Prisoners serving time in the state of Pennsylvania can now be sued for speaking up from behind bars after Governor Tom Corbett signed into law this week the Revictimization Relief Act that legislatures rushed to approve only days earlier.
The bill, signed on Tuesday by Corbett, a Republican, allows victims of “a personal injury crime” to sue the perpetrator if that offender “perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.”
State Rep. Mike Vereb, a Republican and a co-author of the act, announced earlier this month that he’d be rallying lawmakers to support the bill after former death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal was allowed to record a commencement speech that was played for graduates of Goddard College during an October 5 ceremony.
Abu-Jamal, 60, is currently serving a life sentence at a prison facility in Frackville, PA for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia cop, Officer Daniel Fulkner, but he has maintained his innocence throughout his incarceration, including three decades spent awaiting execution before prosecutors agreed in 2011 to drop the death penalty. Prior to the start of his prison sentence, Abu-Jamal was considered a renowned activist and journalist, and has since published several books and thousands of essays from behind bars.
“The nation is in deep trouble, largely because old thinking, both domestically and globally, has led us into the morass that the nation now faces, which may be encapsulated by references to place-names that ring in our minds: Gaza; Ferguson; and Iraq—again!” a group of 21 graduating students from Goddard, Abu-Jamal’s alma matter, were told in the tape-recorded commencement speech. “These are some of the challenges that abide in the world, which it will be your destiny to try and analyze and resolve. As students of Goddard, you know that those challenges are not easy, but they must be faced and addressed.”
Vereb sent a letter to his colleagues in the Pennsylvania House three days before that address was given, writing in it that he was “utterly outraged that such a reprehensible person would be able to revictimize Officer Daniel Faulkner’s family with this kind of self-promoting behavior.”
The Pennsylvania legislature unanimously approved Vereb’s bill days after the address was given, and Gov. Corbett signed the act on Tuesday, 11 days after the Goddard speech, from a makeshift stage erected in Philadelphia only a few feet from the location where Faulkner was gunned down during a traffic stop 33 years ago. Nevertheless, the Washington Post reported that Corbett said in a statement that the law “is not about any one single criminal,” but rather “was inspired by the excesses and pious hypocrisy of one particular killer.”
“Maureen Faulkner, Danny’s wife, has been taunted by the obscene celebrity that her husband’s killer has orchestrated from behind bars,” Corbett said at the signing, according to a CBS News affiliate.
“This unrepentant cop killer has tested the limits of decency,” the Washington Times quoted Corbett as saying as protesters jeered nearby. “Gullible activists and celebrities have continued to feed this killer’s ego.”
Free speech advocates see no issue with Abu-Jamal’s communique from confinement, though, and say that the law signed this week is a serious blow to First Amendment protections.
“This bill is written so broadly that it is unclear what is prohibited,” Reggie Shuford, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Pennsylvania office, said in a statement offered to Reuters. “That can’t pass constitutional muster under the First Amendment.”
Samantha Kolber, a spokesperson for Goddard, told the Patriot-News that the school was “surprised” by Corbett’s signing and said Vereb’s bill “is suggesting that people are not capable of making choices about what speech they will listen to and how they will react to that speech.”
Speaking to the Philadelphia Inquirer, protester Johanna Fernandez said during Corbett’s public signing this week that the governor’s decision to speedily make Vereb’s bill a law was a “Hail Mary pass” from his administration only a month before Election Day since polls suggest that Corbett may lose the governor’s seat. “The establishment of Philadelphia is using Mumia’s case to silence all prisoners in the state,” Fernandez said. “What they’re doing is, they’re essentially inflecting collective punishment on all prisoners in order to silence Mumia.”
On Monday, Abu-Jamal himself weighed in on the debate and the politics surrounding Corbett’s decision to speedily sign the bill during an interview with Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio Project.
“This is a political stunt by a failing politician who is seeking support by using fear,” Abu-Jamal said this week. “Politicians do it all the time. But this is unconstitutional: Tom’s latest attempt to stroke and build up his political campaign, his failing political campaign.”
According to the activist-turned-inmate, he gave his address to Goddard after students there wrote and requested he speak. Marc Lamont Hill, a professor at Morehouse College, tweeted Wednesday that “Even if you don’t support Mumia, you should be outraged at this attack on First Amendment Rights.”
We’ve filed our reply brief in the appeal of Smith v. Obama, our case challenging the NSA’s mass telephone records collection on behalf of Idaho nurse Anna Smith. The case will be argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal on December 8, 2014 in Seattle, and the public is welcome to attend.
Another case challenging the telephone records program, Klayman v. Obama, will be argued on November 4 in Washington DC before the DC Circuit and EFF will be participating as an amicus.
The Smith v. Obama case records are all here: but we thought we’d highlight three of the more outrageous arguments the government made, and our responses debunking them.
Mrs. Smith doesn’t think her phone records are any of the government’s business. That’s why, only a few days after the Guardian published a secret order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court revealing the government’s bulk collection of the telephone records of millions of innocent Americans, she sued. Smith v. Obama challenges the government’s collection of call detail records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. Mrs. Smith is represented by her husband, attorney Peter Smith, along with the ACLU, EFF, and Idaho State Rep. Luke Malek.
The district court said it felt bound to dismiss her claims because of a 1979 Supreme Court case, Smith v. Maryland. That case involved the collection of the phone numbers dialed by a criminal suspect over the course of three days. It’s one of the cornerstones of the so-called “third party doctrine,” the idea that people have no expectation of privacy in information they entrust to others—and it’s outdated to say the least.
The centerpiece of Mrs. Smith’s case is the issue of whether the government’s collection of our telephone records in bulk, and retention of those records for five years, triggers the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. The warrant requirement applies if there is a legitimate and reasonable expectation of privacy in those records. And if the warrant requirement applies, the collection is unconstitutional, since there is no warrant (everyone agrees that the secret FISA Court rulings allowing the bulk collection under Section 215 of the Patriot Act are NOT warrants).
We argue that there is a legitimate and reasonable expectation of privacy violated by the bulk collection of telephone records, because unlike the narrow situation the Supreme Court considered in 1979, they can reveal an incredible amount of sensitive information. For example, in one short-term study of only a few months of telephony metadata from 546 people, researchers at Stanford were able to identify one plausible inference of a subject obtaining an abortion; one subject with a heart condition; one with multiple sclerosis; and the owner of a specific brand of firearm.The government wants the court to simply ignore these differences. Alternately, the government argues that even if there is an expectation of privacy, it is so small compared to the government’s interest that the warrant requirement can be ignored, under something called the “special needs” test (more on that below).
But, as we emphasize our reply brief, this is wrong, in part because we are living in what member of the President’s Review Group Professor Peter Swire calls the “Golden Age of Surveillance.” As we argue: “technological advances have vastly augmented the government’s surveillance power and exposed much more personal information to government inspection and intrusive analysis. If courts ignored this reality, the essential privacy long preserved by the Fourth Amendment would be eliminated.”
The Government’s Arguments
So with that background, let’s look at three of the most troubling claims the government makes.
