Emirates, where he was arrested. He told reporters that he had received his passport from the French General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) in order to escape Lebanese justice. While being in France under the protection of DGSE, the French Police eavesdropped on his telephone calls and found out that Siddiq had lied to the tribunal.
Therefore, the report´s conclusions were proved to be false as well as its anti-Syrian claims. All these scandals undermined the credibility of the tribunal and led to Mehlis´s resignation.
In an apparent acknowledgement that the Bush administration had originally sought to use the al-Hariri case to pressure Damascus, an anonymous US official then told the International Crisis Group that the March 14 coalition could no longer assume that the tribunal will automatically deliver a damning indictment of Syrian complicity in the murder. This new situation sparked outrage among pro-March 14 Lebanese and some Western commentators. Shibli Mallat, a prominent Lebanese law professor, accused Brammertz from the pages of TIME magazine of a “total dereliction of duty” and said that he “single-handedly destroyed” the investigation. Michael Young warned in the Lebanese newspaper Daily Star of “grave damage being done to the UN’s credibility.” March 14 leaders implored the UN to give some kind of public indication that Damascus was still involved in the murder, but to no avail.
Countdown to Zero: Co-opting the Anti-Nuclear Movement
No medium of propaganda is as powerful and effective as film. Think of the classics, the most notorious efforts to to sway the public with the electrifying and collective passion of cinema: racial apartheid was justified in the US with Birth of a Nation. The Soviets glorified their revolution with the Battleship Potemkin. Then there was Triumph of the Will.
A typical propaganda film tugs at emotions and invokes fears. It invokes dark threats to “the people,” and it offers up solutions extolling state and corporate power. Unlike a political documentary it will not criticize the state or corporation. Instead it will celebrate great men as our leaders and saviors. Distinct from a run-of-the-mill political documentary, a propaganda film butchers the complexity and contradictions that permeate politics and real life, presenting things in simplistic moral terms. Functionally, propaganda is mobilized to secure popular support for a primary, often hidden agenda that is not apparent in the film’s narrative. Propaganda is a tool used by elites to secure the consent of the masses, and channel their anxieties.
Now hitting theaters is one of the most dangerous propaganda films produced in decades. Countdown to Zero “traces the history of the atomic bomb from its origins to the present state of global affairs.” A promotional blurb on the film’s web site claims that it “makes a compelling case for worldwide nuclear disarmament, an issue more topical than ever with the Obama administration working to revive this goal today.”
Before I go any further in explaining Countdown as a propaganda film I should note that all propaganda need not be the product of a secretive and manipulative council of elites behind some curtain. Instead, the many contributors to Countdown and its promotional efforts have different motivations and intentions. What makes this film a coherent piece of propaganda is its medium, style, and likely effects on the US political climate. There are powerful actors who will use it for nefarious ends.
On its surface Countdown to Zero is about nuclear disarmament, but deeper down the film is making a very specific case that isn’t about disarmament at all. Its political function will prove to be quite different. Countdown is joining a suite of political campaigns and other propagandistic efforts, the point of which is to build support for increased US spending on nuclear weapons, as well as a more belligerent foreign policy, based around islamophobic depictions of “terrorists” and “rogue states.” Countdown is likely to be used by hawks to drum up support for military action against Iran, North Korea, and other states that would dare to transgress the current near-monopoly that a handful of states have on the bomb.
To understand how this is possible, one has to break through the simplistic and moralizing presentation of issues in the film and its promotional materials, and explore the complex political situation into which it is being launched.
The first and most important thing to understand is that the Obama administration does not have a disarmament agenda. Because the entire moral thrust of the film rests on this notion, it’s important to dispel it right off the bat. Obama and his military advisers have made their nuclear ambitions abundantly clear on multiple occasions.
The administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) in no significant way changed the nuclear force structure or use doctrines. The NPR makes it abundantly clear that US national security is founded on the nuclear “deterrent,” and that no one in government will seek to reduce the role of nukes in the foreseeable future.
The recently negotiated New START treaty does not significantly cut the US and Russian arsenals. In fact the treaty language secures an allowance for US “missile defense” programs as well as the “prompt global strike” weapons system while consolidating the US stockpile and reaffirming existing strategic agreements with Russia that are about balance. As noted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the irony here is that the Senate’s possible ratification of New START is premised on the Obama administration’s pledge to fund US nuclear weapons programs upwards of $180 billion over the next ten years, something even George W. Bush could not accomplish. The down payment for the next fiscal year includes a $624 million surge in nuke spending, for a total of $7.01 billion. The administration foresees spending more than $1 billion each year to refurbish and upgrade existing warheads and bombs. To support New START requires accepting these huge infrastructural and programmatic investments in nuclear weapons, far into the future.
To put it more simply, the debate in Washington revolves around two camps fighting over how large an increase in nuclear weapons spending there will be. At this point in time all agree on expending billions more. All agree upon building a new plutonium pit factory, a new uranium processing facility, a new components factory, and five other major capital projects in the nuclear weapons complex to extend the US nuclear enterprise half a decade or more into the future. Most agree on procuring a new class of nuclear equipped submarines. Most agree on new ballistic missiles. Everyone seems to be fine with upgrading warheads and bombs.
