A man is taken from his home by 20 armed, militarized police in fascist black uniforms. They break in through the doors and windows, rappel from the roof with ropes, storm the home where he lives with his wife and four children, in the dead of night.
They take him away, and no one hears from him for days, and then weeks, and then months. He isn’t charged with anything; for a long time he is simply disappeared. There is no official charge, but he is a known political activist, a writer, a lecturer.
This isn’t news, because the country is Jordan, the orders come from the US or from Israel, and the man is an Arab, a Palestinian.
I met Amer Jubran 13 years ago when he was living in the United States. He was arrested for the first time at a protest in Brookline, MA that he helped to organize against a yearly celebration of the colonization of Palestine called “Israel Day.” Police arrested him, broke up the demonstration, held him over night in jail with hand and leg shackles, and then charged him with assaulting a passerby. After a lengthy series of court hearings, the judge found the charges to be baseless. Information obtained in the course of the hearings revealed instead that the police had been in the pay of the Israel Day organizers, including the Israeli consulate. The police had been communicating with them about the protest–including details about individual protest organizers–and had more or less acted as agents of a foreign government.
At that time, I knew almost nothing about the history of Palestine. I attended Amer’s trial because the civil rights violations involved in his arrest were so egregious that his case required support from anyone who sincerely believed in basic political rights.
The bulk of Amer’s trial in Brookline took place in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001. The US had just declared an open-ended “war against terrorism,” and already news had begun to trickle out about mass detentions of Arab and Muslim men who were being held beyond the reach of any legal authority, detained indefinitely without access to fundamental rights of due process, and stories were starting to come out about the extensive use of torture.
And at the same time the US passed the Patriot Act and reorganized its security apparatus to create a new “Department of Homeland Security.” With it came new types of federal agents with expanded powers over both citizens and non-citizens; federal, state, and local police were increasingly networked with private agencies in JTTFs; ‘fusion centers’ emerged as nodes of uncontrolled ‘information sharing’ about everyone.
Those of us who were politically active at the time could see what was coming. I remember friends circulating a famous quote from Hanna Arendt:
“The first essential step in the road to total domination is to kill the juridical person in man. This was done, on the one hand, by putting certain categories of people outside the protection of the law and forcing at the same time, through the instrument of denationalization, the nontotalitarian world into recognition of lawlessness; it was done, on the other, by placing the concentration camp outside the normal penal system, and by selecting its inmates outside the normal judicial procedure in which a definite crime entails a predictable penalty.” (Origins of Totalitarianism)
We could see what was coming and those of us who cared got involved however we could.
I got to know Amer in the course of his trial and began to learn about Palestine: the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948, the occupation of the remainder of Palestine in 1967, the continuing circumstances of racist oppression and land theft, not only in all of historic Palestine, but in the entire region surrounding it. To be Palestinian in Nazareth, or in Gaza, or in al Quds (also called Jerusalem), or Khalil (“Hebron”), is much the same as to be Palestinian in Amman (Jordan) or in Sabra and Shatila (Lebanon). The refugees fled murder on their land and it sought them out in the camps. To be Palestinian anywhere in historic Palestine is to be subject to arbitrary detention without trial (‘administrative detention’), and it’s the same in Amman or in Cairo.
I visited Khalil for the first time in 2003. What I saw there became for me an image of the entire region. Some 120,000 Palestinians live in the greater area of Khalil–the city and interconnected villages surrounding it. 400 zionist settlers live in a garrison called Kharsina. For their sake, a regime of total lockdown was imposed on all the Palestinians in the city and villages. All village entries and exits were blocked with boulders and other roadblocks. Curfew imposed. Children couldn’t attend school, elders couldn’t reach hospitals, no one could move goods. All this so that 400 settlers can feel ‘secure’ living on stolen land. This is the meaning of ‘security.’
And this is the image of the region. For the sake of less than 6 million highly privileged colonial-settlers, over 150 million Arabs in the surrounding region live under circumstances of political repression, foreign invasion, occupation, and poverty. No freedom of movement, no freedom of expression, no basic political rights. This is what it means when we say ‘for Israel’s security.’
I learned about Palestine and I became active along with Amer and others we knew in trying to speak for the cause of Palestine where we lived in the United States. Together with other Palestinians living in the area, Amer created an organization called the New England Committee to Defend Palestine.
We spoke of the unity of the Palestinian cause, of liberation for all of historic Palestine, for the rights of refugees to return to their homes.
Two days after the first demonstration of the NECDP, FBI and INS agents broke into Amer’s home in Rhode Island and demanded that he answer some questions. “Please the ears of this gentleman,” said the INS agent pointing to the FBI agent, “or you’ll rot in jail for fifty years.” Amer demanded his right to an attorney. They jailed him, at first without charges or access to a lawyer. We obtained a lawyer for Amer, but they refused to give any information to him when he called, and hung up on him. They held him that way for 17 days. It took an international campaign just to get him a bond hearing.
Eventually the INS (which became the ICE) manufactured immigration charges against Amer to justify–and at the same time conceal–the US government’s political persecution. They now claimed that the marriage through which he had obtained his green card had been fraudulent.
For over a year, we fought the case in hearings before the immigration court. The Department of Homeland Security devoted more than 12 FBI agents to “gathering information” on what was ostensibly an immigration matter. Agents visited members of Amer’s ex-wife’s family and tried to intimidate them into testifying against him. In some cases they showed pictures of Amer taken at demonstrations in the US and claimed that they were images from a “terrorist training camp” in Afghanistan. They tried to connect Amer with 9/11, and to suggest that people who didn’t fully cooperate might make themselves liable to prosecution in connection with “terrorism.”
We fought the case in the immigration court for more than a year. In the course of the proceedings, we submitted FOIA petitions that turned up evidence of widespread cooperation between local police and federal agents in monitoring us and other activists for political activities such as demonstrations, educational websites, and court solidarity. These included the following:
*Still photographs of Amer, his friends, witnesses and supporters taken inside the courtroom during his Brookline trial, and sent to the Boston Police
*A fax cover sheet documenting the communication of records between the Brookline Police and the FBI in July, 2003
*More than twelve video tapes made by the Boston police of pro-Palestine, anti-war, and civil liberties/immigrant rights rallies, which all found their way into a file concerning Amer Jubran
*A memo from the FBI refusing to grant the FOIA petition on the grounds that the subject was “under investigation.”
When it became clear that the immigration court was not a venue in which justice could be obtained, Amer took ‘voluntary departure’ and returned to Jordan in 2004.
Amer’s hearings were well attended by activists. The media closely followed his case, and there was considerable outrage that the government would use immigration proceedings to silence political speech.
A decade has passed. In that time, the arrest and prosecution of Arabs and Muslims for ‘terrorism’ based on speech–especially the defense of the rights of their peoples to resist invasion and occupation by the US or Israel–has been normalized in the framework of domestic security. There is openly a 1st Amendment exception for Arabs and Muslims. Torture and extrajudicial killing (assassination) are no longer dirty secrets, but official policy. Habeas corpus died with the Supreme Court decision in the Hamdi case; the body of policies and cases surrounding indefinite detention outside the reach of the law have now been codified in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, giving the US military the power to detain anyone without recourse to meaningful judicial oversight.
So that now, when 20 black-clad militarized police arrest a Palestinian in his home in Jordan for criticizing US and Israeli policies in the region–an arrest carried out almost certainly at the behest of the US–it just isn’t news. No journalist is interested in the story; no major media outlet will cover it.
Amer continues to be held in Jordan without charges, but has finally been allowed a visit by family, and his whereabouts are now known. His spirit remains strong.
Jordan recently passed legislation further criminalizing political speech as part of its “anti-terrorism” laws. The new amendments specifically criminalize activities that are harmful to Jordan’s relationship with foreign governments. Even before the passage of the new legislation, Jordan had already tried Mwaffaq Mahadin for “endangering relations with a foreign state” for speaking about Jordan’s security cooperation with the US on Al-Jazeera, so it isn’t hard to imagine how the new legislation will be applied. Over the past year, Amer has been sending out critical information and articles about Israeli, US and Jordanian cooperation in destabilizing Syria.
But at this point, it’s hardly even necessary to invent crimes and pass legislation. Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate (GID)–the agency responsible for Amer’s arrest– is a black hole, accountable to no one, except possibly its paymaster, the US. One Jordanian lawyer told me, when I asked about the possibility of filing habeas corpus on Amer’s behalf, “There’s no such thing here. Our country is being maintained as a conduit to Guantanamo.”
Amer might sit indefinitely in detention without charges. Or he may be brought up at any time and charged with “terrorism” before the State Security Court, a rubber stamp court for the GID. If so, his lawyer might be told the charges a day or two before the sham trial, which then leads to inevitable conviction–a mere formality.
Only a concerted political campaign that gets widespread international attention can make any difference. It’s up to us to create enough visibility to make that possible.
Noah Cohen is active with the Amer Jubran Defense Campaign (freeamer.wordpress.com) and can be reached through the campaign at defense (at ) amerjubrandefense.org.
In Beirut on July 8, 1972, thirty-six year old Ghassan Kanafani entered into his Volkswagen for the last time. The prolific writer and editor of Al Hadaf (“The Goal”) was headed to the newspaper’s office. His seventeen year old niece Lamis Najm was with him. Not long before, he had penned these words to her:
“Dearest: You are rising now, while we start to fall. Our role is almost complete. The role of this generation was the shortest for any generation in history. We live in crucial times for the history of humanity and people are divided between participants and spectators… The battle is harsh and human capacity cannot tolerate this much. I, young one, chose not to be a spectator. It means that I chose to live the crucial moments of our history, no matter how short…”
It was around 11 a.m. that Saturday when the explosion occurred, judging from the watch later found on what remained of Lamis’ hand. Kanafani was a leading member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the heart of the left-wing secular opposition to Israel. He was a noncombatant, and although pictures of Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara adorned his office, he never personally picked up a gun against his Zionist enemies, despite having every right to resist the ongoing occupation by whatever means necessary. Yet, he still became a victim of Israeli terror.
The car bomb attached to Kanafani’s vehicle killed him and his teenage niece on July 8, 1972. The assassination was part of a secret operation known as God’s Wrath. The plan, carried out under the tutelage of Prime Minister Golda Meir, was intended to murder leading militants and officials within the Palestinian resistance movement carried out by Israel’s “Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations,” more commonly known as Mossad.
Operation God’s Wrath was a covert operation that utilized methods, such as car bombs, akin to what Arundhati Roy once referred to as the “privatization of war.” Forty-two years later, to the day, after the car bomb killed Ghassan and Lamis, the terrorist state of Israel began a new public operation of a different sort. On Tuesday, July 8, 2014 Israel unleashed Operation Protective Edge onto Gaza, a much more hasbara-friendly initiative. This spectacle of sheer force – conventional terrorism, it might be called – had indiscriminately slaughtered nearly 200 Palestinians within the span of one week. Seven days in and Israel’s casualties had reached a stunning zero.
Unlike the names of the three Israeli teenage settlers who were kidnapped and murdered not long before Operation Protective Edge was initiated, the names of the 192 victims of Israeli aggression have not yet been plastered on the front pages of every newspaper or the headlines on every television set. Sa’ad Mahmoud al-Hajj was 17, the same age as Kanafani’s niece Lamis, was murdered along with seven members of his family when an Israeli bomb destroyed their home in Khan Younis. Sa’ad’s brother Tarek, age 18, and his sister Fatima, age 12, died with him. Ziad Maher al-Najjar, 17 years old, was also killed in Khan Younis days later. 17-year-old Anas Youssef Kandil was murdered by Israeli terror in Jabalia, and 17-year-old Mohammed Isam al-Batash was killed in Gaza city. 10-year-old Bassim Salim Kawareh, 11-year-old Maryam Atieh Mohammed al-Arja, 12-year-old Qassi Isam al-Batash, all victims of this most recent terrorist attack. These names may not find their way onto the pages or television screens of major news outlets in the west, where Palestinian blood has always been worth less than Israeli blood, but they, along with all the other names of victims of Israeli barbarity, should grace the lips and enter the hearts of those engaged in the struggle for a free Palestine.
Thus, forty-two years after the terrorist state martyred Kanafani, its reign of terror continues. The world is a different place from 1972, however, and the voice of worldwide opposition is growing. Just as the movement against apartheid South Africa took decades to build, so did the opposition to the settler-terrorist state of Israel. Today, however, the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), put forward by Palestinian civil society in 2005, is growing at an even more rapid pace than did its predecessor. Across US campuses, student governments have passed resolutions calling for divestment, and victories in the name of a free Palestine have been on the rise. While the puppet Arab leaders, sheikhs and Israeli pawns wring their hands, donate a pittance of their enormous wealth to clean up the aftermath, and send fighters off to die in Iraq or Syria, they cannot be the face of the Palestinian resistance.
As Ghassan Kanafani explained: “If we are failed defenders of the cause, it is better to change the defenders, not to change the cause.” Since his time, the defenders have changed more than once, but Kanafani’s cause lives on. For those of us who live outside the “harsh battle,” we too should “chose not to be a spectator.” Let us, like Kanafani, “chose to live the crucial moments of our history” and contribute to the struggle for a free Palestine. For those of us who face no imminent threat of retaliation, no fear of bombs dropping onto our homes while we eat with our families, no chance of a car bomb detonating as we head to our offices, it should not only be our choice, but our obligation, our duty, to support the movement to boycott and divest from the terrorist state of Israel. As Alice Walker, who refused an Israeli publisher’s offer to publish “The Color Purple,” once said, “Activism is my rent for living on this planet.” Indeed, when it comes to Palestine, it is time for Americans to pay some rent.
As I sit here in my office cum bedroom in Gaza City, listening to the airstrikes and rocket fire, there is talk of how to bring the violence to an end. This is to be eminently desired, particularly for the civilian population in Gaza who have suffered the brunt of this escalation.
But when I think of the 17,000 displaced people sheltered in our schools, some of whom I spoke with yesterday, I wonder what they would think of this. Because they have seen it all before, for most this was their third displacement since 2009; many having returned to the exact same classroom.
If this prospective cease-fire ends the same way as those before it, would they think this is anything other than a brief respite from violence?
For Gaza, a return to ‘calm’ is a return to the eighth year of blockade. It is a return to over 50 percent of the population either unemployed or unpaid. It is a return to confinement to Gaza and no external access to markets, employment, or education – in short, no access to the outside world.
For example, if one of the grandmothers I spoke to yesterday should wish to go to Birzeit University in the West Bank to study, she cannot.