Call Detail Records Don’t Actually Identify People
The government still claims with a straight face that call detail records don’t reveal private information, because they “do not include information about the identities of individuals,” including “the name, address, [or] financial information” of any telephone subscribers.
That’s technically true, of course, but who cares? It’s not like this prevents the government from identifying you in less than a millisecond after it gets your telephone number. Last time we checked, the government did have access to, say, telephone books and the many public online services that can do reverse number lookup. That’s why we point out that: “phone numbers are every bit as identifying as names. Indeed, they are more so: while many people in the country may share the same name, no two phone subscribers share the same number.”
It’s pretty ridiculous for the government to continue to try to convince the court that the absence of the names in calling records represents any real privacy protection for the millions of Americans whose records are collected. It plainly does not.
We Have to Collect Everything for the Program to Work. But We’re Not Collecting Everything.
The government tries to challenge Mrs. Smith’s standing to sue by repeatedly alleging that the call detail records “program has never encompassed all, or even virtually all, call records and does not do so today.” It claims that the case should be dismissed because Mrs. Smith cannot immediately “prove” that her records were included. Of course, that’s not how litigation works. Mrs. Smith has good reason to believe that her records have been included—the government’s own public statements give her good reason. The district court properly rejected this argument, but the government continues to press it on appeal.
The government also seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth here, since, as we note in our brief:“In explaining the program to Congress and the public…the government has emphasized not only that the program is comprehensive, but that this comprehensiveness is the key to its utility.”
In fact, Robert Litt, General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence told Congress: “In order to find the needle that matched up against that number, we needed the haystack, right. That’s what the premise is in this case.” And NSA Deputy Director John Inglis defended the program by saying: “If you’re looking for a needle in the haystack you need the haystack. So you wouldn’t want to check a database that only has one third of the data, and say there’s a one third chance that I know about a terrorist plot, there’s a two thirds chance I missed it because I don’t have that data.”
So to get the case dismissed they want to convince the court that they aren’t really collecting “virtually all” of the telephone records, but their public justifications rely on the fact that they are. So either they are collecting Mrs. Smith’s records, along with every other Verizon Wireless customer—Verizon is the second largest wireless service in the U.S. after all—or they are not very good at meeting their own stated goals. Which is it, government?
And that goes right to the heart of the government’s next argument:
Bulk Telephone Records Collection Isn’t Necessary to Protect Us—But Is Still Allowed Under the “Special-Needs Doctrine”
The government’s fallback argument is that even if the call detail records triggered the Fourth Amendment, a warrant is still not required under a narrow legal precedent called the “special-needs doctrine.” It allows warrantless searches of a few small categories of people who have a reduced privacy expectation, like students in schools or employees who handle dangerous equipment. It also only applies when compliance with probable-cause and warrant requirements would be “impracticable” and the government’s primary goals are not law enforcement.
The first problem here is that the millions of ordinary Americans affected by the government’s bulk collection do not have a reduced expectation of privacy in the records of their telephone calls. The privacy interests here are great, since with a trail of telephone records, the government can learn extremely sensitive information.
The second problem is that no less than the White House itself has said that the government can accomplish its goals without bulk telephone records collection. This has been confirmed by the President’s two hand-picked panels as well as several Congressmembers who have seen the intelligence information. As we point out in our reply brief, the best the government can say about the program is that it “enhances and expedites” certain techniques it uses in its investigations. So getting a warrant isn’t impracticable, it’s just, at most, inconvenient. But as we point out: “If efficiency alone were determinative, the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement would have no force at all.”
The special-needs argument is especially concerning because if the courts were to accept it, the special-needs doctrine could become an exception that swallows the Fourth Amendment’s rule against general searches. It could, de facto, create a national security exception to the Constitutional rights enjoyed by ordinary, nonsuspect Americans, something the founders plainly did not do when they created this country in the midst of a national security crisis.
We expect an interesting argument on December 8.
More Police Departments than Previously Thought Use Portable Surveillance Systems to Spy on almost Everyone
More U.S. police departments are employing electronic surveillance technology that can collect information from cell phones and laptop computers belonging not just to criminal suspects but also law abiding citizens.
The Charlotte Observer found the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have for eight years used such equipment, which goes by many names: Stingray, Hailstorm, AmberJack and TriggerFish.
But the technology, which mimics cell towers, is also used by other law enforcement around the country. It’s just not clear which departments, the newspaper says, because the federal government has helped to shield police from disclosing their owning and operating the spy hardware. In fact, the Obama administration “has ordered cities not to disclose information about the equipment,” the Observer’s Fred Classen-Kelly reported.
However, members of the administration might also be among those spied upon. Through an open records request, VICE News has learned that Washington, D.C., is another city whose police department is using the technology. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) there purchased the Stingray system in 2003, purportedly to use for anti-terrorism efforts.
In 2008, however, the system was brought out of storage and is now used in regular criminal cases. But the system doesn’t discriminate between calls made by those suspected of wrongdoing and those of ordinary citizens, which means anyone’s whereabouts can be tracked.
Nathan Wessler, an attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, told VICE News “If the MPD is driving around D.C. with Stingray devices, it is likely capturing information about the locations and movements of members of Congress, cabinet members, federal law enforcement agents, and Homeland Security personnel, consular staff, and foreign dignitaries, and all of the other people who congregate in the District…. If cell phone calls of congressional staff, White House aides, or even members of Congress are being disconnected, dropped, or blocked by MPD Stingrays, that’s a particularly sensitive and troublesome problem.”
Some in Charlotte have those concerns as well. “The thought of police or another agency collecting data on communications devices is troubling,” Charlotte City Councilman John Autry told the Observer. “I understand the balance between security and privacy, but I think we should honor the privacy protection in the Constitution. … What happens to the data? Who sees it? Who has access to it?”
The ACLU estimates that at least 46 local law enforcement agencies nationwide have cell phone tracking systems.
To Learn More:
Charlotte Police Investigators Secretly Track Cellphones (by Fred Classen-Kelly, Charlotte Observer)
Police in Washington, D.C. Are Using the Secretive ‘Stingray’ Cell Phone Tracking Tool (by Jason Leopold, VICE News)
After Months of Denial, Sacramento Sheriff Admits Using Stingray Cellphone Surveillance (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)
Local Police Departments Use Non-Disclosure Agreements to Hide Cellphone Tracking (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
The data mining company inBloom died, killed off by parent opposition, but the data mining industry is not dead. Far from it. It is growing and metastasizing as investors see new opportunities to profit from the data surreptitiously collected while children are using computers, taking tests online, chatting online, and practicing for state tests online.
According to this article in Model View Culture, investors have poured billions of dollars into new technologies to track students’ movements.
Designed for the “21st century” classroom, these tools promise to remedy the many, many societal ills facing public education with artificial intelligence, machine learning, data mining, and other technological advancements.
They are also being used to track and record every move students make in the classroom, grooming students for a lifetime of surveillance and turning education into one of the most data-intensive industries on the face of the earth. The NSA has nothing on the monitoring tools that education technologists have developed in to “personalize” and “adapt” learning for students in public school districts across the United States.