Some conservatives are uncomfortable with the cosmetic cuts to the stockpile that will be made under the auspices of New START. Senate Republicans have circled their wagons to demand greater funding increases in consideration of ratification, and given all of the agreements they have with the Democrats and the Obama administration over expanding the weapons complex, they are actually correct. In order to carry out this bi-partisan nuclear arms buildup, quite a bit more than a $1 billion per year boost (at its peak) will be needed for the NNSA’s budget, especially as inflation eats into the real value of future year budgets.
Determining the future of the US nuclear weapons complex is a tricky balancing act for the foreign policy elite because it is embedded in a larger set of much more important goals. The over-riding goal of foreign policy for the United States, with respect to nuclear weapons, is to maintain control of nuclear weapons and materials. Forget lofty ideas like disarmament. Lofty moral oughts only matter with respect to the realpolitik of geo-strategy (and this is where Countdown comes in, as we shall see)…
Nuclear weapons are problematic today because they remain a necessary means of overpowering other nations and intimidating foes, but they have also become a liability as other states threaten to go nuclear in order to restore balance to a unipolar world. American hypocrisy is seen as a major weakness for the maintenance of American power by liberal imperialists like Obama, even if disarmament is an idealistic and counterproductive pipe dream. Conservatives like Senator Jon Kyl would rather just avoid soft power altogether and stick to a hard-nosed defense policy.
This is why US policy with respect to Iran seems so disjointed and paralyzed: Iran’s influence and power is growing, it possesses immense energy resources, and straddles a region of geo-strategic importance. For US elites, Iran must be controlled at all cost. A nuclear Iran would make this much, much more difficult. Regime change is the goal, just like in Iraq. Nonproliferation as an end in itself seems to offer the most justifiable reason for using force and “rebuilding” nations (remember that it was the reason given for the 2004 invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq). But with its Bush-era reputation of seeking new nukes, liberals fear that United States can hardly coerce or attack Iran in the name of nonproliferation. As the world’s preeminent nuclear power with no interest in disarming it would be bald hypocrisy. But then again the US will not disarm, for this would be anathema to the needs and goals of the foreign policy elite. What to do?
Into this mix arrives Countdown to Zero and similarly crafted propaganda pieces. Countdown’s major achievement is repackaging the strategy of anti-nuclear nuclearism into a sexy and thrilling propaganda film full of special effects and heart pulsing music. It will invoke fear of nuclear weapons to justify aggression, war, and the extension of US control over much of the rest of the world.
While the film’s title and a lot of the fanfare surrounding it emphasizes the “zero” message of disarmament, Countdown is actually an alarmist portrayal of dark skinned men, muslims, “terrorists” and other racial or ethnic boogeymen who we are told, over the span of 90 minutes, are seeking nuclear weapons to use against the American people. A related theme in the film is the demonization of Iran and North Korea which are portrayed as dangerous rogue states with ties to terrorist organizations, and who must be controlled, against whom military action may be warranted – or else. Or else what?
One of the main “experts” in Countdown to Zero, Joseph Cirincione frames the take home message at the outset by invoking a very post-9-11 Bush administration theme:
“That day changed our sense of security and how we view the world. We learned how vulnerable we are to the destructive acts of a determined few. Just think how worse it would have been if the terrorist had nuclear weapons.”
Cirincione is not just any expert. He is the doyen of the Democratic Party’s NGO apparatus that shapes nuclear weapons policy through foundation funding of grassroots groups and elite policy shops. Cirincione is president of the Ploughshares Fund.
In spite of its name, Ploughshares’ mission these days actually involves beating ploughs into swords.
Throughout the 1990s, but especially during the George W. Bush years, Ploughshares and circle of foundations called the Peace and Security Funders Group increasingly narrowed the range of acceptable anti-nuclear activism, while simultaneously ghettoizing the field so that the work of various NGOs became less and less applicable to social justice and economic development issues, and increasingly focused on abstract global problems and hypotheticals, such as the existence and possible use of nuclear weapons. In the process discussions of the injustices of the global political economy and how nuclear weapons fit into it were silenced. Anti-nuclear activism became increasingly specialized, boring, and disconnected from issues that affect people’s everyday lives. Arms control eclipsed abolition as the rallying cry. Those NGOs that obeyed the consolidation period survived with funding and access to media, so long as they kissed the ring.
Ploughshares was at the center of it all. Today the Fund’s priorities are shaped by its board of directors made up of Democratic Party donors, other foundation executives, and liberal academics. The Fund’s advisers include men like George Shultz, the former Bechtel president who served as Reagan’s Secretary of State, and former Defense Secretaries William Cohen and William Perry. The latter is actually a board member of the for-profit corporations that manage the nation’s two nuclear weapons labs, Los Alamos and Livermore. You figure it out.