The Israeli government need not demonstrate this grandmother poses any specific threat to security as they have approved a blanket ban on Gazans studying in the West Bank based on an undefined security threat. The vast majority of the population are prevented from leaving this 365 square kilometer sliver of land.
If one of the tomato farmers I met yesterday can find a buyer for his product in Paris, Peoria or Prague under certain conditions he can box up his tomatoes, ship them through the one open commercial crossing and on to Ashdod port or Ben Gurion airport – two of the most sensitive security sites in Israel.
Unfortunately there is no market for Gazan tomatoes in Paris, Peoria or Prague. There is a market for Gazan tomatoes in Israel and the West Bank, but this farmer is not allowed to sell his tomatoes there because of that same undefined security threat.
The elderly I met yesterday wonder how they will access health care after this cease-fire. Other than the services provided by us at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and some private and NGO facilities, the government health care system is collapsing. Infrastructure has been damaged and the people wonder who will take responsibility to fix it.
If the Palestinian Authority is not permitted or is unable to do that is the international community expected to? Or will Israel, the occupying power, assume that responsibility?
The mothers I met yesterday wonder where their children will go to school in six short weeks if not in one of UNRWA’s 245 schools. Who will repair the government schools, deliver the textbooks, pay the teachers? If government schools do not open will UNRWA be expected to fill that void?
We lack the physical capacity, human and financial resources to accept tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of additional students in our schools.
UNRWA and the UN family, including WFP, UNICEF, OCHA and UNDP, remain engaged in meeting the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza. Amongst the areas in which UNRWA has scaled up its work in recent years is construction, where we have a very large portfolio.
This is predominantly schools for our education program, in which we taught over 230,000 children last year, and houses for those whose homes were destroyed in previous conflicts or demolished by Israel.
If we want to build something we have to submit a detailed project proposal to Israel with the design, location and a complete bill of quantities. The Israelis then review the proposal, a process that is supposed to take not more than two months but on average takes nearly 20 months.
We received no project approvals between March 2013 and May 2014, during the last ‘calm’, despite having nearly USD 100 million worth of projects awaiting approval. Will this ‘calm’ be any better?
More importantly, the people here wonder who will govern Gaza? No one has an answer to that question. I think the people of Gaza would say that if this is the form of ‘calm’ people have in mind, while preferable to the current violence, it cannot last. It will not last.
Robert Turner is Gaza Director of Operations for UNRWA.
Since US media are reporting the latest Israeli massacre in Gaza as though it is a defensive action, I thought I would set the record straight. Israeli forces shelled and invaded Gaza BEFORE the rockets began. Rockets were fired only after numerous Palestinians, including many children, had been killed.
According to a pro-Israel website, the Jewish Virtual Library, Gaza rocket fire against Israel began in 2001. Four rockets were launched in the entire year.
The Israeli military website agrees with this chronology, saying that the first rocket was launched from Gaza on April 16, 2001.
By happenstance, I was traveling throughout the Palestinian Occupied Territories just before that – during February-March 2001 – as a freelance reporter.
While I was there, Israeli forces were regularly shelling both the West Bank and Gaza, and had been doing so for several months. Gaza was particularly hard hit. (An article I wrote at the time can be read here.)
Below are some of my photos from Gaza from February 2001 (i.e. BEFORE any rockets had been fired, and long before Hamas was elected in 2006.)
Tofah, Khan Yunis, Gaza, February 2001. Photo by Alison Weir
A few months before, in fall 2000, massive unarmed demonstrations against Israeli occupation began, eventually growing into what is known as the “Second Intifada” (uprising).* Israeli forces immediately used lethal means to try to put this down. An Israeli newspaper reported that the Israeli military fired over a million bullets in the first few days alone.
In the following three months Israeli forces killed over 90 Palestinian children – before a single Israeli child was then killed, and long before any rockets were fired. (The largest single cause of these Palestinian children’s deaths was gunfire to the head.)
In fact, in every year since, far more Palestinian children have been killed than Israeli children:
Israeli shelling, military ground invasions, and abductions of Palestinians have continued throughout the following years, occurring, except for few ceasefires (which Israeli violence consistently ends), virtually every day.
Some groups (usually not Hamas), have also periodically fired rockets at Israel through these years.
By the way, the Iron Dome sysem has played a somewhat minimal role in the small number of Israeli deaths from rockets. Iron Dome wasn’t begun to be put in place until March 27, 2011. In the ten years before, there were only 17 deaths. For a full analysis go here.
Who originally began this violence?
Of course, the conflict between the two groups began before fall 2000, so let us go back and see how this all started, and which party initiated the violence.
That’s actually quite easy to do.
You don’t need to go back “thousands of years,” as some people believe. In reality, in the late 1800s this region – known as Palestine – was peaceful and had been so for centuries. Its population was about 80 percent Mulim, 15 percent Christian, and a little under 5 percent Jewish; all practicing their faiths side by side largely without conflict on land considered sacred to all three groups.
The problem began when a political movement called “Political Zionism” began in the late 1800s in Europe (and also in the United States) with the goal of pushing out the inhabitants and creating a Jewish state on this land.
The culmination of their efforts came in 1948-49, when Israel was created through warfare. At least 750,000 of Palestine’s non-Jewish inhabitants, approximately half of the total population, were ethnically cleansed, their lands, businesses, orchards, and other property (worth many millions of dollars) confiscated by the newly created Jewish state, Israel.
The Palestinians’ crime was being there.
By the way, the belief – also pushed by US media – that the current wave of violence began with the abduction and murder of three young Israelis is also incorrect.
The fact is that Israeli forces had killed at least 4 Palestinian children and approximately 35 Palestinian adults in 2014 BEFORE the abuction/murder of the 3 Israelis.
Also, one of the largest group hunger strikes in history was going on among Palestinians who were being held illegally in Israeli prisons — these “administrative detainees,” Israel’s Orwellian term, are prisoners who have never even been charged with a crime, yet are held for months or years. Many are tortured.
Even JJ Goldberg, a fervently pro-Israel journalist, says that Israeli “politics and lies” are behind Israel’s current aggression.
The pro-Israel spin, despite being repeated over and over, just doesn’t survive the facts.
An account by another person who visited Khan Yunis (this is also spelled Khan Younis) a year later can be read here. Below is one of his photos:
And below are some photos I took when I was last in Gaza, July 2009:
* This is also sometimes called the “Al Aqsa Intifada,” after the location where some of the first demonstrations began.
“Intifada” literally means “shaking off” of oppression. The American Revolutionary War, for example, could be similarly called the American Intifada against the British.
The neoconservative movement, which is generally perceived as a radical (rather than “conservative”) Republican right, is, in reality, an intellectual movement born in the late 1960s in the pages of the monthly magazine Commentary, a media arm of the American Jewish Committee, which had replaced the Contemporary Jewish Record in 1945. The Forward, the oldest American Jewish weekly, wrote in a January 6th, 2006 article signed Gal Beckerman: “If there is an intellectual movement in America to whose invention Jews can lay sole claim, neoconservatism is it. It’s a thought one imagines most American Jews, overwhelmingly liberal, will find horrifying. And yet it is a fact that as a political philosophy, neoconservatism was born among the children of Jewish immigrants and is now largely the intellectual domain of those immigrants’ grandchildren”. The neoconservative apologist Murray Friedman explains that Jewish dominance within his movement by the inherent benevolence of Judaism, “the idea that Jews have been put on earth to make it a better, perhaps even a holy, place” (The Neoconservative Revolution: Jewish Intellectuals and the Shaping of Public Policy, 2006).
Just as we speak of the “Christian Right” as a political force in the United States, we could also therefore speak of the neoconservatives as representing the “Jewish Right”. However, this characterization is problematic for three reasons. First, the neoconservatives are a relatively small group, although they have acquired considerable authority on and within Jewish representative organizations, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. In 2003, journalist Thomas Friedman of the New York Times counted twenty-five members saying, “if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and half ago, the Iraq war would not have happened”. The neoconservatives compensate for their small number by multiplying their Committees, Projects, and other think tanks, which certainly give them a kind of ubiquity.
Second, the neoconservatives of the first generation mostly came from the left, even the extreme Trotskyist left for some such as Irving Kristol, one of the main editors of Commentary. During the late 1960s the Commentary editorial staff begins to break with the liberal, pacifist left, which they suddenly find decadent. Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary from 1960 until his retirement in 1995, was a militant anti-Vietnam dissenter until 1967, but then in the 70s became a fervent advocate of an increased defense budget, bringing the journal along in his wake. In the 1980s, he opposed the policy of détente in his book The Present Danger: in the 1990s, he calls for the invasion of Iraq, and then again in the early 2000s. In 2007, while his son John Podhoretz was taking over as editor of Commentary, he asserted once again the urgency of a U.S. military attack, this time against Iran.
Third, unlike evangelical Christians who openly proclaim their unifying religious principles, neoconservatives do not display their Judaism. Whether they’d been Marxists or not, they appear mostly non-religious. It is well-know that their major influence is the philosophy of Leo Stauss, so much so that they are sometimes referred to as “the straussians”; Norman Podhoretz and his son John, Irving Kristol and his son William, Donald Kagan and his son Robert, Paul Wolfowitz, Adam Shulsky, to name just a few, all expressed their debt to Strauss. Leo Strauss, born to a family of German Orthodox Jews, was both pupil and collaborator of political theorist Carl Schmitt, himself a specialist of Thomas Hobbes and advocate of a “political theology” by which the State must appropriate the attributes of God. Schmitt was an admirer of Mussolini, and the legal counsel of the Third Reich. After the Reichstag fire in February 1933, it was Schmitt who provided the legal framework that justified the suspension of citizen rights and the establishment of the dictatorship. It was also Schmitt, in 1934, who personally obtained from the Rockefeller Foundation a grant for Leo Strauss to study Thomas Hobbes in London and Paris, and then finally end up teaching in Chicago.
The thinking of Leo Strauss is difficult to capture, and certainly beyond the purview of this work. Moreover, Strauss is often elliptic because he believes that Truth is harmful to the common man and the social order and should be reserved for superior minds. For this reason, Strauss rarely speaks in his own name, but rather expressed himself as a commentator on classical authors, in whom he discovers many of his own thoughts. Moreover, much like his disciples Allan Bloom (The Closing of the American Mind, 1988) and Samuel Huntington, he is careful to clothe his most radical ideas in ostensibly humanist principles. Despite the apparent difficulty, three basic ideas can easily be extracted from his political philosophy, no different from Schmitt. First, nations derive their strength from their myths, which are necessary for government and governance. Second, national myths have no necessary relationship with historical reality: they are socio-cultural constructions that the State has a duty to disseminate. Third, to be effective, any national myth must be based on a clear distinction between good and evil; it derives its cohesive strength from the hatred of an enemy nation. As recognized by Abram Shulsky and Gary Schmitt in an article “Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence” (1999), for Strauss, “deception is the norm in political life” – the rule they applied to fabricating the lie of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein when working inside the Office of Special Plans.
In his maturity, Strauss was a great admirer of Machiavelli, who he believes he understood better than anyone. In his Thoughts on Machiavelli, he parts from the intellectual trend of trying to rehabilitate the author of The Prince against the popular opinion regarding his work as immoral. Strauss recognizes the absolute immorality of Machiavelli, which he sees as the source of his revolutionary genius, “We are in sympathy with the simple opinion about Machiavelli, not only because it is wholesome, but above all because a failure to take that opinion seriously prevents one from doing justice to what is truly admirable in Machiavelli; the intrepidity of his thought, the grandeur of his vision, and the graceful subtlety of his speech”. The thought of Machiavelli is so radical and pure, says Strauss, that its ultimate implications could not be spelled out: “Machiavelli does not go to the end of the road; the last part of the road must be travelled by the reader who understands what is omitted by the writer”. Strauss is the guide who can help his neoconservative students do that, for “to discover from [Strauss’] writings what he regarded as the truth is hard; it is not impossible”. This truth that Machiavelli and Strauss share is not a blinding light, but rather a black hole that only the philosopher can contemplate without turning into a beast: there is no afterlife, and neither good nor evil; therefore the ruling elite shaping the destiny of their nation need not worry about the salvation of their own souls. Hence Machiavelli, according to Strauss, is the perfect patriot.
Neoconservatism is essentially a modern Jewish version of Machiavelli’s political strategy. What characterizes the neoconservative movement is therefore not as much Judaism as a religious tradition, but rather Judaism as a political project, i.e. Zionism, by Machiavellian means. Note that, in an article in the Jewish World Review on June 7th, 1999, the neoconservative Michael Ledeen defends the thesis that Machiavelli was a crypto-Jew, as were at the time thousands of families nominally converted to Catholicism under threat of expulsion or death. “Listen to his political philosophy, and you will hear the Jewish music”, wrote Ledeen, citing in particular Machiavelli’s contempt for the nonviolent ethics of Jesus and his admiration for the pragmatism of Moses, who was able to kill countless men in the interests of enforcing his new law.
Obviously, if Zionism is synonymous with patriotism in Israel, it cannot be an acceptable label in American politics, where it would mean loyalty to a foreign power. This is why the neoconservatives do not represent themselves as Zionists on the American scene. Yet they do not hide it all together either. Elliott Abrams, Deputy National Security Adviser in the administration of Bush’s son, wrote in his book Faith or Fear (1997): “Outside the land of Israel, there can be no doubt that Jews, faithful to the covenant between God and Abraham, are to stand apart from the nation in which they live. It is the very nature of being Jewish to be apart — except in Israel — from the rest of the population”. It is hard to come up with a better definition of Zionism, the corollary of which is the apartheid practiced against non-Jewish peoples in Palestine, defended in the same year by Douglas Feith in his “Reflections on Liberalism, Democracy and Zionism”, pronounced in Jerusalem, defending the right of Israel to be an “ethnic nation”: “there is a place in the world for non-ethnic nations and there is a place for ethnic nations”.
If one is entitled to consider the neoconservatives as Zionists, it is especially in noting that their foreign policy choices have always coincided perfectly with the interests of Israel (as they see it). Israel’s interest has always been understood as dependent on two things: the immigration of Eastern Jews and the financial support of the Jews of the West (American and, to a lesser extent, European). Until 1967, the national interest pushed Israel toward the Soviet Union, while the support of American Jews remained quiet. The socialist and collectivist orientation of the Labor Party in power naturally inclined them in this direction, but Israel’s good relations with the USSR were primarily due to the fact that the mass immigration of Jews was only possible through the good will of the Kremlin. During the three years following the end of the British mandate on Palestine (1948), which had hitherto limited Jewish immigration out of consideration for the Arab population, two hundred thousand Polish Jewish refugees in the USSR were allowed to settle in Palestine, with others coming from Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria.