The federal government and the law called FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, passed in 1974) were supposed to prevent invasions of privacy, but the U.S. Department of Education loosened the FERPA regulations in 2011 to make it easier for vendors to data mine. Make no mistake, this is big business. It will not easily be stopped.
“Adaptive”, “personalized” learning platforms are one of the most heavily-funded verticals in education technology. By breaking down learning into a series of tasks, and further distilling those tasks down to a series of clicks that can be measured and analyzed, companies like Knewton (which has raised $105 million in venture capital), or the recently shuttered inBloom (which raised over $100 million from the Gates Foundation) gather immense amounts of information about students into a lengthy profile containing personal information, socioeconomic status and other data that is mined for patterns and insights to improve performance. For students, these clickstreams and data trails begin when they are 5 years old, barely able to read much less type in usernames and passwords required to access their online learning portals.
These developments are alarming. Why should commercial vendors have the right to monitor our every move? Why should the government? This must be stopped, and the successful fight against inBloom proved that it can be stopped. Parents will have to inform themselves and protect their children by demanding legislation that puts an end to the surveillance of their children at school and at home, whenever they are online.
A Lebanese-American reporter working for Iranian channel, Press TV, Serena Shim has been killed in a car crash in Turkey, following her reports of accusations from Turkey’s intelligence agency that she had been “spying.”
“Our correspondent Serena Shim has been killed near the Turkey-Syria border. Serena was killed in a reported car accident when she was returning from a report scene…their car collided with a heavy vehicle,” a Press TV broadcast stated on Monday. Shim had also been the mother of two young children.
The driver of the vehicle was subsequently arrested, according to Turkish news agency Hurriyet, citing the Turkish Doğan News Agency. Press TV disputed this, alleging that both driver and vehicle have disappeared.
Press TV has additionally expressed suspicion, implying that it may not have been an accident. “Just a couple of days ago she had been threatened by Turkish intelligence,” the broadcast said.
Shim had been returning to her hotel after reporting from Suruç – a rural district near the Syrian border, where a many foreign journalists are based. They are covering news from the Syrian northeastern border town of Kobani, under siege by Islamic State militants for the past month due to its strategic importance.
She had expressed fears for her own safety; her death came a day after she reported receiving threats from the Turkish intelligence agency (MİT), saying they had accused her of spying.
“The Turkish intelligence agency has now accused our correspondent Serena Shim of being a spy,” said a Press TV report on Saturday.
“I’m very surprised at this accusation – I even thought of approaching Turkish intelligence because I have nothing to hide,” Shim said in the broadcast on Saturday.
“I am a bit worried, because… Turkey has been labeled by Reporters Without Borders as the largest prison for journalists…so I am frightened about what they might use against me,” she said.
Shim had been reporting that IS militants had crossed the border from Turkey into Syria in trucks apparently affiliated with NGOs, some of which allegedly bore World Food Organization symbols. She claimed that she had received images from Islamic militants crossing the Turkish border and was one of the few reporters focusing on the matter.
“We were some of the first people on the ground –if not the first people – to get that story of… militants going in through the Turkish border… I’ve got images of them in World Food Organization trucks. It was very apparent that they were militants by their beards, by the clothes they wore, and they were going in there with NGO trucks,” she said.
BETHLEHEM – Palestinian Authority police regularly detain people in the West Bank due to their political affiliation, an official said Sunday.
Khalil Assaf, a member of the subcommittee on civil liberties formed after the West Bank-Gaza unity government was sworn in in June, told Ma’an that regardless of the committee’s formation, none of its recommendations have been implemented.
“Every day people are being detained in the West Bank because of their political affiliation, though in most cases they are released within days,” Assaf said.
Though he could not give an exact number of political detainees, he said “we are talking about dozens” of people.
The subcommittee, which was tasked with maintaining and monitoring civil liberties in the West Bank and Gaza, has not been summoned for any meetings with the rest of the unity government so far, Assaf said.
He said it was formed in order to address several aspects of freedom in a democratic society: the freedoms of work, assembly, research, and movement; the freedom to distribute newspapers; the freedom to participate in political activities without discrimination; providing passports to citizens who had previously been denied passports; and the issue of citizens being summoned for questioning both in the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinian political leaders have been unable to implement these freedoms due to the lack of full implementation of the unity government, he added.
Critics of the US-backed PA often decry the night raids conducted by Palestinian police to arrest dissenting politically active individuals, stressing that they are carried out in a manner nearly identical to the raids conducted by occupying Israeli forces.
As expected, the recent fabricated ISIS terror scare that swept the headlines of Canada’s Zionist-owned media is being used by the neocon regime in Ottawa to give Canada’s spy agency CSIS more sweeping powers to spy on citizens and protect the identities of informants.
“The federal government will face intense scrutiny – perhaps even a constitutional challenge – when it introduces legislation to give its spies more legal powers,” reported the Ottawa Citizen.
Proposed amendments to the act governing CSIS will grant the Canadian spy agency more wiggle room to collaborate with the “Five Eyes” spy network comprised of US, UK, Australia and New Zealand espionage agencies. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the Five Eyes network has been neck-deep in illegal espionage activities targeting millions of their own citizens.
“A second measure,” the Citizen continued, “would give CSIS informants the same anonymity that already exists for police sources, who are not subject to cross-examination and can have their identities hidden, even from trial judges.” The Canadian government’s informants are more than likely responsible for spurring or otherwise concocting the very ‘terror’ plots CSIS claims to have foiled — just like its counterpart in the US has been caught doing time and time again. (See The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism by Trevor Aaronson) Problem, reaction, solution — the Machiavellian methodology never fails.
Like Canada, Australia and Britain are endeavoring to empower their spook agencies as well as stiffen their fraudulent “anti-terror” laws in the face of phony ISIS ‘terror plots’ that bear all the hallmarks of intelligence psyops.
That is what the ISIS sham threat is all about — creating a bogus pretext so our governments can strip us of our liberties and stamp out dissent.
British PM David Cameron unveiled the real agenda behind ISIS terrorism fear-mongering — silencing critics of the war on terror and skeptics of the US and UK government versions of 9/11 and 7/7. In September, Cameron delivered a bizarre speech at the UN in which he said with unreserved hubris:
“As evidence emerges about the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by preachers who claim not to encourage violence, but whose world view can be used as a justification for it. … The peddling of lies: that 9/11 was a Jewish plot and the 7/7 London attacks were staged. The idea that Muslims are persecuted all over the world as a deliberate act of Western policy. The concept of an inevitable clash of civilizations. We must be clear: to defeat the ideology of extremism we need to deal with all forms of extremism – not just violent extremism.”
More and more people are awakening to the truth that 9/11, 7/7 and other major terrorist incidents in the West were staged by US, UK and Israeli intelligence services to provide said countries a pretext to launch the pre-planned Zionist-contrived war on terror against Israel’s enemies. Innumerable masses of people are learning about the dark legacy of Zionism and are starting to speak out about it.