Ploughshares’ adviser and propagandist Jeff Skoll is president of Participant Media, one of the production companies behind Countdown to Zero. The film’s Co-producer, the World Security Institute (a major recipient of Ploughshares Fund dollars), tapped its Global Zero project membership to narrate the film through dozens of interviews with the likes of elder statesmen, and NGO executives like Cirincione who are very friendly to the Obama administration’s nuclear buildup.
Participant Media is a full service propaganda shop for liberal campaigns, producing both documentaries and dramas. In addition to the benchmark documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, Participant is responsible for some very excellent and thoughtful films like Syriana, Food, Inc., and The Cove. And this is where complexity comes in. Some of the producers and voices featured in Countdown to Zero have wonderful intentions, and all of them are probably genuinely concerned with, and fear, the possible day that nuclear weapons might be used, whether by a state or by a criminal group. Herein also is the propagandistic danger of Countdown to Zero.
Albert Camus once wrote that “the evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.” Backed with a lot of foundation money, the producers of Countdown to Zero have paid organizers across the US to do considerable outreach for the film, whipping up interest on Facebook and other social media and generally co-opting the energies and intentions of many anti-nuclear activists. Countdown premiers July 23 and will be shown in theaters across the US. Many screenings are being organized by activists whose intentions are unimpeachable, if naive.
What audiences are going to learn from Countdown to Zero is that nuclear weapons are a threat today because the bad guys might get a hold of them. They’ll learn that al-Qaeda is seeking nuclear weapons, that it is their sworn duty; That highly enriched uranium is easy to smuggle; That “we are on the verge of a nuclear 9-11″; That tens of thousands of pounds of uranium are stored under virtually no security around the globe. In other words they’ll learn that dark scary men, muslims, “terrorists” and anarchists are trying to kill them with nuclear weapons, and that nations like Iran and North Korea will gladly assist them. Their feelings of revulsion for nuclear weapons will be stimulated and channeled against these dark enemies of civilization.
What they’ll learn about US nuclear weapons and policy, if it is discussed in any real and honest depth at all, is that better control and management is needed, a slightly smaller arsenal is desirable. But mostly they’ll learn to just trust our leaders, and that everything will turn out alright so long as the proper authorities are in power. Joseph Cirincione will eagerly explain to audiences that George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry and Sam Nunn are hard at work to “secure” our nuclear weapons. It all sounds great, but the “four horsemen,” as they have come to be known, are actually among the biggest lobbyists for the surge in nuclear weapons spending and the construction of a new US nuclear weapons complex.
In a promotional video attached to the START ratification effort Cirincione urges viewers to “join this patriotic consensus” toward zero. In a recent op-ed he has urged Senate ratification of New START writing, “The statesmanship demonstrated by the Consensus members today could help break the partisan blockade in the Senate and restore America’s leadership on this urgent security challenge.” The capital C Consensus he’s referring to is a newly formed NGO, created to translate the groundswell of public response they expect from propaganda efforts like Countdown to Zero, into sharp policy programs for government, including aggressive military action against would-be nuclear states, much of it in the name of nonproliferation. The Consensus for American Security is one manifestation of the platform that many foreign policy elites hope will solve the contradiction in current US nuclear policy. The mission statement of the Consensus includes, “strengthening and modernizing America’s nuclear security,” because it “is a vital element of protecting the United States and its allies.”
Ploughshares put up the money for The Consensus for American Security… an organization dedicated to strengthening and modernizing America’s nuclear security. Modernizing is not an arbitrary word. In the current policy debate over the future of the US nuclear weapons complex and stockpile, modernization means a very specific thing. It means approving the Obama administration’s program to build a pit factory, uranium processing facility, components plant and other billion dollar capital projects for the weapons complex. It also means modernizing warheads and bombs by rebuilding them and designing new features. And it means acquiring new, very expensive platforms like subs, bombers, and missiles.
Members of the Ploughshares Consensus include a predictable list of centrist retired military brass and statesmen, most of whom occupy revolving door positions on other foundation and NGO boards like Ploughshares, and more than a few of whom have links to the military industrial complex: George Shulz, Samuel Berger, Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, and physicist Sidney Drell, all of them strong supporters of US nuclear weapons programs, and American empire.
The Consensus’ second mission appears to involve stoking Islamophobia. A special project of the Consensus, the American Security Project (ASP), is a well-funded think tank churning out reports about “al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” and “Are We Winning? Measuring Progress in the Struggle Against al Qaeda and Associate Movements.” ASP’s homepage features a photograph of “terrorists” in black masks hauling an American nuclear warhead (a W-76 or W-88 it appears) on a bamboo rickshaw over a wooden bridge toward a waiting van in some distant jungle.
Countdown to Zero is one component of a larger and coherent foundation campaign to stoke up public fears about nuclear weapons for the purpose of extending a near-monopoly on nuclear weapons, and legitimating a more aggressive foreign policy aimed at regime change in Iran and elsewhere. The consensus behind those who funded and produced the film has little to do with disarmament, and a lot to do with stabilizing the American empire [consolidating the dominance of the elite elements of the Western establishment].
Darwin Bond-Graham is a sociologist who splits his time between New Orleans, Albuquerque, and Navarro, CA. He can be reached at: email@example.com