The Six Day War was a decisive turning point: in 1967, Moscow protested against Israel’s annexation of new territories, broke diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv and stopped the emigration of its Jewish citizens, which had accelerated in the previous month. It is from this date that Commentary became, in the words of Benjamin Balint, “the contentious magazine that transformed the Jewish left into the neoconservative right”. The neoconservatives realized that, from that point, Israel’s survival – and its territorial expansion – depended on the support and protection of another super-power, the U.S. military, and concomitantly that their need for Jewish immigrants could only be fulfilled by the fall of communism. These two objectives converged in the deepening of military power of the United States. This is why Irving Kristol engaged the American Jewish Congress in 1973 to fight George McGovern’s proposal to reduce the military budget by 30%: “this is to drive a knife into the heart of Israel. [...] Jews don’t like a big military budget, but it is now an interest of the Jews to have a large and powerful military establishment in the United States. [...] American Jews who care about the survival of the state of Israel have to say, no, we don’t want to cut the military budget, it is important to keep that military budget big, so that we can defend Israel”. We now understand better what reality Kristol was referring to, when he famously defined a neoconservative as “a liberal who has been mugged by reality”.
In the late 60s, the neoconservatives support the militarist fringe of the Democratic Party, headed by Senator Henry Scoop Jackson, a supporter of the Vietnam War who challenged McGovern in the 1972 primaries. Richard Perle, parliamentary assistant to Jackson, wrote the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which made food aid to the Soviet Union conditional upon the free emigration of Jews. It is also within the office of Scoop Jackson that an alliance between the neoconservatives and the Rumsfeld-Cheney tandem will be forged, before Rumsfeld and Cheney took advantage of the Watergate scandal to join the Republican camp and infiltrate the White House. Perle placed his protégés Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Pipes in Team B, whose report was published in Commentary. During the Carter period, neoconservatives allied with evangelical Christians, viscerally anti-communist and generally well disposed towards Israel, the foundation of which they see as a divine miracle foreshadowing the return of Christ. The contribution of the neoconservatives to the Reagan victory allowed them to work within the government to strengthen the alliance between the United States and Israel; in 1981, the two countries signed their first military pact, then embarked on several shared operations, some legal and others not so, as evidenced by the network of arms trafficking and paramilitary operations embedded within the Iran-Contra affair. Anti-communism and Zionism had become so linked in their common cause, that in 1982, in his book The Real Anti-Semitism in America, the director of the Anti-Defamation League Nathan Perlmutter could turn the pacifism of the “peacemakers of Vietnam vintage, [the] transmuters of swords into plowshares”, into a new form of anti-Semitism.
With the end of the Cold War, the national interest of Israel changed once again. Their primary objective became not the fall of communism, but rather the weakening of Israel’s enemies. Thus the neoconservatives underwent their second conversion, from anti-communism to Islamophobia, and created new think tanks such as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) led by Richard Perle, the Middle East Forum led by Daniel Pipes (son of Richard), the Center for Security Policy (CSP) founded by Frank Gaffney, and the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). President George H.W. Bush, however, cultivated friendships with Saudi Arabia and was not exactly a friend of Israel; he resisted in September of 1991 against an unprecedented pro-Israel lobbying campaign that called for $10 billion to help Jews immigrate from the former Soviet Union to Israel. He complained in a televised press conference on September 12th that “one thousand Jewish lobbyists are on Capitol Hill against little old me”, thereby causing Tom Dine, the Executive Director of AIPAC, to exclaim that “September 12, 1991, is a day that will live in infamy”. Bush also resisted the neoconservatives’ advice to invade Iraq after Operation Desert Storm. Finally, Bush’s Secretary of State James Baker was too receptive to Arab proposals throughout the Madrid Conference in November 1991; the neoconservatives, as a result, sabotaged Bush’s chances for a second term and supported Democrat Bill Clinton. After eight years of Clinton, they finally completed their victory by having Bush’s son George W. elected and forcing him into the second Iraq war.
During Clinton’s two terms, while the Madrid agreements were buried by the Oslo Accords negotiated directly with an overwhelmed Yasser Arafat, neoconservatives prepared their return with Rumsfeld and Cheney, and threw all their weight behind their ultimate think tank, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). William Kristol, son of Irving, also founded in 1995 a new magazine, The Weekly Standard, that immediately became the dominant voice of the neoconservatives thanks to funding from the pro-Israeli Rupert Murdoch. In 1997, it would be the first publication to call for a new war against Saddam Hussein. During the Clinton years, neoconservatives, although consulted by the White House, were not part of it. And so it is relevant to mention that, during this same time, the FBI was investigating an Israeli mole in the White House, who was allegedly using the code name “Mega” and enjoying privileged access to the Security Council. According to the investigator Gordon Thomas, quoted by the New York Post on March 5th1998, the FBI investigation was stopped when “Israel blackmailed President Clinton with private recordings of his steamy conversations with Monica Lewinsky”.
Speeches and mirrors
The 2007 book by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, shocked the American public by exposing the considerable influence of pro-Israel groups, the oldest of which being the Zionist Organization of America, and the most influential since the 70s, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The authors demonstrate that “the Lobby” has been the major force driving the United States into the Iraq war and, more generally, into a foreign policy that lacks coherence and morality in the Middle East. The authors’ thesis is yet incomplete because they leave absent the complementary role played from within State by the neoconservatives, who form the other arm of the pliers now holding the American foreign policy.
“We, the Jewish people control America, and the Americans know it”, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said to minister of Foreign Affairs Shimon Peres on October 3, 2001, according to Israeli radio Kol Yisrael. His successor Benjamin Netanyahu proved it on May 24, 2011 by receiving 29 standing ovation by the American Congress, including at each of those sentences: “in Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers” ; “No distortion of history could deny the 4,000-year-old bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land” ; “Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967” ; “Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel”.
These two forces — the crypto-Zionists infiltrated in the government and the pro-Israel lobby — sometimes act in criminal conspiracy, as illustrated by the charge against Larry Franklin in 2005, who, as a member of the Office of Special Plans working under Douglas Feith, passed classified defense documents to two AIPAC officials, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, who in turn transmitted them to a senior official in Israel. Franklin was sentenced to thirteen years in prison (later reduced to ten years of house-arrest), while Rosen and Weissman were acquitted. Most neoconservatives are active members of the second most powerful lobby pro-Israel, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), of which Dick Cheney and Ahmed Chalabi are also members, among others responsible for instigating the Iraq invasion. JINSA was founded in 1976 by American army officers, intellectuals, and politicians, with one of its stated aims “to inform the American defense and foreign affairs community about the important role Israel can and does play in bolstering democratic interests in the Mediterranean and the Middle East”. Colin Powell, according to his biographer Karen DeYoung, privately rallied against this “separate little government” composed of “Wolfowitz, Libby, Feith, and Feith’s ‘Gestapo Office’”, which he also called “the JINSA crowd”.
In 2011, Powell’s former Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson openly denounced the duplicity of neoconservatives such as David Wurmser and Douglas Feith, whom he considered like “card-carrying members of the Likud party. […] I often wondered if their primary allegiance was to their own country or to Israel. That was the thing that troubled me, because there was so much that they said and did that looked like it was more reflective of Israel’s interest than our own”. In fact, a significant number of neoconservatives are Israeli citizens, have family in Israel or have resided there themselves. Some are openly close to Likud, the nationalist party in power in Israel, and several have even been official advisors to Netanyahu; many are regularly praised for their work on behalf of Israel by the Israeli press. Paul Wolfowitz, for example, was nominated “Man of the Year” by the pro-Likud Jerusalem Post in 2003, and « the most hawkishly pro-Israel voice in the Administration » by the American Jewish daily newspaper The Forward.
The duplicity of the neoconservatives is brought to light by a document revealed in 2008 by authors such as James Petras and Stephen Sniegoski (see bibliography); it is a 1996 report by the Israeli think tank Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, entitled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm”, sent to the new Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The team responsible for the report was led by Richard Perle, and included Douglas Feith, David Wurmser and his wife Meyrav Wurmser. Perle personally gave the report to Netanyahu on July 8th, 1996. The same year, the authors signed the founding manifesto of PNAC in the U.S., and four years later, they would be positioned in key posts of the U.S. military and U.S. foreign policy. As its title suggests, the report Clean Break invites Netanyahu to break with the Oslo Accords of 1993, which committed Israel to the return of the territories it occupied since 1967 and to retract illegal settlements. The new Prime minister should instead “engage every possible energy on rebuilding Zionism” and reaffirm Israel’s right over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip: “Our claim to the land — to which we have clung for hope for 2,000 years — is legitimate and noble. […] Only the unconditional acceptance by Arabs of our rights, especially in their territorial dimension, ‘peace for peace,’ is a solid basis for the future”. The authors of Clean Break therefore encourage Netanyahu to adopt a politics of territorial annexation, not only contrary to the official position of the United States and the United Nations, but also contrary to public commitments made by Israel. Even though he signed the “roadmap” intended to lead to an independent Palestinian State in September 1999, and maintained his position at the Camp David summit in July 2000, Netanyahu followed the advice of Clean Break and secretly worked to sabotage the process. During a private interview filmed without his knowledge in 2001, he bragged how he undercut the peace process: “I’m going to interpret the accords in such a way that would allow me to put an end to this galloping forward to the ’67 borders”. He also said: “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won’t get in our way.”
The recommendations to the Israeli government to sabotage the peace process in Palestine are presented by the authors of Clean Break as part of a larger plan to allow Israel to “shape its strategic environment”, by “removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq”, weakening Syria and Lebanon, and finally Iran. When Perle, Feith and Wurmser moved to key positions in the U.S. government, they arranged for the United States to implement the program themselves, without Israel having to pay a single drop of blood. If there are differences between the Clean Break report written for the Israeli government in 1996 and the report Rebuilding America’s Defenses written by the same authors for the U.S. government in 2000, it is not in the program itself, but rather the argued reasons. First, Clean Break does not have Iraq as a threat, but as the weakest of the enemies of Israel, the least dangerous and the easiest to break. In a follow-up to Clean Break, entitled Coping with Crumbling States: A Western and Israeli Balance of Power Strategy for the Levant, Wurmser emphasizes the fragility of Middle East States, particularly Iraq: “the residual unity of the nation is an illusion projected by extreme repression of the state”. Thus the same action of first overthrowing Saddam is recommended to Israel and the United States, but for opposite reasons. The weakness of Iraq, which is the reason for Israel, does not constitute a valid reason for the United States; and so it was therefore necessary to present Iraq to the Americans as a mortal threat to their country. Netanyahu himself authored an article in the Wall Street Journal in September 2002, under the title “The Case for Toppling Saddam”, describing Saddam as “a dictator who is rapidly expanding his arsenal of biological and chemical weapons, who has used these weapons of mass destruction against his subjects and his neighbors, and who is feverishly trying to acquire nuclear weapons”. Nothing of such a threat, however, is mentioned in Israeli internal documents, which also make no mention of any further connection between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, nor even Al-Qaeda in general. The perspective on Iraq in Clean Break was the realistic one, while the motives given America were pure propaganda: by the time American troops moved into Iraq, the country had been ruined by a decade of economic sanctions that had not only rendered its army powerless, but also destroyed its once exemplary education and health care systems, taking the lives, according to UNICEF, of half a million children.
The second fundamental difference between the strategy recommended for Israelis and the propaganda sold to the Americans: while the second highlights both the security interest of the United States, and the noble ideal to spread democracy in the Middle East, the first ignores these two themes. The changes proposed by the Clean Break authors are not expected to bring any benefit to the Arab world. Instead, the goal is clearly to weaken Israel’s enemies by sharpening ethnic, religious and territorial disputes between countries and within each country. After the fall of Saddam, foreseen in Coping with Crumbling States, Iraq would be “ripped apart by the politics of warlords, tribes, clans, sects, and key families”, for the benefit of Israel. Furthermore, it is not democracy that Clean Break recommended for Iraq, but rather restoring a pro-Western monarchy. Such an outcome would obviously be unacceptable to the Americans, but when Lewis Paul Bremer, as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in 2003, brought about the destruction of the military and civilian infrastructure in the name of “de-Bathification”, it was viewed as a success from the eyes of the Likud. Better still, by dissolving the army, Bremer indirectly created a disorganized pool of resistance of some 400,000 angry soldiers, ensuring chaos for a few years. Daniel Pipes had the gall to write, three years after the invasion of Iraq: “the benefits of eliminating Saddam’s rule must not be forgotten in the distress of not creating a successful new Iraq. Fixing Iraq is neither the coalition’s responsibility nor its burden”. And besides, he adds, “when Sunni terrorists target Shiites and vice-versa, non-Muslims are less likely to be hurt. Civil war in Iraq, in short, would be a humanitarian tragedy but not a strategic one” (New York Sun, February 28, 2006). Under Bremer’s leadership, 9 billion dollars disappeared in fraud, corruption and embezzlement, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen, published January 30th, 2005.
In 2001, Lewis Paul Bremer was the chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism who appeared on NBC two hours after the “collapse” of the Twin Towers, to calmly explain that “Bin Laden […] has to be a prime suspect” and that “there are at least two States, Iran and Iraq, which should at least remain on the list as essential suspects”. When the reporter from NBC drew a predictable parallel between the attack and Pearl Harbor, Bremer confirmed: “It is the day that will change our lives. It is the day when the war that the terrorists declared on the US [...] has been brought home to the U.S.”
The difference between the neocons’ Israeli and American discourses finds its explanation in the Israeli document itself, which recommends Netanyahu present Israeli strategy “in language familiar to the Americans by tapping into themes of American administrations during the cold war which apply well to Israel”; the Netanyahu government should “promote Western values and traditions. Such an approach […] will be well received in the United States”. The references to moral values are thus nothing more than tactics to mobilize the United States. Finally, while the authors of the Israeli report stressed the importance of winning the sympathy and support of the United States, they also declare that their strategy will ultimately free Israel from American pressure and influence: “such self-reliance will grant Israel greater freedom of action and remove a significant lever of [United States] pressure used against it in the past”.