The public’s growing interest in alternative theories about 9/11, 7/7 and other false-flags has alarmed the Western powers-that-be whose present foreign policies hinge upon the big lies surrounding those events. If the true story of 9/11 and 7/7 emerged, the American and British public would rise up in revolt against the unjust and criminal regimes occupying their capitals. The perfidious elites cannot allow that to happen, hence Cameron’s insistence that “non-violent extremists” — 9/11 and 7/7 truthers, anti-Zionists, etc. — are akin to the head-chopping Takfiri marauders of ISIS and should be treated as such.
The manufactured ‘civil war’ in Syria, like the preceding one in Libya, is a deliberate Zionist policy of destabilization. Syria, like Iran, is one of the last bastions of resistance against Israeli hegemony in the region, and has therefore been earmarked for extinction by the usual suspects and their Western lapdogs.
Aside from being impediments to Israel’s imperium, countries like Syria, Iran, Libya, Iraq and other target states have been resilient to globalist attempts to import a degenerate American monoculture into their jurisdictions. These countries affirmed their sovereignty against the globalist cultural imperialists — headquartered in Washington — who seek to export MacDonalds, Burger King and Wal-Mart to the four corners of the earth. The globalists want to erect a global shopping mall on the ruins of traditional cultures.
Unlike in America and much of the deracinated West, the peoples of the Middle East have been widely educated about the Zio-American world menace. Instead of chowing down Big Macs or listening to the putrid rhymes of Kanye West, Middle Easterners are being informed on issues of global importance. Instead of reading trashy gossip mags and stewing over celebrity degeneracy, Iranians are perusing The Protocols of Zion and holding conferences questioning the veracity of ‘the holocaust.’
Neocon Zionists like Daniel Pipes, David Aaronovitch and Jonathan Kay have routinely decried the “conspiracy” culture emanating from homogenous Muslim societies. That’s what Pipes’ book The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy was all about; Aaronovitch’s Blaming the Jews documentary is of a similar vein. The reality is that the Muslim world has figured out the Zionists’ Machiavellian game plan and is therefore being punished for failing to succumb to their decrepit exceptionalist mythology.
A dumbed down, atomized mass of materialistic consumers is what the Zionists and their Big Money cohorts want. A pitiful populace comprised of tattooed, chain-smoking, money-chasing, burger-munching airheads is what pleases the moneyed elite.
The Frankfurt School Zionists conquered much of the West through the promotion of degenerate and dysgenic social norms, thereby weakening the traditional culture of their host nations and effectively taking them over. Since the nation-states of the Middle East have largely thwarted the cultural imperialists’ internal plots, the globalist armies of the West have besieged them.
But there is still a glimmer of hope in the West as more people come to terms with the truth about 9/11, 7/7 and the ‘war on terror’ hoax. Only time will tell if that will be enough to stop the globalist menace from devouring what’s left of our broken world.
Copyright 2014 Brandon Martinez
To understand Denis Rancourt and his book, Hierarchy and Free Expression in the Fight Against Racism, you have to know the difference between critical thinking and independent thinking.
Critical thinking is nothing special. Every college student is taught to do it, to prepare for employment fielding matters for employers. On the job, critical thinking amounts to little more than the ability to say, “The boss isn’t going to like this.” You don’t need your own ideology to say that. You need only understand the boss’s ideology and use it to guide your work.
The safest way to avoid making a fatal mistake in such work, and to advance through the ranks, is to adopt the assigned way of thinking as your own. Your life becomes routine and you vanish from history, but you get a roof over your head and more than enough food for your pie hole. It’s the Devil’s bargain for survival in hierarchical organizations.
Rancourt is having none of it. Having become an activist and thereby having experienced the excitement, exhilaration and fulfillment of helping to shape the society he lives in, Rancourt sees cog-in-the-wheel life as a living death.
As a tenured professor of physics at the University of Ottawa, Rancourt noticed that students were emerging from physics courses without truly grasping the concepts behind the techniques that they were learning. The instruction was more indoctrination than education. Grades reflected obedience and memorization more than real understanding. The system prepared students to be obedient critical thinkers but did not arm them with the understanding required to be independent thinkers. That served employers, who want technically trained employees who don’t have their own agendas.
Rancourt became an outspoken critic of the university. (And I was fortunate enough to get to know him at that time.) He blogged about how the institution’s undemocratic structure and corporate orientation led to malfeasance at all levels, from the president’s office to the classroom. And he worked to promote student activism. In response, the university repeatedly tried to discipline him for various contrived infractions, but the repressive measures didn’t hold up upon review. Finally, the university fired Rancourt under the pretext that an unconventional grading system that he used in one class wasn’t permitted by the rules, despite its success in getting students to grasp concepts. His dismissal led to one of the biggest academic freedom cases in Canada.
The university continued to try to silence Rancourt even after it fired him. As I describe below, the university used public money to finance a private lawsuit against Rancourt for refusing to withdraw his stinging criticism of one of the university’s “service intellectuals” (a term that Rancourt uses incisively).
Rancourt’s book is more wide-ranging than its title implies, as it covers much more than the fight against racism. Rancourt argues for student liberation, tries to use biology to explain social hierarchy, discusses how workplace hierarchy is a source of stress and a health hazard, criticizes establishment medicine, describes how the social system works to keep individuals powerless, and discusses the role of collaborators in maintaining the status quo. He brings independent thinking to each topic, often opening up new lines of thinking about long-standing social problems. In this way his book is seminal, and one hopes that he and others will follow through on his ideas and see where they lead.
In a theme that pervades the book, Rancourt argues that the structure of society reflects the state of an ongoing battle between oppressive hierarchy and the individual’s impulse for freedom and influence. He says that the hierarchical system needs to disorient and incapacitate us. It uses brutal methods that exploit the dependence of our self-identities on our social status, over which the bosses exercise much control.
In another theme, Rancourt is highly critical of critical race theory. He argues that suppressing the expression of racist opinions prevents real, enlightening debate and thereby undermines the individual’s political development and the struggle against racism.
The racism issue that Rancourt addresses arose after the student union on his campus publicly reported a pattern of discrimination by the university. To the embarrassment of the university, the report received much media attention. In response, the president of the university asked a black assistant professor to publicly “evaluate” the student report. In just a few days’ time, and with university guidance behind the scenes, the professor produced an “independent” public report, which the university posted on its website, questioning the validity of the student findings.
To present as “independent” an evaluation produced in this way would be considered unethical in science, journalism, government, and even advertising. It would be seen as a gussied-up version of: “I’m not a racist, am I?” “Of course not, boss.”1,2 However, when Rancourt criticized the relationship between the professor and her employer in terms that Malcolm X used to describe similar situations, the university moved to silence him. It hired a top corporate lawyer to pursue a million dollar lawsuit against Rancourt, in the name of the black professor.
But that effort to silence Rancourt backfired. Lawyers usually advise litigants to shut up, but Rancourt repeatedly spoke out about the lawsuit and made its details public; the media reported on it. In the book, Rancourt discusses the suit and critiques the philosophy behind it.
I don’t agree with Rancourt on every issue. For example, he says that it is “self-evident” that social hierarchy is natural, a product of human biology. If such biological determinism hadn’t been discredited by 20th century history, then I would respond by asserting that the ongoing fight for democracy is natural. And in this I would quote Rancourt himself, for the main thrust of his book is that social hierarchy has to be forced upon people.
But Rancourt’s main goal isn’t to get you to agree with him on the issues. Rather, his goal is to provoke you to reject the boring, worn-out framework within which the issues are debated in the mass media and academe, and think independently. His book worked for me, as I ended up thinking about important issues in new ways.
- “Author Jeff Schmidt campaigns for just treatment of Professor Joanne St. Lewis.” [↩]
- “Author Jeff Schmidt apologizes to Professor Joanne St. Lewis.” [↩]
Recently I criticised Guardian columnist George Monbiot for lavishing the term “genocide denier” on anyone who disagrees with him about the events in Rwanda 20 years ago. I described Monbiot as a “McCarthy of the left”, after he waged a campaign of vilification of prominent dissident intellectuals Ed Herman and David Peterson for seeking to critically re-examine the west’s official narrative about Rwanda – that the Hutu majority alone committed a genocide against the Tutsi minority – and questioning whether Rwanda’s current Tutsi president, Paul Kagame, and his RPF forces were not also deeply complicit in the slaughter.
Monbiot’s witch-hunt has also targeted others on the left, such as Noam Chomsky, who supported Herman and Peterson’s right to engage in the critical study of what they call the “politics of genocide”.
Monbiot’s efforts to silence these critical voices on the left was thrown a curveball this month when the BBC, one of the biggest enforcers of official narratives, broadcast a programme, Rwanda’s Untold Story, raising many of the same questions as Herman and Peterson. What would Monbiot do?
Well, I have to give him credit: he is consistent. He has joined other journalists, academics and activists deeply committed to the official Rwanda narrative in accusing the BBC and its programme-makers of genocide denial too. In fact, in their letter to the BBC’s director general, Tony Hall, they accuse the BBC team of genocide denial no less than 10 times!
For those who wish to follow the details of this correspondence, the letter from Monbiot et al can be found here. A reply from David Peterson is available here. And there are a further letters to Hall from Theogene Rudasingwa, who was once in Kagame’s inner circle, and from Christopher Black, the barrister for Augustin Ndindiliyimana, a Hutu general acquitted of genocide crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
In this increasingly polarised debate, I recommend reading Justin Podur’s interventions. He is a journalist with a deep interest in African politics who has been following both sides of the argument closely. He does not agree with all of Herman and Peterson’s conclusions but, importantly, he argues that the official narrative about Rwanda is inadequate and that it is vital to create space for a respectful debate about what really happened. That stands in stark contrast to Monbiot’s position, and illustrates my reasons for calling his campaign against Herman, Peterson, Chomsky and others McCarthyite.
On his blog, Podur makes the essential point that, despite the repeated smear from Monbiot and his allies in their letter to Hall, the BBC documentary does not deny Rwanda’s genocide: it simply makes the case that Kagame’s role in the genocide, entirely overlooked in the official narrative, needs reassessing and that his current regime, solidly backed by western powers, should be held to account for committing mass murder in neighbouring Congo and for its totalitarian rule inside Rwanda.
By creating a sacred narrative about Rwanda’s genocide, the BBC documentary suggests, Kagame has provided himself with the cover needed to continue with his rule of terror.
Podur quotes from Monbiot et al’s letter: “Denial… ensures the crime continues. It incites new killing. It denies the dignity of the deceased and mocks those who survived.”
And yet, the letter writers [including Monbiot] do all of those things. If the victims of the RPF don’t count, as they do not seem to to these writers, then what is this except denial? All of the victims in Central Africa – of the defeated Rwandan government, of the RPF, of the RPF’s proxies and of their opponents – all deserve to be acknowledged, not denied. The BBC documentary deserved better than shoddy arguments and mudslinging. Kagame is still in power, and the only function of this letter is to provide him with cover. Rather than a letter about ‘genocide denial’, the authors would have been more honest to write a manifesto of unconditional support for Rwanda’s dictator.
60 Minutes, which has been harshly criticized for running puff pieces for the NSA and FBI recently, is at it again. Last night, they ran two unrelated yet completely conflicting segments—one focusing on FBI Director Jim Comey, and the other on New York Times reporter James Risen—and the cognitive dissonance displayed in the back-to-back interviews was remarkable.
First up was 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley’s interview with FBI Director Jim Comey. 60 Minutes aired the first part of the interview last week, which ran 14 minutes and did not contain a single adversarial question. This time, Scott Pelley asked him at least asked a couple softballs about civil liberties, although the primary one Comey just refused to answer.
The main focus of the piece, however, was Comey supposed commitment to “the rule of law.” “That’s a principle over which James Comey is willing to sacrifice his career,” Pelley explains to the audience. He then proceeded to re-tell the infamous “hospital bed” scene from 2004 during the Bush administration, where Comey, then deputy attorney general, threatened to resign unless Bush altered the original NSA warrantless surveillance program. Bush relented a bit and so Comey stayed on as deputy attorney general for more than a year afterwards.
Comey is portrayed as the hero, who stopped illegal surveillance from going forward. What Comey did was certainly admirable, but this episode happened in March 2004 and only pertained to a small portion of the NSA’s illegal activities. The NSA’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program (as the public knew it) was first exposed more than eighteen months later in December 2005.
60 Minutes explains this in the very next segment but couldn’t apparently put two and two together: Jim Comey was presumably also responsible for signing off on the illegal program the New York Times exposed after his hospital bed protest.
During the next segment segment, 60 Minutes interviewed James Risen about the Obama administration’s war on leaks and described the scoop he is most famous for: his Pulitzer Prize-winning story exposing that same warrantless wiretapping program.
Risen explains to 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl that the NSA was not only gathering metadata without a warrant on Americans in 2005, but the content of phone conversations as well. And as Stahl herself points out—and as former NSA chief Michael Hayden basically admits in the segment—this was in direct violation of the 1978 law the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which required court orders to conduct such spying.
Critically, Risen’s first story in December 2005 makes it clear the warrantless wiretapping of Americans was ongoing at the time. And we learned just last year as part of the Snowden revelations that Comey’s hospital protest was over Internet metadata, not illegal eavesdropping on phone calls.
So to sum up: the government was breaking the law in December 2005. This is the program that Comey had presumably signed off on after the much-talked-about incident and while he was still deputy attorney general. Yet Comey is still uncontroversially portrayed as a man dedicated to “the rule of law.”
This information was readily available to 60 Minutes, as it’s in the most well-known recounting of the hospital bed scene done by reporter Barton Gellman for the Washington Post and in his book The Angler in 2007. As Barton Gellman reported in 2007, Comey forced some changes with his potential resignation in 2004, but “much of the operation remained in place.”