Passing off a threat against Israel as though it were a threat against the United States is a trick to which Netanyahu had no need to be converted; he has been employing it since the 1980s to rally Americans alongside Israel in the “international war on terrorism”, a concept which he can claim to have invented in his books International Terrorism: Challenge and Response (1982) and Terrorism: How the West can Win (1986). In their book An End to Evil (2003), Richard Perle and David Frum likewise work to embed the fears of Israelis into the minds of Americans; for example, they ardently urge Americans to “end this evil before it kills again and on a genocidal scale. There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust”. It is, however, impossible for anyone to be consistently hypocritical, and it happens eventually that neoconservatives recklessly open their thoughts to the public. This is what happened to Philip Zelikow, Counselor to Condoleezza Rice and Executive Director of the Commission on September 11, when, speaking about the Iraqi threat during a conference at the University of Virginia September 10, 2002, he let slip: “Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I’ll tell you what I think the real threat is and actually has been since 1990: it’s the threat against Israel. And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don’t care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn’t want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell”. That’s really it in a nutshell: the United States must be led to make war with the enemies of Israel, and in order to that, Americans must be convinced that Israel’s enemies are America’s enemies.
In addition, it is necessary that the Americans believe that these enemies hate their country for what it claims to represent (i.e. democracy, freedom, etc.), not because of its support for Israel. The signatories of the PNAC letter to President Bush on April 3rd, 2002 (including William Kristol, Richard Perle, Daniel Pipes, Norman Podhoretz, Robert Kagan, and James Woolsey) go as far as claiming that the Arab world hates Israel because it is a friend of the United States, rather than the reverse: “No one should doubt that the United States and Israel share a common enemy. We are both targets of what you have correctly called an “Axis of Evil.” Israel is targeted in part because it is our friend, and in part because it is an island of liberal, democratic principles — American principles — in a sea of tyranny, intolerance, and hatred”. It is a well-known fact that America had no enemies in the Middle East before its covenant with Israel in the late 60s. On September 21st, 2001, the New York Post published an editorial by Netanyahu propagating the same historical falsification: “Today we are all Americans. […] For the bin Laden’s of the world, Israel is merely a sideshow. America is the target”. Three days later The New Republic responded with a headline on behalf of the Americans: “We are all Israelis now”. The post-9/11 propaganda has created a relationship fused by emotion. Wrongly, Americans have understood September 11th as an expression of hatred towards them from the Arab world and have thus experienced immediate sympathy for Israel, an emotional link neoconservatives exploit without limit; Paul Wolfowitz declared April 11th, 2002: “Since September 11th, we Americans have one thing more in common with Israelis. On that day America was attacked by suicide bombers. At that moment every American understood what it was like to live in Jerusalem, or Netanya or Haifa. And since September 11th, Americans now know why we must fight and win the war on terrorism”.
Questioned on September 11 about the event of the day by James Bennet for the New York Times, Netanyahu let go: “It’s very good […] it will generate immediate sympathy. […], strengthen the bond between our two peoples”. He confirmed it 8 years later, at Bar-Ilan University: “We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq”, adding that these events “swung American public opinion in our favor”. (Ma’ariv, April 17, 2008).
One of the goals is to encourage Americans to view the oppression of the Palestinians as part of the fight against Islamic terrorism. As Robert Jensen said in the documentary Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land by Sut Jhally et Bathsheba Ratzkoff (2004): “Since the Sept 11th attack on the US, Israel’s PR strategy has been to frame all Palestinian action, violent or not, as terrorism. To the extent that they can do that, they’ve repackaged an illegal military occupation as part of America’s war on terror”. On December 4th, 2004, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon justified his brutality against the people of Gaza by claiming that Al-Qaeda had established a base there; but then on December 6th, the head of Palestinian Security Rashid Abu Shbak revealed in a press conference telephone banking traces proving that the secret services of Israel had themselves tried to create fake Al-Qaeda cells in the Gaza Strip, hoping to recruit Palestinians under the name of bin Laden. The recruits had received money and (defective) weapons and, after five months of indoctrination, were instructed to claim a future attack in Israel on behalf of “the Al-Qaeda group of Gaza”. Israeli services had intended, it seems, to mount an attack (whether real or false) against their own people and do so under the name of Al-Qaeda, in order to justify retaliation against Palestine.
In April 2003, a report titled Israeli Communications Priorities 2003, commissioned to the communications agency Luntz Research Companies & The Israel Project, by the Wexler Foundation, a Zionist organization specializing in cultural exchanges, offers linguistic recommendations to “to integrate and leverage history and communications for the benefit of Israel” with the American public. The document recommends, for example, to speak frequently of “Saddam Hussein” which are “the two words that tie Israel to America”, and “two of the most hated words in the English language right now”. “For a year — a SOLID YEAR — you should be invoking the name of Saddam Hussein and how Israel was always behind American effort to rid the world of this ruthless dictator and liberate their people”. The report also repeatedly suggests that a parallel between Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat needs to be established. By an ultimate sophistication, Michael Ledeen disputes in his book The War Against the Terror Masters (2003) the common idea that peace in Palestine is the condition for peace in the Middle East; the opposite, he claims, is true: “If we destroy the terror masters in Baghdad, Damascus, Tehran, and Riyadh, we might have a chance of brokering a durable peace [in Palestine]”.
The road to World War IV
Iraq was first on the list. Since the first Gulf war, neocons have been demonizing Saddam Hussein’s regime. David Wurmser, for example, published in 1999, after other islamophobic books, Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein. In 2000, the American Enterprise Institute published Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America, whose author, Laurie Mylroie, expresses her debt to Scooter Libby, David Wurmser, John Bolton, Michael Ledeen, and above all Paul Wolfowitz and his wife Clare Wolfowitz, also member of AEI. Mylroie goes as far as accusing Saddam Hussein of being the mastermind of anti-American terrorism, blaming him (without proofs) for the 1993 bombing of the WTC, for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and for the attack against the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. What threatens the United States, according to her, is “an undercover war of terrorism, waged by Saddam Hussein,” itself “a phase in a conflict that began in August 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, and that has not ended”. Richard Perle described this book as “splendid and wholly convincing”.
Neoconservatives lost no time in exploiting against Iraq the trauma of 9/11 after creating it. As soon as September 19th , Richard Perle invited to join in a Defense Policy Board meeting neocons Paul Wolfowitz and Bernard Lewis (inventor before Huntington of the self-fulfilling prophecy of the “Clash of Civilizations”), but neither Colin Powell nor Condoleezza Rice. The assembly agreed to overthrow Saddam Hussein as soon as the initial phase of the Afghanistan war is over. In a letter to President Bush written under the letterhead of PNAC, they reminded President Bush of his historical mission: “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism”. The argument of a link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda is here toned down and, in the summer of 2002, Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will simply evoke “broad linkages”. Perle, however, kept claiming, against all evidence, that supposed 9/11 terrorist Mohamed Atta had met with Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir in Prague in 1999. On September 8th, 2002 in Milan, Perle even made up a scoop for the Italian newspaper Il Sole : “Mohammed Atta met Saddam Hussein in Baghdad prior to September 11. We have proof of that”.
Rumors of a link between Saddam and Al Qaeda were finally traded for a more elaborate casus belli : Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. To force this new lie onto the American State Department and public opinion, Cheney et Rumsfeld renewed their winning strategy of Team B, consisting in overtaking the CIA through a parallel team of pseudo-experts, to produce the terrifying report they needed: this will be the Office of Special Plans (OSP), established within the Near East and South Asia (NESA) [Center for Strategic Studies] of the Pentagon, under the control of neocons William Luti, Abram Shulsky, Douglas Feith, and Paul Wolfowitz. Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who worked for NESA at that time, testified in 2004 of the incompetence of OSP members, whom she saw “usurp measured and carefully considered assessments, and through suppression and distortion of intelligence analysis promulgate what were in fact falsehoods to both Congress and the executive office of the president. [...] This was creatively produced propaganda”.
On February 5th, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell engages his reputation in convincing the General Assembly of the United Nations that Saddam Hussein’s WMDs pose a threat to the world. He will later regret his speech, calling it “a blot on my record”, and claiming to have been deceived himself.
Just as some neoconservatives see the failure of U.S. forces in Iraq as a pretext to threaten Iran, others find the failure to recover Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction” a pretext to accuse Syria. In 2003, they passed on the ridiculous allegations of Ariel Sharon, who said that Iraq had secretly transferred their WMDs to Syria, along with their nuclear scientists. On November 11th, 2003, Congress passed the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, imposing economic sanctions intended “to halt Syrian support for terrorism, end its occupation of Lebanon, [and] stop its development of weapons of mass destruction”. The aggression against Syria didn’t begin until 2011, under the guise of a civil war, but it had been premeditated since at least February 2000, when David Wurmser, in an article for the American Enterprise Institute entitled “Let’s Defeat Syria, Not Appease It” was calling for a conflict through which “Syria will slowly bleed to death”.
Since September 2001, Iran has also been placed in the cross-hairs of the neoconservatives. They seem to echo the sentiments of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who, in the London Times on November 2nd, 2002 called Iran the “center of world terror” and called for threats against Iran “the day after the U.S. invades Iraq”. The failure of U.S. troops to silence the resistance in Iraq forced the postponement of the attack on Iran. But Daniel Pipes took the bad news in good spirits, cheerfully stating in the New York Sun (February 28th, 2006) that the Iraqi civil war will invite “Syrian and Iranian participation, hastening the possibility of an American confrontation with those two states”. In spring 2008, President Bush publicly took up this new neoconservative chorus: “The regime of Teheran has a choice to make. […] If Iran makes the wrong choice, America will act to protect our interests and our troops and our Iraqi partners”. We should remember that in May 2003, through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, the Iranian government sent to Washington a proposal known as the “Grand Bargain”, which, in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions against Iran, promised cooperation with the United States to stabilize Iraq and to establish there a secular democracy, and was prepared to make further concessions, including peace with Israel. Bush and Cheney, however, prevented Powell from responding positively to the gesture. And therefore, summarized his Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson: “the secret cabal got what it wanted: no negotiations with Tehran”.
In parallel to this kind of diplomatic obstinacy, false pretenses of war have been regularly created. We know from Gwenyth Todd, advisor on the Middle East linked to the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet stationed in the Persian Gulf, that after being barely appointed commander of the fleet in 2007, Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff ordered his aircraft carriers and other ships into aggressive maneuvers in order to strike panic into the Iranians, hoping for a shot fired that would allow them to engage in war for which the pro-Israel lobby was eagerly waiting. Cosgriff wanted to “put a virtual armada, unannounced, on Iran’s doorstep”, without even informing Washington, according to the Washington Post, August 21st, 2012. On January 6th, 2008, the Pentagon announced that Iranian boats fired on American ships USS Hooper and USS Port Royal on patrol in the Strait of Hormuz, while broadcasting threatening messages such as: “I am coming to you”, and “you will explode after two minutes”. The television showed one of the Iranian boats dumping small white objects into the water, presenting the situation as one of hostility, as though the white objects were mines. Referring to this exceptionally “provocative and dramatic” incident, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen expressed concern about “the threat posed by Iran”, including “the threat of mining those straits”, and affirmed his willingness to use “deadly force” if necessary. In reality, the situation presented by the media and Mullen was completely untrue. The Iranian boats that patrolled the area and often passed American ships on a daily basis, had issued no threat whatsoever. Vice Admiral Cosgriff admitted that American crews had, in fact, noted that there was nothing to worry about, since the Iranian boats carried “neither anti-ship missiles nor torpedoes”. Nor did the threatening radio messages come from these vessels: “We don’t know for sure where they came from”, admitted the spokesman for the Fifth Fleet Lydia Robertson.
The 2009 Iranian elections and the ensuing protests in Tehran presented an occasion for a new tactic of psychological warfare, this time using Internet-based social networks and relayed by the American media. Within a few days, the death of a young woman that took place during the protests was appropriated as a horrifying symbol of the kind of oppression taking place in the Islamic regime. Neda Agha-Soltan was killed June 20th, 2009 by a sniper from the paramilitary, while exiting her car with her music teacher. A video of her agony and death, filmed live by mobile phone, was transmitted instantly around the world on Facebook and YouTube. Several rallies were held around the world in her honor. There was talk of her being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Her fiancé, a photographer named Caspian Makan, meets Shimon Peres in Israel and says: “I come to Israel as an ambassador of the Iranian people, a messenger of peace”, adding, “I have no doubt that the spirit and soul of Neda was with us during the presidential meeting”. Unfortunately, there emerge blatant inconsistencies: 1. There are actually three videos of Neda’s agaonizing death, which resemble several “takes” of the same scene. 2. A BBC interview with the doctor who attended her death is full of contradictions. 3. The autopsy concluded that Neda was killed at point blank range. 4. Finally, the face that became a global icon is actually that of another young girl, Neda Soltani. Many surmised that Neda Agha-Soltan, an apprentice actress, agreed to act her own death in exchange for a promising career abroad, but was shot for real immediately after.
Finally, Iran is indicted, since the beginning of the first Bush presidency, for its civilian nuclear research program, claims being made that it is only a front for secret military operations. The 2005 publication of a first National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report was the subject of intense media attention regarding Iran and its supposed interests; though its revision in 2007 should have calmed what were alarming implications from the 2005 version, it was largely ignored, as was the fact that religious leaders of Iran, begun by Ayatollah Khomeini, had issued several fatwa banning nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, nothing is mentioned regarding the illegal Israeli program that operates still unacknowledged, one that has allowed Israel to stockpile an estimated 200 atomic bombs to date.
Among the countries targeted by the neocons after 9/11, we must not forget to mention the two best allies of the U.S. in the Middle East, which is proof that the neocons do not have U.S. interests at heart. The plan to accuse and threaten Saudi Arabia was clearly built in the 9/11 false flag scenario, as is evidenced by the fact that Osama bin Laden and 15 out his 19 highjakers were Saudis. David Wurmser first opened fire in the Weekly Standard with an article titled “The Saudi Connection”, pretending that the Saudi royal family was behind the attack. The Hudson Institute had long been preparing the ground by violently denouncing all the sins (real and imaginary) of the Saudi dynasty, under the lead of its co-founder Max Singer (today director of research at the Institute for Zionist Strategies in Jerusalem). In June 2002, the Institute sponsored a seminar called “Discourses on Democracy: Saudi Arabia, Friend or Foe?”, where all answers pointed to foe as the right answer. A special event honored the publication of the book Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism, by the Israeli Dore Gold, once an advisor to Netanyahu and Sharon and an ambassador to the United Nations. On July 10th, 2002, neocon Laurent Murawiec, of the Hudson Institute and Committee on the Present Danger, was invited to speak before Richard Perle’s Defense Policy Board to explain that Saudi Arabia represented “the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent”, and to recommend that the U.S. army invade it, occupy it and dismember it. He summarized his “Grand Strategy for the Middle East” by these words: “Iraq is the tactical pivot. Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot. Egypt the prize”.
The neocons provided, in fact, the original inspiration of the soft challenge to the 9/11 official story, which admits the responsibility of Al Qaeda but points to links between the Bushes, the Saudis, and the bin Ladens. In their 2003 book, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, Richard Perle and and David Frum (Bush’s speech-writer) write that “The Saudis qualify for their own membership in the axis of evil”, and ask President Bush to “tell the truth about Saudi Arabia”, meaning that Saudi princes finance Al Qaeda. To understand the absurdity of such a claim, let us recall that Osama, who called the Saudi princes traitors to Islam for tolerating U.S. military bases since the Gulf war, was stripped of his Saudi nationality in 1994 and banned from the bin Laden clan. In a Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places, published in 1996, bin Laden called for the overthrow of the Saudi dynasty and, in 1998, he admitted his role in the 1995 bombing of the National Guard headquarters in Riyad. Osama is the sworn enemy of the Saudis. It is unthinkable that the Saudis would have conspired with Osama bin Laden. [...]
Bin Laden is a multi-use patsy. Blaming him for 9/11 made it possible to threaten and blackmail Saudi Arabia, but also Pakistan, another U.S. ally. For if the Taliban are behind bin Laden, Pakistan is behind the Taliban. No official accusation was made against Pakistan, but General Ahmed Mahmud, director of ISI (Pakistan’s CIA) was implicated by information leaked from India (an ally to Israel, against their common enemy Pakistan), by the The Times of India on October 9th, 2001: “US authorities sought his removal after confirming the fact that $100,000 were wired to WTC hijacker Mohamed Atta from Pakistan by [ISI agent] Ahmed Omar Saïd Sheikh at the insistance of General Mahmud”. Since Mohamed Atta is nothing but a patsy in this whole affair, the information can only be interpreted as a way to blackmail the ISI and Pakistan into supporting the official 9/11 story and collaborating with the U.S. to destroy the Taliban. If the ISI did pay Atta for some reason, then Atta’s name was picked as ringleader of the terrorists precisely for that reason, as a lever against Pakistan. Mahmud, who had travelled often to Washington since 1999, was there precisely between September 4 and 11, 2001. He allegedly met George Tenet, Director of the CIA, Marc Grossman, Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and perhaps Condoleezza Rice (who denies). At the moment of the attacks, he was at a breakfast meeting including Bob Graham, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Porter Goss, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee; “We were talking about terrorism, specifically terrorism generated from Afghanistan”, said Graham, who with Goss will be appointed to the 9/11 Commission.
The fake assassination of bin Laden (or assassination of fake bin Laden) in May 2011 in Pakistan is another proof that the 9/11 master plotters intended to keep maximum pressure on Pakistan. It allowed accusing Pakistan, after Afghanistan, of having welcomed and protected bin Laden for 10 years, which constitutes in the eyes of Americans real treason and a cause for war. Several books are written in this vein, such as Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of Global Jihad by ex-CIA Bruce Riedel. According to Riedel, bin Laden’s quiet life in a suburb of Abbotabad suggest “an astonishing degree of duplicity” on the part of Pakistan, who might well be “the secret patron of global jihad on a scale almost too dangerous to conceive. We would need to rethink our entire relationship with Pakistan and our understanding of its strategic motives”.
All these wars and threats of wars under false pretexts in the wake of 9/11 betray a desire to inflame conflicts in the Middle East rather than to control resources, let alone encourage stability. Michael Ledeen himself declares in his article “The War on Terror will not end in Baghdad” in the Wall Street Journal, on September 4th, 2002: “We do not want stability in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and even Saudi Arabia: we want things to change. The real issue is not whether, but how to destabilize”.
What could be the motivation for these incessant accusations and two-faced policies? It’s not simply a mindless killing spree, and is rather a project designed by a group of exceptionally intelligent men, under a particular rationality with precise and realistic goals — but to what purpose? Osama bin Laden replied to this question in an article published by the London Arabic newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi on February 23rd, 1998 (partially translated by Bernard Lewis in Foreign Affairs, November-December 1998). Referring to “the Crusader-Jewish alliance”, bin Laden speaks of “their attempts to dismember all the states of the region, such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Sudan, into petty states, whose division and weakness would ensure the survival of Israel”. Indeed, it appears that a Zionist cabal is interested in a new kind of world war, one that would weaken and fragment all the enemies of Israel for decades to come, putting it in a position to surpass even the United States, who would be ruined by their ruthless military spending (just like the USSR in the 80s) and hated across the globe. Little, it would seem, stands in the way of the final phase of the Zionist plan: a thorough ethnic cleansing and the annexation of the whole of Palestine. Not without some irony, the neoconservative Stephen Schwartz, author of The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Saud, from Tradition to Terror (2003), attributed to Saudi Arabia a plan that would spread terror throughout the world (while recognizing Saudi Arabia “incapable of defending its own territory”) and blamed Islam for the emergence of a World War whose bloody unfolding will mean: “The war against terrorist Wahhabism is therefore a war to the death, as the second world war was a war to the death against fascism”.
In an article in the Wall Street Journal dated November 20th, 2001, the neoconservative Eliot Cohen speaks about the war against terrorism as “World War IV”, a framing soon echoed by other neoconservatives. In September 2004, at a conference in Washington attended by neoconservatives Norman Podhoretz and Paul Wolfowitz entitled “World War IV: Why We Fight, Whom We Fight, How We Fight”, Cohen said: “The enemy in this war is not ‘terrorism’ […] but militant Islam”. Like the Cold War (considered to be a third world war), this Fourth World War, as seen prophetically by Cohen, has ideological roots, will have global implications and will last a long time, involving a whole range of conflicts. The rhetorical device of this “fourth” global conflict has also been popularized by Norman Podhoretz, in “How to Win World War IV” published in Commentary in February 2002, followed by a second article in September 2004, “World War IV: How It Started , What It Means, and Why We Have to Win”, and finally in 2007 in a book called “World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism”.
The Bible and the Empire
Clearly, the strategists of Likud and their neoconservative allies intend to forge their legacy as those who waged and won the global annihilation of the Islamic civilization. How does one account for such hubris? One explanation lies in the very nature of the State of Israel and the leadership role held by its military since day one, not unlike the American National Security State. David Ben Gurion, who combined the functions of Prime Minister and Defense Minister, saw the whole fate of Israel integrally intertwined with its failure or success in the defeat of an Arab enemy: “Why should the Arabs make peace? If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: […] we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that? They may perhaps forget in one or two generations’ time, but for the moment there is no chance. So, it’s simple: we have to stay strong and maintain a powerful army. Our whole policy is there. Otherwise the Arabs will wipe us out” (Nahum Goldmann, The Jewish Paradox: A Personal Memoir, 1978). Thus, circumstances decree that Israel is and will be a security state.
It is, of course, also a colonizing state. Even when Levi Eshkol replaced Ben Gurion in 1963 as Prime Minister, his government could not oppose the military’s will of annexing new territories, as Ariel Sharon revealed to journalist Ze’ev Schiff shortly after the Six Days War: “We could have locked the ministers in the room and gone off with the key. We would have taken the appropriate decisions and no one would have known that the events taking place were the result of decisions by major generals” (Ha’aretz, June 1st, 2007).
Sharon is the man who, in the eyes of Israel and the world, most aptly embodies the spirit of the Israeli military and its security apparatus. He commanded Unit 101, which, on October 14th, 1953 razed the village of Qibya, Jordan, with dynamite, killing 69 civilians in their homes. In 1956, during the Suez Canal crisis, a unit under his command executed more than 200 Egyptian prisoners and Sudanese civilians. In 1971, charged with putting an end to ongoing resistance in the Gaza Strip, his troops killed more than 100 Palestinian civilians. And in September 1982, acting as the Minister of Defense, he launched the invasion of Lebanon, where, after his [overseeing the] slaughter of refugees in two Palestinian camps in West Beirut he was given the nickname, “the butcher of Sabra and Chatila”. The Prime Minister at that time was Menachem Begin, once the leader of the Irgun terrorist militia, who coordinated both the attack on the King David Hotel in 1946, and the Deir Yassin massacre in 1948.
Begin, Sharon and Netanyahu’s Likud have never stopped campaigning for a Greater Israel and against a proposed Palestinian state. While Foreign Minister to Netanyahu from 1996 to 1999, Sharon described the Oslo Accords as “national suicide” and rather advocated the “biblical borders”, thereby encouraging illegal settlements: “Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours” he said on November 15th, 1998. When he came to power in February 2001, with Netanyahu in turn becoming Foreign Minister, Sharon deliberately sabotaged the peace process and set off the second intifada through a series of calculated provocations. When on March 28th, 2001, 22 nations gathered in Beirut under the auspices of the Arab League and agreed to recognize Israel if it only complied with Resolution 242, the next day, the Israeli army invaded and besieged Yasser Arafat in his headquarters in Ramallah. Six months later, September 11th brought the fatal blow to any hope of peace.
The Likud and its political allies among religious extremists are not merely opposed to the secession of Palestine; they are driven by an almost imperial vision of Israel’s destiny. In December 1981, Ariel Sharon expressed in a speech for the Institute for Strategic Affairs at Tel Aviv University: “Beyond the Arab countries in the Middle East and on the shores of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, we must expand the field of Israel’s strategic and security concerns in the eighties to include countries like Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and areas like the Persian Gulf and Africa, and in particular the countries of North and Central Africa” (as translated from Hebrew in the Journal of Palestine Studies). This speech will be canceled at the last minute because of the controversy over the annexation of the Syrian territories at Golan Heights, but it will be published shortly after the in daily Ma’ariv. This “Sharon doctrine” is found in a number of Hebrew texts, translated and published by the dissident Israel Shahak in Open Secrets: Israeli Nuclear and Foreign Policies (1997). In an essay entitled “A Strategy for Israel in the Eighties” written for the World Zionist Organization in February 1982, Oded Yinon, a former senior official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, put forward a strategy to exert control over the Middle East through the fragmentation of Israel’s neighbors, beginning with Lebanon: “The total disintegration of Lebanon into five regional localized governments is the precedent for the entire Arab world including Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and the Arab peninsula, in a similar fashion. The dissolution of Egypt and later Iraq into districts of ethnic and religious minorities following the example of Lebanon is the main long-range objective of Israel on the Eastern Front. The present military weakening of these states is the short-term objective. Syria will disintegrate into several states along the lines of its ethnic and sectarian structure, as is happening in Lebanon today.”
The ideology behind Likud’s strategy and its neoconservative allies is an intransigent version of Zionism. Zionism, as its name suggests (Zion is the name given to Jerusalem 152 times in the Hebrew Bible), is before anything else a biblical dream, shaped by the biblically defined borders of Eretz Israel. “The Bible is our mandate”, proclaimed Chaim Weisman, the future first President of Israel, at the Versailles Conference in 1919. In Germany in the late 19th century, the biblical notion of a “chosen people” was translated by the founding fathers of Zionism into a racial ideology, correlative and in competition with the fantastical dream of a superior pan-Germanic Aryan race. Zionism, like Nazism, opposed the assimilationist trend of the majority of German Jews. Zeev Jabotinsky wrote in 1923, two years before Hitler’s Mein Kampf: “A Jew raised in the midst of Germans can certainly adopt German customs and speak the German language. He can become totally immersed in this German milieu, but he will always be a Jew, because his blood, his body and his racial type, his entire organic system, is Jewish”. We now know that these kinds of claims are categorically unscientific: Israeli settlers from Eastern Europe can not claim any biological descent from among the ancient Hebrews in Judea or Samaria, unlike the Palestinians they’ve evicted from their ancestral lands, and perhaps the Sephardic Jews from North Africa, once called “human garbage” by the Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and submitted to eugenic policies in the 1950s (Haim Malka, Selection and Discrimination in the Aliya and Absorption of Moroccan and North African Jewry, 1948-1956, 1998).
The Zionism of Zev Jabotinsky is as important a key as the Machiavellianism of Leo Strauss in decrypting the mentality of the men who, in Israel and in the United States, are trying to reshape the Middle East. It is, at least, a key to understand the ultimate goals of Benjamin Netanyahu, whose father, Ben Zion Netanyahu (born Mileikowsky in Warsaw), was the personal secretary of Jabotinsky. March 31st, 2009, Netanyahu appointed Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, from the Yisrael Beiteinu party that presents itself as “a national movement with the clear vision to follow in the brave path of Zev Jabotinsky”. Lieberman is intent upon, “fighting Hamas just as the United States fought the Japanese during the Second World War”.
Zionism has outlived Nazism because, after the war, it was able to shamelessly capitalize on the terrible persecution of Jews in Europe and usurp the representation of the Jewish community. To do that, it had to force the forgetting of its active involvement with the Nazi regime in the 30s, which then saw the immigration of Jews to Palestine as the “solution to the Jewish problem” (see Lenni Brenner’s 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis, 2009). The pervasive legitimacy of Zionism has also relied heavily upon its biblical roots. Despite being agnostic, David Ben Gurion (born Grün), was indoctrinated by the biblical story, to the point of adopting the name of a Judean general who fought the Romans; “There can be no worthwhile political or military education about Israel without profound knowledge of the Bible”, he is quoted stating (Dan Kurzman, Ben-Gurion, Prophet of fire, 1984). While envisioning an attack against Egypt in 1948, he wrote in his diary: “This will be our revenge for what they did to our ancestors in Biblical times” (Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, 2008). The planned ethnic cleansing by Ben Gurion in 1947-48, which forced the fleeing of 750,000 Palestinians (more than half of the native population), was deeply reminiscent of that which was ordained by Yahweh against the Canaanites: “dispossess them of their towns and houses” (Deuteronomy 19:1), and, in the towns that resist, do “not leave alive anything that breathes” (Deuteronomy 20:16-17).