“Imagine you’re doing ten things one day, and the next day you’re only doing eight of them,” an unnamed official told Gellman in The Angler. “That’s basically what happened here.”
As we reported a few weeks ago, Australia has passed a dreadful “anti-terror” law that not only allows the authorities to monitor the entire Internet in that country with a single warrant, but also threatens 10 years of jail time for anyone who “recklessly” discloses information that relates to a “special intelligence operation.” But what exactly will that mean in practice? Elizabeth Oshea, writing in the Overland journal, has put together a great article fleshing things out. Here’s her introduction:
The parliament has passed legislation that permits the Attorney General to authorise certain activities of ASIO and affiliates as ‘special intelligence operations’. We can only assume that ASIO will seek such authorisation when its operatives plan to break the criminal or civil law — the whole point of authorising an operation as a special intelligence operation is that participants will be immune from the consequences of their unlawfulness. It will also be a criminal act to disclose information about these operations.
So the Australian government can designate activities of its spy services as “special intelligence operations,” which may well be illegal, and then it becomes a criminal act to disclose anything about those operations, however bad they are. Indeed, that even seems to include operations that result in death, as Oshea explains in one of her examples of what could happen under the new law:
A botched operation is conducted that results in the death of an innocent bystander (credit this suggestion to the former Independent National Security Legislation Monitor). Note that if a person with three children dies as a result of a failure to take reasonable care, her family will be unable to make a claim for the cost of raising her dependents. If she is maimed but not killed, she will be unable to make a claim for the cost of her medical care, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and the cost of raising her dependents.
That’s a hypothetical case, but Oshea also lists a number of incidents that have already occurred, but which are likely to be covered by the new law — and would thus become impossible to write about. Here are a couple of them, with links to the real-life cases:
Agents and officers raid a couple in their home and hold them captive at gunpoint for an hour, only leaving when they discovered they were at the wrong address. The couple will have no entitlement to compensation for any property or personal damage arising from imprisonment, trespass and assault.
Agents kidnap and falsely imprison a young medical student. They attempt to coerce answers from him, making threats that go beyond what is permitted by the relevant search warrant.
There’s more of the same, listing previously-reported incidents that would probably be censored in future. The post also explores legislative proposals that are equally disturbing:
The parliament is considering laws that will punish people with life imprisonment for a range of new offences associated with ‘subverting society’ (which is a component of the new definition of ‘engaging in hostile activities’). The law contains a defence of advocacy, protest, dissent or industrial action, but it is very unclear how these would be applied.
Here’s the kind of thing that might get you life imprisonment in Australia in the future:
Leaking materials taken from government information systems that demonstrate serious wrongdoing (as per Manning or Snowden).
Organising and engaging in denial of service attacks – the online equivalent of a sit in – against government websites, such as that of the President, Prime Minister, the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Stock Exchange.
There’s also an explanation of what data retention might mean for the public. All in all, it’s a valuable guide to some of the seriously bad stuff that Australia is doing. Let’s just hope that other countries don’t take it as a blueprint.
Al-Shabaka Policy Brief
Israel’s 51-day assault on Gaza calls for redoubled efforts to shake off its carefully constructed system of control of Palestinian lives throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and secure Palestinian rights. A necessary first step must be to address the donor-supported creation of Palestinian security forces that primarily serve Israel’s colonial ambitions. This is increasingly urgent with the PA set to move back into Gaza in the wake of the unity deal.
Al-Shabaka Policy Member Sabrien Amrov and Program Director Alaa Tartir tackle these issues by examining the state of the security sector today, its origins and purposes, and the fast-growing authoritarianism that is turning “Palestine” into a security state. While touching on the Gaza security sector, they focus primarily on its development in the West Bank. They urge that the foundations of security sector reform be challenged as a key step towards setting the Palestinian quest for freedom, justice, equality, and self-determination back on track.
A Burgeoning Sector
Over the past decade the security sector has grown faster than any other part of the Palestinian Authority (PA). More public servants are now employed in the security sector than in any other sector – 44% of a total of 145,000 civil servants. A growing number of “security science” schools and university programs have been created, including the Palestinian Center for Security Sector Studies in Jericho, considered the most prestigious in the West Bank, and thousands of Palestinians students travel abroad to receive “world class” security training.
Security eats up a sizeable proportion of the PA budget, accounting for almost $1 billion (26%) of the 2013 budget, compared to only 16% for education, 9% for health, and a staggeringly low 1% for agriculture, traditionally one of the main sources of livelihood for Palestinians. The security sector is also the recipient of considerable international aid: the United States, the European Union, and Canada pumped millions of dollars into what is euphemistically termed Security Sector Reform (SSR) in 2013 alone. In fact, there is now one security person for every 52 Palestinian residents compared to one educator for every 75 residents. Daily newspapers frequently carry announcements of bids for more PA prisons – there are already 52 new prisons and eight new security compounds – as well as riot control gear.
An important indicator of the growing importance of the security sector has been the appointment of security personnel to leading positions or in municipalities, governorates, and politically sensitive positions. For example, Majid Faraj, head of Palestinian Intelligence, was on the Palestinian negotiating team in the most recent negotiations with Israel. Although security force heads like Jibril Rajoub and Mohammed Dahlan have been powerful in the past (and may be again in future), what is different now is that this is being presented as part of a modern state-building package.
Needless to say, far from providing for Palestinian security, the rapidly mushrooming sector has, as Israel intended from the start, served as an instrument of control and pacification of the Palestinian population in the area directly under the PA’s authority (Area A, according to the Oslo Accords) as well as the area controlled jointly with Israel (Area B). In these areas, Palestinian security forces have curbed demonstrations, arrested activists, violently disarmed the military wings of political parties, and tortured militants as well as political activists. At the same time, security collaboration with Israel has reached unprecedented levels, as will be discussed further below. Meanwhile, Israel has a free hand in Area C, some 60% of the West Bank, which is under its military control.
The Evolution of the Security Sector
Today’s PA security sector has its origins in the Oslo Declaration of Principles in 1993, in which Article VIII envisages a “strong police force” for the Palestinians while Israel maintains responsibility for “external threats” as well as the “overall security of Israelis.” This was further spelled out in Annex I of the Interim Agreement (Oslo II) in 1995 with a protocol on joint Israeli-Palestinian security operations, as were Israeli specifications of the size of the force and the number and type of weapons with the procedures for registering them. In other words, the PA playing the role of sub-contractor to Israel was foreseen in the Oslo Accords.
Ironically, the “strong police force” led in part to the violent intensification of the 2nd Intifada and to Israel cracking down on the Palestinian police as well as on other government institutions. It was in 2002, at the height of the 2nd Intifada and Israel’s invasion of Palestinian cities, that both former US President George W. Bush and the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon highlighted the security elements of the Road Map for Peace later launched in 2003 by the Quartet. As Bush declared in 2002, “The United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure. This will require an externally supervised effort to rebuild and reform the Palestinian security services.” Thus, self-determination for the Palestinians went from being a right to a privilege that the PA had to demonstrate it deserved.