This dream instilled by the biblical God to His chosen people is not only racist, it is also militarist and imperialist. These verses from the second chapter of Isaiah (reproduced in Micah 4:1-3) are often held up to show the pacifist trend of the biblical prophecy: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4); but taken in context, we see that this Pax Judaica will come only when “all the nations shall flow” to the Jerusalem temple, from where “shall go forth the law” (Isaiah 2:1-3). This vision of a new world order with Jerusalem at its center resonates within the Likudnik and neoconservative circles. At the Jerusalem Summit, held from October 12th to 14th, 2003 in the symbolically significant King David Hotel, an alliance was forged between Zionist Jews and Evangelical Christians around a “theopolitical” project, one that would consider Israel, according to the “Jerusalem Declaration” published on the official website of the Summit, “the key to the harmony of civilizations”, replacing the United Nations that’s become a “a tribalized confederation hijacked by Third World dictatorships”: “Jerusalem’s spiritual and historical importance endows it with a special authority to become a center of world’s unity. [...] We believe that one of the objectives of Israel’s divinely-inspired rebirth is to make it the center of the new unity of the nations, which will lead to an era of peace and prosperity, foretold by the Prophets”. Three acting Israeli ministers spoke at the summit, including Benjamin Netanyahu, and Richard Perle, the guest of honor, received on this occasion the Henry Scoop Jackson Prize.
Jerusalem’s dream empire is expected to come through the nightmare of world war. The prophet Zechariah, often cited on Zionist forums, predicted that the Lord will fight “all nations” allied against Israel. In a single day, the whole earth will become a desert, with the exception of Jerusalem, who “shall remain aloft upon its site” (14:10). Zechariah seems to envision what God could do with nuclear weapons: “And this shall be the plague with which the Lord will smite all the peoples that waged war against Jerusalem: their flesh shall rot while they are still on their feet, their eyes shall rot in their sockets, and their tongues shall rot in their mouths” (14:12). It is only after the carnage that the world will finally find peace, providing their worship of “the Lord Almighty”: “Then every one that survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain upon them…” (14:16-17)
Is it possible that this biblical dream, mixed with the neo-Machiavellianism of Leo Strauss and the militarism of Likud, is what is quietly animating an exceptionally determined and organized ultra-Zionist clan? General Wesley Clark testified on numerous occasions before the cameras, that one month after September 11th, 2001 a general from the Pentagon showed him a memo from neoconservative strategists “that describes how we’re gonna take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Sudan and finishing off with Iran”. Is it just a coincidence that the “seven nations” doomed to be destroyed by Israel form part of the biblical myths instilled in Israeli schoolchildren? According to Deuteronomy, when Yahweh will deliver Israel “seven nations greater and mightier than yourself […] you must utterly destroy them; you shall make no covenant with them, and show no mercy to them. You shall not make marriages with them…” (7:1-2). “And he will give their kings into your hand, and you shall make their name perish from under heaven” (7:24).
Laurent Guyénot – Engineer (National School of Advanced Technology, 1982) and medievalist (PhD in Medieval Studies at Paris IV-Sorbonne, 2009). He has authored numerous books on the subject. He has dedicated the past three years to studying the behind-the-scenes history of the United States, where he lived for five years.
No, Israel Does Not Have the Right to Self-Defense In International Law Against Occupied Palestinian Territory
In view of Israel’s assertions that it’s current attacks on the Gaza Strip are an exercise in legitimate self-defense, Jadaliyya re-posts an analysis of this claim by Co-Editor Noura Erakat initially published in 2012.
On the fourth day of Israel’s most recent onslaught against Gaza’s Palestinian population, President Barack Obama declared, “No country on Earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” In an echo of Israeli officials, he sought to frame Israel’s aerial missile strikes against the 360-square kilometer Strip as the just use of armed force against a foreign country. Israel’s ability to frame its assault against territory it occupies as a right of self-defense turns international law on its head.
A state cannot simultaneously exercise control over territory it occupies and militarily attack that territory on the claim that it is “foreign” and poses an exogenous national security threat. In doing precisely that, Israel is asserting rights that may be consistent with colonial domination but simply do not exist under international law.
Admittedly, the enforceability of international law largely depends on voluntary state consent and compliance. Absent the political will to make state behavior comport with the law, violations are the norm rather than the exception. Nevertheless, examining what international law says with regard to an occupant’s right to use force is worthwhile in light of Israel’s deliberate attempts since 1967 to reinterpret and transform the laws applicable to occupied territory. These efforts have expanded significantly since the eruption of the Palestinian uprising in 2000, and if successful, Israel’s reinterpretation would cast the law as an instrument that protects colonial authority at the expense of the rights of civilian non-combatants.
Israel Has A Duty To Protect Palestinians Living Under Occupation
Military occupation is a recognized status under international law and since 1967, the international community has designated the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as militarily occupied. As long as the occupation continues, Israel has the right to protect itself and its citizens from attacks by Palestinians who reside in the occupied territories. However, Israel also has a duty to maintain law and order, also known as “normal life,” within territory it occupies. This obligation includes not only ensuring but prioritizing the security and well-being of the occupied population. That responsibility and those duties are enumerated in Occupation Law.
Occupation law is part of the laws of armed conflict; it contemplates military occupation as an outcome of war and enumerates the duties of an occupying power until the peace is restored and the occupation ends. To fulfill its duties, the occupying power is afforded the right to use police powers, or the force permissible for law enforcement purposes. As put by the U.S. Military Tribunal during the Hostages Trial (The United States of America vs. Wilhelm List, et al.)
International Law places the responsibility upon the commanding general of preserving order, punishing crime, and protecting lives and property within the occupied territory. His power in accomplishing these ends is as great as his responsibility.
The extent and breadth of force constitutes the distinction between the right to self-defense and the right to police. Police authority is restricted to the least amount of force necessary to restore order and subdue violence. In such a context, the use of lethal force is legitimate only as a measure of last resort. Even where military force is considered necessary to maintain law and order, such force is circumscribed by concern for the civilian non-combatant population. The law of self-defense, invoked by states against other states, however, affords a broader spectrum of military force. Both are legitimate pursuant to the law of armed conflict and therefore distinguished from the peacetime legal regime regulated by human rights law.
When It Is Just To Begin To Fight
The laws of armed conflict are found primarily in the Hague Regulations of 1907, the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949, and their Additional Protocols I and II of 1977. This body of law is based on a crude balance between humanitarian concerns on the one hand and military advantage and necessity on the other. The post-World War II Nuremberg trials defined military exigency as permission to expend “any amount and kind of force to compel the complete submission of the enemy…” so long as the destruction of life and property is not done for revenge or a lust to kill. Thus, the permissible use of force during war, while expansive, is not unlimited.
In international law, self-defense is the legal justification for a state to initiate the use of armed force and to declare war. This is referred to as jus ad bellum—meaning “when it is just to begin to fight.” The right to fight in self-defense is distinguished from jus in bello, the principles and laws regulating the means and methods of warfare itself. Jus ad bellum aims to limit the initiation of the use of armed force in accordance with United Nations Charter Article 2(4); its sole justification, found in Article 51, is in response to an armed attack (or an imminent threat of one in accordance with customary law on the matter). The only other lawful way to begin a war, according to Article 51, is with Security Council sanction, an option reserved—in principle, at least—for the defense or restoration of international peace and security.
Once armed conflict is initiated, and irrespective of the reason or legitimacy of such conflict, the jus in bello legal framework is triggered. Therefore, where an occupation already is in place, the right to initiate militarized force in response to an armed attack, as opposed to police force to restore order, is not a remedy available to the occupying state. The beginning of a military occupation marks the triumph of one belligerent over another. In the case of Israel, its occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai in 1967 marked a military victory against Arab belligerents.
Occupation Law prohibits an occupying power from initiating armed force against its occupied territory. By mere virtue of the existence of military occupation, an armed attack, including one consistent with the UN Charter, has already occurred and been concluded. Therefore the right of self-defense in international law is, by definition since 1967, not available to Israel with respect to its dealings with real or perceived threats emanating from the West Bank and Gaza Strip population. To achieve its security goals, Israel can resort to no more than the police powers, or the exceptional use of militarized force, vested in it by IHL. This is not to say that Israel cannot defend itself—but those defensive measures can neither take the form of warfare nor be justified as self-defense in international law. As explained by Ian Scobbie:
To equate the two is simply to confuse the legal with the linguistic denotation of the term ”defense.“ Just as ”negligence,“ in law, does not mean ”carelessness” but, rather, refers to an elaborate doctrinal structure, so ”self-defense” refers to a complex doctrine that has a much more restricted scope than ordinary notions of ”defense.“
To argue that Israel is employing legitimate “self-defense” when it militarily attacks Gaza affords the occupying power the right to use both police and military force in occupied territory. An occupying power cannot justify military force as self-defense in territory for which it is responsible as the occupant. The problem is that Israel has never regulated its own behavior in the West Bank and Gaza as in accordance with Occupation Law.
Israel’s Attempts To Change International Law
Since the beginning of its occupation in 1967, Israel has rebuffed the applicability of international humanitarian law to the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). Despite imposing military rule over the West Bank and Gaza, Israel denied the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (the cornerstone of Occupation Law). Israel argued because the territories neither constituted a sovereign state nor were sovereign territories of the displaced states at the time of conquest, that it simply administered the territories and did not occupy them within the meaning of international law. The UN Security Council, the International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly, as well as the Israeli High Court of Justice have roundly rejected the Israeli government’s position. Significantly, the HCJ recognizes the entirety of the Hague Regulations and provisions of the 1949 Geneva Conventions that pertain to military occupation as customary international law.
Israel’s refusal to recognize the occupied status of the territory, bolstered by the US’ resilient and intransigent opposition to international accountability within the UN Security Council, has resulted in the condition that exists today: prolonged military occupation. Whereas the remedy to occupation is its cessation, such recourse will not suffice to remedy prolonged military occupation. By virtue of its decades of military rule, Israel has characterized all Palestinians as a security threat and Jewish nationals as their potential victims, thereby justifying the differential, and violent, treatment of Palestinians. In its 2012 session, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination described current conditions following decades of occupation and attendant repression as tantamount to Apartheid.
In complete disregard for international law, and its institutional findings, Israel continues to treat the Occupied Territory as colonial possessions. Since the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000, Israel has advanced the notion that it is engaged in an international armed conflict short of war in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Accordingly, it argues that it can 1) invoke self-defense, pursuant to Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, and 2) use force beyond that permissible during law enforcement, even where an occupation exists.
The Gaza Strip Is Not the World Trade Center
To justify its use of force in the OPT as consistent with the right of self-defense, Israel has cited UN Security Council Resolution 1368 (2001)and UN Security Council Resolution 1373 (2001). These two resolutions were passed in direct response to the Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001. They affirm that those terrorist acts amount to threats to international peace and security and therefore trigger Article 51 of the UN Charter permitting the use of force in self-defense. Israel has therefore deliberately characterized all acts of Palestinian violence – including those directed exclusively at legitimate military targets – as terrorist acts. Secondly it frames those acts as amounting to armed attacks that trigger the right of self-defense under Article 51 irrespective of the West Bank and Gaza’s status as Occupied Territory.
The Israeli Government stated its position clearly in the 2006 HCJ case challenging the legality of the policy of targeted killing (Public Committee against Torture in Israel et al v. Government of Israel). The State argued that, notwithstanding existing legal debate, “there can be no doubt that the assault of terrorism against Israel fits the definition of an armed attack,” effectively permitting Israel to use military force against those entities. Therefore, Israeli officials claim that the laws of war can apply to “both occupied territory and to territory which is not occupied, as long as armed conflict is taking place on it” and that the permissible use of force is not limited to law enforcement operations. The HCJ has affirmed this argument in at least three of its decisions: Public Committee Against Torture in Israel et al v. Government of Israel, Hamdan v. Southern Military Commander, and Physicians for Human Rights v. The IDF Commander in Gaza. These rulings sanction the government’s position that it is engaged in an international armed conflict and, therefore, that its use of force is not restricted by the laws of occupation. The Israeli judiciary effectively authorizes the State to use police force to control the lives of Palestinians (e.g., through ongoing arrests, prosecutions, checkpoints) and military force to pummel their resistance to occupation.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) dealt with these questions in its assessment of the permissible use of force in the Occupied West Bank in its 2004 Advisory Opinion, Legal Consequences on the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The ICJ reasoned that Article 51 contemplates an armed attack by one state against another state and “Israel does not claim that the attacks against it are imputable to a foreign state.” Moreover, the ICJ held that because the threat to Israel “originates within, and not outside” the Occupied West Bank,
the situation is thus different from that contemplated by Security Council resolutions 1368 (2001) and 1373 (2001), and therefore Israel could not in any event invoke those resolutions in support of its claim to be exercising a right of self-defense. Consequently, the Court concludes that Article 51 of the Charter has no relevance in this case.
Despite the ICJ’s decision, Israel continues to insist that it is exercising its legal right to self-defense in its execution of military operations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Since 2005, Israel slightly changed its position towards the Gaza Strip. The government insists that as a result of its unilateral disengagement in 2005, its occupation has come to an end. In 2007, the government declared the Gaza Strip a “hostile entity” and waged war upon the territory over which it continues to exercise effective control as an Occupying Power. Lisa Hajjar expounds on these issues here.
In effect, Israel is distorting/reinterpreting international law to justify its use of militarized force in order to protect its colonial authority. Although it rebuffs the de jure application of Occupation Law, Israel exercises effective control over the West Bank and Gaza and therefore has recourse to police powers. It uses those police powers to continue its colonial expansion and apartheid rule and then in defiance of international law cites its right to self-defense in international law to wage war against the population, which it has a duty to protect. The invocation of law to protect its colonial presence makes the Palestinian civilian population doubly vulnerable. Specifically in the case of Gaza,
It forces the people of the Gaza Strip to face one of the most powerful militaries in the world without the benefit either of its own military, or of any realistic means to acquire the means to defend itself.
More broadly, Israel is slowly pushing the boundaries of existing law in an explicit attempt to reshape it. This is an affront to the international humanitarian legal order, which is intended to protect civilians in times of war by minimizing their suffering. Israel’s attempts have proven successful in the realm of public relations, as evidenced by President Obama’s uncritical support of Israel’s recent onslaughts of Gaza as an exercise in the right of self-defense. Since international law lacks a hierarchical enforcement authority, its meaning and scope is highly contingent on the prerogative of states, especially the most powerful ones. The implications of this shift are therefore palpable and dangerous.
Failure to uphold the law would allow states to behave according to their own whim in furtherance of their national interest, even in cases where that is detrimental to civilian non-combatants and to the international legal order. For better or worse, the onus to resist this shift and to preserve protection for civilians rests upon the shoulders of citizens, organizations, and mass movements who can influence their governments to enforce international law. There is no alternative to political mobilization to shape state behavior.