The Road Map further consolidated the PA’s shift of its statehood strategy from a struggle for self-determination to acquiring a security sector that would in theory be governed by the “principles of democratic governance and rule of law” but in fact serves Israel. Indeed, Phase I of the Road Map demanded that the PA undertake “visible efforts” to arrest individuals and groups “conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere.” The conditions on the Palestinian security sector included: Combat terrorism; apprehend suspects; outlaw incitement; collect all illegal weapons; provide Israel with a list of Palestinian police recruits; and report progress to the United States. Thus the evolution of the Palestinian security sector has been “an externally-controlled process” that is clearly “driven by the national security interests of Israel and the United States.”1
At the same time, it is important to note that the PA under Abbas, first as prime minister and then as president since 2005, had its own reasons to adopt this framework. Abbas wished to establish a monopoly over the use of force and to cement his leadership after he took over the reins from the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, as well as to protect PA elites, as our colleague Al-Shabaka Policy Advisor Tariq Dana noted in a recent piece. Furthermore, the PA had a vested interest in cracking down on Islamist as well as other opposition parties in the West Bank, particularly in the wake of the Hamas victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections and the Fatah-Hamas schism since 2007. The development industry’s efforts to reinvent the Palestinian security forces gained momentum after Salam Fayyad became prime minister in 2007, all in the name of a state-building enterprise.
Despite clear and growing PA violations of the rule of law, international donors and the PA itself have continued to sell SSR as having the purpose of providing efficient and impartial justice and safeguarding human rights.2 Rule of law in the context of prolonged military occupation, however, is a non-starter, to put it politely. As a Western diplomat involved in security training admitted in an International Crisis Group report on the subject, “The main criterion of success is Israeli satisfaction. If the Israelis tell us that this is working well, we consider it a success.”
A discussion of the security sector in the Gaza Strip is beyond the scope of this brief, but a few words are in order about the similarities between the Fatah-led PA in Ramallah and the Hamas-led authorities in Gaza. Of the 23,000 civil servants employed by the Hamas-led authority, 15,500 work in the security sector. Just as the PA keeps a grip on power in the West Bank by intimidating other militant groups, Hamas does so in Gaza. For example, the Ramallah-based Independent Commission on Human Rights reported that of the 3,185 complaints it had received in 2012 of violations by security agencies as well as civil institutions, 2,373 were from the West Bank and 812 from Gaza. It remains to be seen how the unity government’s entry into Gaza will affect its security sector.
Part of Hamas’ effort to keep control of the Gaza Strip has aimed at upholding ceasefires with Israel. Thus, ironically, Hamas has in this respect been the best guarantor of Israel’s security since Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip began in earnest in 2006 – although, as veteran analyst Mouin Rabbani has pointed out, Hamas’ coordination with Israel differs from that of Fatah, being “informal and arguably tactical.” Hamas’ ability to uphold its ceasefires with Israel is something Israeli analysts have acknowledged although that has not prevented Israel from launching increasingly destructive assaults on Gaza to “mow the lawn,” the euphemism they use for their deadly approach to Gaza.
Oppression by a Police State in the Making
Today, the end result of SSR has been to reinforce PA authoritarianism to an unprecedented degree. As Nathan Brown argued in discussing the authoritarian context of SSR, “The entire program is based not simply on de-emphasizing or postponing democracy and human rights but on actively denying them for the present.” Yazid Sayigh concluded that reform in the security sector resulted in an authoritarian transformation that will threaten not only long-term security but also the ability to achieve Palestinian statehood. If ever there is a Palestinian state, it is likely to be as much of a police state as those of most other Arab regimes.
A brief review of what West Bankers are enduring under the PA today shows that for many, the PA has already become a police state through which they are dealing with multiple layers of oppression from both Israel and the PA. This is reflected in the difference in language used between the PA and the people: The PA describes PA-Israel joint work as coordination (tansiq), whereas the people use the word collaboration (ta’awoun) in its negative connotation. Some Palestinians speak of a “revolving door” policy whereby prisoners are released from one authority’s prison to enter another’s. A respondent from Jenin refugee camp said: “After the PA’s Preventative Security Forces arrested and imprisoned me for nine months because I’m a member of Hamas, three weeks after my release, Israel arrested me and accused me of the same exact issues. Literally they used the same words.”3
This explanation by a high official from the Preventive Security Forces says it all: “We get lists with names. [The Israelis] need someone, and we are tasked to get that person for them.” This has been the approach for years, as was highlighted in the 2010 assessment by the International Crisis Group, “the General Intelligence Service (Shin Bet) provides its Palestinian counterparts with lists of wanted militants, whom Palestinians subsequently arrest. IDF and Israeli intelligence officials [say] ‘coordination has never been as extensive’, with ‘coordination better in all respects.’”
While repression by the PA security forces occurs on a continuous basis and takes different forms, it is worth highlighting specific examples to show the extent to which PA forces are willing to go to repress public dissent. In mid-2012, PA security forces cracked down on a peaceful rally in Ramallah and as a result five protesters had to be taken to hospital, with over 18 of them filing complaints. The injuries meted out to one protester in police custody were so severe that Amnesty International said that they amounted to torture.
Another Amnesty International report in 2013 found that police brutality had led to the death of two Palestinians: A 44-year old woman was killed during a police raid on a village that severely injured eight others and sparked protests by hundreds of locals and clashes with security forces, and a second Palestinian was killed in a separate operation at ‘Askar refugee camp in Nablus. It described the overall brutality meted out as “shocking even by the standards of the PA security forces.”
In a glaring echo of the Israeli justice sector’s treatment of Palestinian attempts to secure their rights to life, land, and liberty, Palestinian courts have not found “any West Bank security officers responsible for torture, arbitrary detention, or prior cases of unlawful deaths in custody […] [or] prosecuted officers for beating demonstrators in Ramallah on August 28,” according to a 2013 Human Rights Watch report. This is the case even when the police officers are known. In fact, the authorities sometimes go so far as to prosecute the victims as happened after police assaulted activists in April 2014. In effect, the security forces have the leverage to use the judicial system to their advantage. So much for the rule of law under SSR programs.
Moreover, repression is not confined to demonstrators or “wanted” people, that is, those Palestinians wanted by Israel. The Euro-Med Observer for Human Rights recently reported that in 2013, Palestinian security forces had arbitrarily arrested 723 persons and interrogated 1,137 without clear charges, court decisions, or warrants. Additionally, the PA security forces arrested 56 persons because of Facebook status against them, arrested 19 journalists, and a number of cartoonists and writers. It further documented 117 cases of extreme torture.
Nowhere is the PA’s security collaboration with Israel more evident than in the West Bank’s refugee camps, deepening the isolation of the camps’ residents from the rest of society and eradicating and criminalizing residual Palestinian armed resistance. The treatment of Jenin refugee camp is the best example of this approach. Devastated by Israeli forces during the 2nd Intifada despite heroic resistance, Jenin began in 2007 to be used as a pilot governorate by the Fayyad government, international donors, and Israel for strengthening the rule of law. Under the guise of “Operation Hope and Smile,” PA forces were mandated to remove any source of “terror and unstability” from the camp.