Dear Kenneth Roth,
While we welcome your stated commitment to Human Rights Watch’s independence and credibility, we are dismayed by your rejection of our common-sense suggestion for strengthening them: bar those who have crafted or executed U.S. foreign policy from serving as HRW staff, advisors or board members—or, at a bare minimum, mandate lengthy “cooling-off” periods before and after any associate moves between HRW and the foreign-policy divisions of the U.S. government.
Before addressing your letter’s objections to the three instances of HRW’s advocacy that suggest a conflict of interest, we would like to reiterate that they were “limited to only recent history,” and that other cases could have been raised as well. One obvious example of HRW’s failure to appropriately criticize U.S. crimes occurred after the 2004 coup d’état against the democratically elected government of Haiti. The U.S. government essentially kidnapped Haiti’s president; thousands of people were killed under the ensuing coup regime; and deposed officials of the constitutional government were jailed.
In the face of what were likely the worst human rights abuses of any country in the Western hemisphere at the time, HRW barely lifted a finger. HRW never hosted a press conference criticizing the coup or post-coup atrocities. In contrast to HRW’s appeals to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Democratic Charter for Venezuela and Cuba, HRW never publicly invoked the Charter in the case of Haiti, even as Articles 20 and 21 afforded multilateral measures “in the event of an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime.” HRW never placed an op-ed about the overthrow in a prominent newspaper. (In 2004 The New York Times alone published at least five HRW opinion pieces and four HRW letters on other subjects.) It is reasonable for outside observers to question whether this lack of response from HRW to such large-scale human rights violations had anything to do with U.S. foreign-policy priorities.
The very existence of such questions regarding HRW’s advocacy should be reason enough to impose sharp restrictions on HRW’s close ties to the U.S. government. Given the impact of global perceptions on HRW’s ability to carry out its work, simply the appearance of impropriety can impede HRW’s effectiveness. Closing HRW’s revolving door would be an important first step to allaying or preempting concerns that HRW’s priorities are compromised.
Concrete evidence of a revolving-door phenomenon between HRW and the U.S. government renders crucially incomplete your admission that “it is true that some served in the US government before or after their involvement with Human Rights Watch.” We provided examples of those who served in the U.S. government both before and after their involvement with HRW, a norm widely recognized to generate perverse incentives and undermine an institution’s reputation for independence.
For instance, you may disagree with our view that a former official of the Central Intelligence Agency—one of the world’s greatest institutional human rights violators over the past half-century—has no standing to advise on human rights issues for your organization. Surely you must concede, however, that a conflict of interest was raised when Miguel Díaz, the ex-CIA analyst in question, exploited the eight years of experience and relationships he accumulated within HRW’s advisory committee for his subsequent role as the U.S. State Department’s “interlocutor between the intelligence community and non-government experts.”
Your colleague, HRW Counsel and Spokesperson Reed Brody, seemed to misunderstand the nature of our proposal, arguing in a June 11 debate on Democracy Now! that “Miguel Díaz never worked at Human Rights Watch,” and that the organization is “a big tent—we’ve got people on the right; we’ve got people on the left.” In fact, our letter suggested prohibitions or cooling-off periods for “any associate,” including advisory-committee members like Díaz. Secondly, our proposals would not impact political diversity; rather, they would make it more difficult for those previously employed by human rights-abusing organizations like the CIA from adversely influencing HRW’s priorities or damaging HRW’s reputation.
It is important to further clarify our request, as Brody made two mutually irreconcilable claims: that “there is no revolving door,” and that “this revolving-door policy, if we implemented it, would have changed one person at Human Rights Watch.” Both statements are untrue. A cooling-off period, which all HRW associates would accept, would have prevented both Díaz and former HRW Washington director Tom Malinowski from almost immediately entering the U.S. State Department (Malinowski is now Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor), and would have also applied to Nik Steinberg, a senior researcher in HRW’s Americas division as of May 2014.
Just one week after you received our May 12 letter, Mr. Steinberg announced that he was leaving HRW to take a position with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, which he described as an “extraordinary opportunity.” This is disturbing from a human rights perspective, because Ms. Power’s July 17, 2013 confirmation hearing was riddled with provocative comments, including her evidence-free claim of an Iranian “nuclear weapons program,” her promise to “never apologize for America,” and her commitment to “work tirelessly to defend” Israel. After assuming her post, she advocated in favor of a U.S. strike against Syria in 2013, defending it as “legitimate” while tacitly acknowledging its illegality. She later declared that the United States has “nothing to apologize for” in Afghanistan, despite its record of numerous atrocities. Most recently, Ms. Power engaged in a coordinated media event with Henry Kissinger, whom Mr. Brody once referred to as a war criminal.
HRW’s proximity to Ms. Power damages HRW’s stated independence in light of her declarations that “the United States is the greatest country on Earth,” “the leader in human rights,” and “the leader in human dignity.” Shortly after leaving HRW, Malinowski similarly lauded the “bipartisan consensus for America’s defense of liberty around the world” and the “exceptional” nature of the United States at his own September 24, 2013 confirmation hearing.
Mr. Roth, we are deeply worried that Mr. Steinberg’s announced transition to Ms. Power’s office—a week after your receipt of our letter—is just one of many more revolving-door episodes that will continue to create perverse incentive structures within the organization. How can we expect HRW associates to be completely unafraid to hold human rights violators in the U.S. government accountable for their offenses and crimes when they are hoping to work for some of these very same functionaries immediately upon leaving HRW? That is the question that you must answer, Mr. Roth, in light of the transitions of Malinowski, Díaz and Steinberg to the U.S. State Department.
If you nevertheless object to prohibiting the involvement of U.S. foreign-policy officials at HRW or instituting cooling-off periods for them, we suggest, in parallel, an even narrower proposal: bar the participation at HRW of those who bear a direct responsibility for violating international humanitarian law. Javier Solana, currently a member of HRW’s board of directors, served as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Secretary General during its 1999 military campaign in Yugoslavia. NATO’s use of cluster munitions and its bombing of civilian targets in Yugoslavia led HRW itself to conclude that the organization “committed violations of international humanitarian law.”
Solana is therefore a poor choice for HRW’s board of directors. His removal from your board would signal HRW’s good-faith effort to bolster its independence and credibility as an advocate for human rights. When Mr. Brody was asked on Democracy Now! to respond to the argument that “those who bear direct responsibility for human rights violations should not be on the board of directors of an independent human rights organization,” Mr. Brody said, “I would agree with that.” We hope you concur with your colleague.
We will now address in turn your responses to the three cases of problematic HRW advocacy mentioned in our letter:
First, you objected to our concerns over the 2009 statements made by Tom Malinowski as HRW’s Washington director to the LA Times. He contended that “under limited circumstances” there was a “legitimate place” for renditions. You argue that our letter “mistakenly claims he was supporting unlawful CIA renditions,” and that “Malinowski was certainly not endorsing the CIA’s illegal rendition program, which entailed transferring individuals without due process protections to countries where they faced torture.” You further define renditions as simply “the transfer of a person in custody from one jurisdiction to another, which is legal under certain circumstances,” and cite extraditions as a legitimate form of rendition.
We appreciate your attempt to clarify Malinowski’s statement, which at the time provoked public consternation from law professors specializing in constitutional law and international law, such as Darren Hutchinson and Kenneth Anderson. This reaction arose because the LA Times article in question focused exclusively on CIA renditions and President Barack Obama’s executive order, which preserved them through a redefinition that allowed the transfer of suspects on a “short-term, transitory basis.” All CIA renditions, whether long- or short-term, whether they lead to torture or not, deny suspects the right to legal proceedings in which they can challenge their transfer from the country in question. Unlike commonplace extraditions, CIA renditions—extraordinary or otherwise—do not guarantee the detainees’ right to legal counsel or access to the court system of the country where they are seized.
In our previous letter to you, we cited Obama’s “preservation of renditions” as a serious human rights concern, and hyperlinked to a widely cited Open Society Justice Initiative report from 2013 which observed that Obama’s 2009 “executive order did not repudiate extraordinary rendition,” and that “it appears that the Obama administration did not end extraordinary rendition.” In light of this and the fact that the LA Times solely focused on an executive order pertaining to CIA renditions, Malinowski’s comment on their “legitimate place” was troubling and remains so, especially given his now-senior position within the Obama administration. Controversy around the practice persists, as exemplified by the headline of a 2013 Washington Post news article: “Renditions continue under Obama, despite due-process concerns.”
Malinowski’s subsequent statement to the LA Times was perhaps even more dubious, for additional reasons. As HRW’s Washington director, he paraphrased the Obama administration’s claim that designing an alternative to “people being sent to foreign dungeons to be tortured” was “going to take some time,” without questioning whether a gradual approach to ending such abuses was justifiable or even legal. For an organization that operates under the principle that human rights are absolute rights, not rights to be traded away for expediency or other political goals—which is the only way that a credible human rights organization can or should operate—such a statement should be deeply alarming. In fact, the Obama administration did proceed to “take some time,” sustaining the use of such “foreign dungeons” for years—likely up to the present day.
Numerous eye-witness testimonies led to articles by Der Spiegel in 2009 and the BBC in 2010 that reported on torture conducted under Obama’s presidency at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where detainees have had no right to habeas corpus. A 2011 Nation investigative piece detailed the conditions of an underground “secret prison” in Somalia used by the CIA, which serves as a destination for U.S.-assisted renditions. U.S. officials are said to conduct joint “debriefings,” or interrogations, at the site. The report’s author, Jeremy Scahill, found that the prisoners were unable to be seen by the Red Cross, and “they are not ever presented with charges.”
We note with interest that none of the HRW reports on rendition that you listed and hyperlinked to in your letter refer to torture, CIA renditions, or long-term detention without due process that have occurred under the Obama administration. While we welcome HRW’s call for criminal investigations regarding Bush-era human rights abuses, it appears that HRW has not advocated for criminal investigations into any of these Obama-era abuses. In fact, two HRW researchers have publicly fretted over the U.S. handover of the Bagram base to the Afghan government due to concerns over Afghanistan’s use of torture, without ever mentioning Obama-era, U.S.-directed torture at the same base. There may be some legitimate reason for HRW’s very different positions regarding the two administrations, but combined with the existence of HRW’s revolving door, they reinforce a reasonable suspicion that Malinowski’s inappropriate comments in 2009 as an HRW employee were influenced by his intention to serve in the Obama administration, and that HRW’s decidedly more muted position today on Obama’s policies is perhaps related to its ties to the administration.
Your second point pertains to our argument that in light of HRW’s 2012 letter to President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela questioning the country’s suitability as a candidate for the UN Human Rights Council, HRW had reason to write a similar letter to President Obama expressing reservations over the U.S. position in the same council. In our previous letter to you, we cited the U.S. record of human rights abuses that include a secret, global assassination program and the illegal detention of individuals at Guantánamo Bay. You have countered by avoiding a discussion of comparative abuses between the two countries, and have instead argued that for HRW, a “central concern on council membership is whether a government takes the council and its special procedures seriously,” and that Venezuela, unlike the United States, does not.
However, under no objective standard was this a “central concern” of the 2012 letter to Chávez signed by your colleagues José Miguel Vivanco and Peggy Hicks that we originally cited. After asserting in their introduction that “Venezuela currently falls far short of acceptable standards” in “promoting and protecting human rights,” Vivanco and Hicks outlined specific “policies and practices of [the Chávez] administration” and argued for their reversal. Their letter then dedicated the next 10 paragraphs to arguing that Venezuela has failed in the areas of judicial independence, media freedom and civil society. Before concluding their letter, Vivanco and Hicks devoted only one paragraph to “cooperation with the Human Rights Council.”
Given the broad scope of the content and priorities of HRW’s letter to Chávez, HRW simply has no tenable justification for its continued support of the U.S. presence on the UN Human Rights Council. Aside from its far grimmer human rights record than Venezuela, “[t]he United States is the only country to vote against all the Council’s resolutions focusing on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories,” admits HRW. “The US rejection of any resolution focusing on Israel and the [Occupied Palestinian Territories] and Israel [sic] exposes its double standards.” HRW’s own finding, coupled with the U.S. role in blocking the implementation of the Council’s recommendations of the Goldstone Report on Israeli war crimes during the Gaza attack of 2008-09, certainly weakens your letter’s claim that “on balance, the United States has played a constructive role at the Human Rights Council.”
It is not too late for HRW to demonstrate its independence from the U.S. government by writing a letter to President Obama outlining the most egregious U.S. human rights violations that should be reversed in order for the country to serve as a credible member of the UN Human Rights Council. HRW’s letter could demand an end to the Obama’s extrajudicial “kill list,” an authoritarian U.S. policy for which a Venezuelan analogue is nonexistent and inconceivable, and the letter could also condemn U.S. intransigence within the Council, particularly toward Palestinian human rights.
Our third and final example questioned HRW’s lack of opposition to Obama’s consideration of a missile strike on Syria in 2013—a violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition on the unilateral “threat or use of force” in international affairs. We appreciate your clarification of HRW’s mandate, “which is to monitor governments’ adherence to international human rights and humanitarian law.” We would urge HRW to consider expanding its purview to adopt the UN Charter as a foundation for its legal determinations due to the inevitable human rights violations that occur as a result of a war of aggression, considered the “supreme international crime” by the Nuremberg Tribunal.
We express our concern, however, that HRW’s stated neutrality on matters of war and peace is compromised by your public statements of questionable judgment. At the height of intense pressure for a U.S. bombing campaign on Syria in late August of 2013, you all but advocated military intervention on social media, while maintaining plausible deniability in the context of a climate of warmongering. A sampling of your tweets include:
* To justify #Syria inaction, top US general trots out age-old ethnic animosities line. Heard that B4? Bosnia. Rwanda. trib.al/qSzrz1N
* Top general suggests US is more interested in a geopolitical partner in #Syria than saving civilians from slaughter. trib.al/WElNRGM
* It took chemical attack to convince Obama/Kerry that Assad isn’t interested in negotiated solution!? No more excuses. trib.al/viu2scd
* If the appalling slaughter in #Syria won’t get Obama to act, maybe ridicule will: trib.al/gp7HDo1
* If Obama decides to strike #Syria, will he settle for symbolism or do something that will help protect civilians? trib.al/hl6QhA1
Such behavior is unbecoming for the head of a major human rights organization and runs counter to the spirit of HRW’s official neutrality toward the impending intervention in Syria. We encourage you to demonstrate greater tact and responsibility in light of the near-inevitability that U.S. missile strikes would have led to violations of international humanitarian law, including the killing, maiming, and displacement of many innocent civilians—as shown by the U.S. bombings of Yugoslavia in 1999, and of Iraq during the 2003 invasion and subsequent years of war.