The oppression of Jenin has continued to this day. For example, between August and October 2013, a period when the talks sponsored by US Secretary of State John Kerry talks were underway, Palestinian security forces and the Israeli military conducted over 15 raids against the Jenin refugee camp (see this report in Maan News Agency for example). In March 2014, Israeli military forces stormed the Jenin refugee camp, assassinating three people and wounding at least 14 others. It was alleged that Palestinian security services in the area were told to stay in their office before the raid. Palestinian security forces are also even used to intimidate Palestinians who dare criticize their actions or the actions of PA officials: In May 2014, for example, Palestinian security forces and the guards of the governor of Jenin brutally assaulted a Palestinian civilian after he was overheard making a sarcastic comment about the governor’s procession through the city.
The experience of Jenin demonstrates that the armed resistance that was once considered an inseparable part of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination is being dealt with by the PA as a form of dissent that needs not just policing but eradication and criminalization. Thus, a broader objective of SSR has been to criminalize resistance against the occupation and leave Israel – and its trusted minions – in sole possession of the use of arms against a defenceless population.
The success of the Israel- and US-framed and PA-implemented SSR depends on the way in which Palestinian security forces are conditioned to condition themselves. This self-conditioning is visible at different levels beginning with top government officials. Abbas holds regular meetings with the security forces and repeatedly orders them to rule with an iron fist. The spokesman of the PA security forces, Adnan al-Dimiry, went so far as to suggest that security forces have created a security miracle and that the West Bank is even more secure then Israeli cities.
Even more alarming are the occasions when young Palestinians who are training in the security forces reveal this self-conditioning. As a student from the Turkish academy admitted “It’s messy, but we need to show that we can do this. After that, when we get our state, we can run it so that we can benefit from it.” Indeed, the young Palestinian men and women who join the security forces perhaps embody the duality between being the subject of the occupation and the collaborator in its purest form. When close to half of the Palestinian public sector is given over to jobs in the security sector the decision is almost made for you.
In Ramallah, a group of police officers admitted that even though it is agreed that Israelis are strictly not allowed to come into Area A, when they do, “they call us, and our superiors tell us to put down our arms and go inside. We are not even allowed on the streets or in our police cars if they decide to come in for incursions. If they say disappear, we disappear. Who is going to stop them? No one.”
Several analysts have noted the impact of such conditioning. Law professor Asem Khalil suggests that security coordination itself is a form of conditioning: “The Palestinian struggle finds itself in a time where it’s no longer about self-determination – it’s about international reputation, about proving that you deserve to run your own state, and the coordination is a form of discipline where international donors, along with the colonizing power, are conditioning the future state of Palestine.” Political scientist Mandy Turner argues that the state-building enterprise is a form of counterinsurgency but that it takes time to blossom precisely because it needs to socialize the colonial subject into conditioning itself to the standards imposed by neoliberal principles.
A Call to Palestinians to Reform the “Reform”
The “Palestine Papers” leaked by Al Jazeera, including detailed documents from Israeli-Palestinian meetings in Annapolis in 2008, reveal that to some extent Palestinian leaders still believed that if they did everything that donors asked of them in terms of security they would get a state (see, for example, Saeb Erekat here). Yet, Palestinians are further than ever from securing a state. Moreover, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally made it clear during Israel’s summer 2014 assault on Gaza that Israel would never relinquish security control west of the river Jordan. The myth that the millions of dollars that donors have been pouring into the Palestinian security sector would serve a state-building enterprise has been exposed for what it is.
Security Sector Reform as it has been conducted in the OPT has distorted the national struggle and its priorities with the aim of disempowering the Palestinian people’s ability to resist colonial subjugation. It has broken the direct line of sight between the Palestinians living under occupation and the Israeli occupation forces and contributed to the creation of a new elite of security practitioners who abuse their powers and project the humiliation they face by Israeli forces onto Palestinian civilians.
The question is: What impact will Israel’s 51-day assault on Gaza this summer have on the security sector in the OPT? Before the start of the assault, there appeared to be little change: Israel’s Gaza operation began hard on the heels of the June 2014 Israeli crackdown on the West Bank, which saw an intensified PA crackdown on Palestinian protestors both in tandem with Israeli forces and on their own. Soon afterwards, Abbas played the nationalist card to respond to Palestinian and global outrage about the assault on Gaza, and the Palestinian team negotiating a ceasefire in Cairo included all factions. However, after the assault was over, Fatah and Hamas began trading accusations again, but their end-September agreement to allow the unity government to function in Gaza may lead to a working relationship. It is too soon to judge the impact this will have on the security sector in either Gaza or the West Bank.
Regardless, security reform under occupation is fundamentally flawed: The more the PA invests in security reform, the more it entrenches the occupation and the more it is obliged to work as Israel’s sub-contractor. There is an urgent need to move away from the securitized development paradigm that was built under Abbas and strengthened under Fayyad and instead address the real development needs of the OPT. The fact that the number of families receiving financial assistance increased from 30,000 to 100,000 between 2007 and 2010 is evidence, should it be necessary, that PA arguments that better security conditions will lead to better economic conditions are hollow.
Below are four recommendations addressed to Palestinian civil society and their supporters at home and abroad so as to begin the work that can and must be done to reform “security sector reform.”
First and most importantly, Palestinian civil society organizations should use the media, public forums, and other outreach to shift the discourse and reject the notion that resistance against the occupation should be criminalized. All people living under occupation have the right to resist, whether it is through demonstrations, through speech and writing, or to defend against armed attacks. Indeed, criminalizing resistance to the occupation is the crime itself.
Secondly, civil society needs all its creativity to find ways to institute checks and balances. The key to successful security reform is public accountability and ownership. Neither exists in the Palestinian context given the lack of any Palestinian checks and balances and independent oversight, to say nothing of the all-encompassing Israeli occupation. PA officials claim they “are abiding by international standards,” but without a functioning parliament, an independent ombudsman office, or effective recourse to the judiciary, these words are meaningless. Until such checks and balances are introduced, SSR will be part of the problem and not part of the solution.
Thirdly, investment needs to be found for alternative economic opportunities to enable people to survive as well as to continue the struggle against the multiple layers of oppression without being forced to work in the bloated and repressive security sector.
Finally, the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement has given many Palestinians and their supporters renewed hope in the effectiveness of non-violent tools of resisting oppression and securing rights. Some of its organizing principles and practices can be applied in the efforts to lift the yoke of the security state.
- 1Hussein Agha and Ahmad Khalidi, A Framework for a Palestinian National Security Doctrine (London, UK: Royal Institute for International Affairs/Chatham House, 2005).
- 2For more information, see Roland Friedrich and Arnold Luethold, Entry-Points to Palestinian Security Sector Reform (Switzerland: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), 2007).
- 3Unless otherwise specified, quotations are from interviews by each of the two authors in Ramallah, Birzeit, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jenin, and Ankara in 2012, 2013, and 2014.