HRW’s official abstention from endorsing or opposing wars also appeared to be broken by Tom Malinowski’s March 27, 2011 article in The New Republic on NATO’s Libya intervention. The piece was originally titled “Why Isn’t Obama Getting Credit For Stopping An Atrocity?” and contended that “NATO acted more quickly [than in Bosnia] to stop atrocities in Kosovo.” In the case of Kosovo, “we could see and feel the difference Clinton and NATO had made.” Malinowski then celebrated NATO’s intervention in Libya as “the most rapid multinational military response to an impending human rights crisis in history” for which “we should be grateful.”
As Washington director for HRW at the time of the article, Malinowski offered no disclosure of his previous responsibilities in foreign-policy speech-writing as the Senior Director of the White House’s National Security Council during Clinton’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. Nor did his sanitized portrayal of those actions include his own organization’s inconvenient conclusion that “NATO committed violations of international humanitarian law.” Malinowski’s piece also omitted the clearly unconstitutional nature of Obama’s military intervention in Libya. Furthermore, he excluded evidence that the NATO coalition quickly had moved away from the scope of the civilian-protection mandate provided in UN Resolution 1973 and toward the aim of regime change, which conformed with Obama’s comments weeks prior that “it’s time for Qaddafi to go.”
More egregiously, the following year—months after your organization’s report, “Unacknowledged Deaths: Civilian Casualties in NATO’s Air Campaign in Libya,” examined eight NATO strikes that killed 72 civilians—Malinowski offered unalloyed praise for the NATO intervention. He argued that “Barack Obama’s administration made its most unequivocal stand on behalf of an Arab Spring uprising” in Libya, where the destabilizing consequences of the administration’s support in arming rebel forces continue to be felt. Completely ignoring the issue of civilian deaths at the hands of NATO (confirmed by HRW itself), Malinowski claimed in this October 2, 2012 Foreign Policy article that “recent events have reinforced, not weakened, the rationale for supporting political change in the Arab world.”
Advocacy divorced from HRW’s own empirical findings, unconditionally applauding U.S.-NATO military actions in Libya and endorsing their suitability elsewhere, is a predictable outcome for a former Clinton official who became HRW’s chief lobbyist in Washington, and who may have aspired to a position in the Obama administration as he wrote such statements. However, such advocacy is unhelpful to HRW’s stated concerns over NATO’s airstrikes and its failure “to acknowledge these casualties or to examine how and why they occurred.”
We are heartened, Mr. Roth, by your expressed willingness to “speak out, as we have done” in Kosovo and elsewhere. But HRW’s track record for holding NATO accountable for its violations of international humanitarian law is wholly inadequate. Javier Solana initiated a war in violation of the UN Charter in 1999 and presided over the deliberate NATO bombing of a Serbian television station, a war crime that killed 16 civilians including a make-up artist, a cameraman, an editor, and a program director.
In your May 1999 letter to Solana, which mentioned that bombing, you urged that “these issues be scrutinized promptly and rigorously,” and that “disciplinary or criminal investigations be launched.” NATO implemented none of your suggestions and has held no one to account for that atrocity or for any other crime in Yugoslavia. And yet Solana was awarded a position on HRW’s board in 2011. It is hard to escape the conclusion that HRW’s admonishments of NATO’s behavior are toothless, and that Solana’s subsequent leadership role at HRW signals to former and future NATO leaders who violate international law that they should be undeterred by HRW’s objections and inquiries.
Finally, you responded to our emphasis on HRW’s ties to the United States by mentioning the involvement of former government officials of Mexico, Peru, South Africa, and other countries at HRW. But our focus is HRW’s ties to the foreign-policy divisions of the U.S. government, which, unlike the foreign-policy arms of many of the governments you cite, are continuously engaged in massive human rights abuses. This is a consequence of the status of the United States as the world’s sole military superpower, which frequently violates international law with impunity, and, as in the case of its invasion of Iraq, is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. As a recent poll showed, the rest of the globe sees the United States as “the greatest threat to peace in the world today” by a wide margin, so HRW’s unabashed closeness to that government is understandably viewed as an extremely political decision.
One of us would be delighted to meet with you whenever convenient at your New York offices to discuss these matters further and to personally deliver a petition signed by over 15,500 people so far, along with their individual comments in support of the following demand:
The credibility of a global human-rights organization depends on its independence. Human Rights Watch has done important, critical work, but it can do better. It should implement at least a five-year “cooling-off” period before and after its associates move between HRW and the U.S. government’s foreign-policy divisions. Human Rights Watch associates should concentrate on protecting human rights. They should not have conflicts of interest with past or future careers in branches of the U.S. government that may themselves be involved in human-rights violations.
We eagerly await your reply, and believe that HRW’s implementation of cooling-off periods for its associates and its removal of Solana from its board of directors will represent valuable first steps toward greater independence. Thank you for engaging with us on issues that we believe are essential to the pursuit of human rights throughout the world.
Mairead Maguire – Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1977)
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel – Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1980)
Richard Falk – United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (2008-14)
Hans von Sponeck – United Nations Assistant Secretary General (1998-2000)
Keane Bhatt – activist, writer
Once upon a time, the U.S. government ran a very tight ship at the Organization of American States (OAS), a multilateral institution created by Washington at the start of the Cold War. Though the OAS’ 1948 Charter calls on its members to uphold democracy and respect the principle of non-intervention, for decades the U.S. supported military coups against democratic governments and intervened militarily around the hemisphere without serious opposition from within the regional body. In 1962, the U.S. rallied a majority of member states behind a resolution to suspend Cuba’s membership in the organization and, in the years that followed, was successful in preventing the OAS from taking action against U.S.-backed Latin American dictatorships.
Until recently, the U.S. could systematically rely on the support of a solid group of rightwing allies at the OAS to defend its agenda. But, as a result of the region’s far-reaching political shift to the left, the tide has clearly changed. At the OAS General Assembly in 2009, the U.S. reluctantly joined the rest of the organization’s member countries in lifting the suspension on Cuba’s OAS membership. After Honduras was expelled from the OAS following the June 2009 military coup in Honduras, the majority of members resisted U.S. efforts to restore the country’s membership until June of 2011 when deposed president Manuel Zelaya was finally allowed to return. And in March of 2014, after working with the rightwing government of Panama to force an OAS discussion on opposition protests in Venezuela, the U.S. came up worse than empty handed. Though the U.S. sought a resolution condemning the government of Venezuela and calling for OAS mediation, the member states – minus the U.S., Panama and Canada – backed a resolution that declared “solidarity and support” for Venezuela’s “democratic institutions” and for a process of dialogue already underway.
Last week the U.S. once again stood alone, backed only by the rightwing government of Canada in its opposition to an OAS resolution supporting Argentina in its fight against vulture funds and the ruling of a judge in New York. As Argentina news hounds and CEPR readers are well aware, the U.S. District Judge in New York, Thomas P. Griesa, ruled that Argentina would have to pay two hedge funds, aka vulture funds, the full value of Argentinean debt that the funds had bought for around twenty cents on the dollar. Griesa didn’t seem to care that 93 percent of the holders of the country’s defaulted debt had signed on to restructured debt agreements in 2005 and 2010. In order to enforce his decision, Griesa’s ruling blocked Argentina from paying interest to the holders of the restructured bonds without first paying off the vulture funds.
As this decision would create a dangerous, far-reaching precedent – effectively calling into question any country’s sovereign right to restructure its debt – the U.S. Supreme Court was widely expected to oppose Griesa’s ruling when the case came before it in June. Instead, the Court refused to hear the case, leading to international consternation and outrage. At the OAS, senior foreign ministry officials from Latin America convened on July 3rd for a special meeting on the issue, and all those present – except for the U.S. and Canada – expressed support for the Argentinean government. Brazil’s minister of foreign affairs, Luiz Alberto Figuereido, said that Brazil was “worried about the future impact of this precedent” created by the U.S. court decision. Luis Almagro, the foreign minister of Uruguay, said that the decision wasn’t good for sovereign states or for “any international financial entity or for any multilateral credit organization, because if at some moment they are negotiating the restructuring of any country, they can’t put up with this sort of competition [from vulture funds]. ”The OAS resolution [DOC] approved by every country but the U.S. and Canada was unreservedly supportive of Argentina, expressing:
- Its support to the Argentine Republic so that it can continue to meet its obligations, pay its debt, honor its financial commitments and through dialogue arrive at a fair, equitable and legal arrangement with 100% of its creditors.
- That it is essential for the stability and predictability of the international financial architecture to ensure that agreements reached between debtors and creditors in the context of sovereign debt-restructuring processes are respected by allowing that payment flows are distributed to cooperative creditors in accordance with the agreement reached with them in the process of consensual readjusting of the debt.
- Its full support to achieving a solution that seeks to facilitate the broad Argentine sovereign debt-process.
The U.S., out in the cold yet again, said in a footnote that: “the United States cannot support this declaration, and notes that the issue remains in the judicial process in the United States.”
“I do not quite understand the U.S.’ position”, Argentinean foreign minister Hector Timerman declared after the OAS meeting. He noted, with a touch of humor, that for the first time ever both the IMF and the Socialist International supported Argentina in its legal battle with the vulture funds. In a June 24 op-ed, CEPR’s Mark Weisbrot discussed the evidence that the U.S. administration may have contributed to the Supreme Court decision not to hear the Argentina case and what the reasons might be:
So why didn’t the Supreme Court hear the case? It could be that the court was influenced by a change of position on the part of the U.S. government, which may have convinced it that the case was not that important. Unlike France, Brazil, Mexico and Nobel Prize winning-economist Joseph Stiglitz, the U.S. government did not file an amicus brief [PDF] with the Supreme Court, despite its filing in the appellate case. And – here is the big mystery – neither did the IMF, even though it has publically expressed concerns about the impact of that ruling.
On July 17, 2013, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde submitted notice that the fund would file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court. But then the IMF board met and, somewhat embarrassingly, because of objections from the U.S., decided against it. This could be why the Supreme Court did not invite a brief from the U.S. solicitor general, and ultimately did not hear the case. But who is responsible for Washington’s reversal?
As in an Agatha Christie novel, there are numerous suspects who could have done the deed. The vulture fund lobby – a well-connected group led by former Clinton administration officials– known as the American Task Force Argentina, spent over $1 million in 2013 on the case. Then there are the usual suspects in Congress, mostly neo-conservatives and the Florida delegation, who want a different political party in power in Argentina after this fall’s elections.
We already wrote about Glenn Greenwald’s big story concerning how the FBI has been spying on prominent Muslim American politicians, lawyers and civil rights activists. If you follow this stuff closely, you may have heard that Greenwald was originally supposed to publish that story last week, but held off at the last minute due to some “new information” from the government. This resulted in some silly and ill-informed conspiracy theories, but in the article Greenwald explains what actually happened:
The Justice Department did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story, or for clarification about why the five men’s email addresses appear on the list. But in the weeks before the story was published, The Intercept learned that officials from the department were reaching out to Muslim-American leaders across the country to warn them that the piece would contain errors and misrepresentations, even though it had not yet been written.
Prior to publication, current and former government officials who knew about the story in advance also told another news outlet that no FISA warrant had been obtained against Awad during the period cited. When The Intercept delayed publication to investigate further, the NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence refused to confirm or deny the claim, or to address why any of the men’s names appear on the FISA spreadsheet. Prior to 2008, however, FISA required only an authorization from the attorney general—not a court warrant—for surveillance against Americans located overseas. Awad frequently travelled to the Middle East during the timeframe of his surveillance.
The fact that it was out warning people that the story was inaccurate before anything had even been written is… quite telling. Also, the fact that it only seemed to focus on the lack of a FISA warrant (and against one individual) seems like the standard form of the intelligence community choosing their words especially carefully to say one thing, while implying something else entirely. Now that the report has actually come out, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has issued a statement that is more of the same. You will note, for instance, that it does not deny spying on the five named individuals — only that it doesn’t spy on people because of their political, religious or activist views:
It is entirely false that U.S. intelligence agencies conduct electronic surveillance of political, religious or activist figures solely because they disagree with public policies or criticize the government, or for exercising constitutional rights.
Unlike some other nations, the United States does not monitor anyone’s communications in order to suppress criticism or to put people at a disadvantage based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.
Our intelligence agencies help protect America by collecting communications when they have a legitimate foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose.
Again, note the specific denial they’re making. They’re not denying they spied on these five individuals. They’re claiming that if they spied on them, it wasn’t because of their religion — though the evidence presented in the Intercept article certainly rules out many other explanations. And, remember, it was just a week ago that it was revealed that the NSA, does, in fact, consider people interested in Tor or open source privacy to be extremists. So, while it may be technically true that these individuals weren’t targeted because of their religion, it does seem fairly clear that the intelligence community has fairly low standards for what it takes to convince themselves that someone may be a threat.
Furthermore, the statement admits that there are cases where it spies on people without approval from the FISA Court, but doesn’t say what those examples are beyond “in an emergency.” That may imply the only cases are in an emergency, but that’s not what the statement actually says:
With limited exceptions (for example, in an emergency), our intelligence agencies must have a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to target any U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident for electronic surveillance.
These court orders are issued by an independent federal judge only if probable cause, based on specific facts, are established that the person is an agent of a foreign power, a terrorist, a spy, or someone who takes orders from a foreign power.
And, again, as the Intercept report itself notes, prior to 2008, there were different standards in place for people traveling overseas (even Americans) which could explain how some of these individuals were targeted.
The ODNI statement more or less concludes by suggesting that the five people named may have been agents of foreign powers, which is quite a claim:
No U.S. person can be the subject of surveillance based solely on First Amendment activities, such as staging public rallies, organizing campaigns, writing critical essays, or expressing personal beliefs.
On the other hand, a person who the court finds is an agent of a foreign power under this rigorous standard is not exempted just because of his or her occupation.
It’s a neat little out. Accused of spying on five Americans who pretty clearly do not appear to be agents of foreign powers, just hint strongly that they really are agents of foreign powers. It’s back to the good old days of McCarthyism.
Open Letter Welcoming Massive Attack
Dear Robert Del Naja and Grant Marshall,
On behalf of the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon, we are delighted to welcome you to Lebanon for your forthcoming performance on July 29 at the Byblos International Festival, and to salute Massive Attack’s commitment to justice for Palestine and the Palestinian people.
Our campaign is one of solidarity with the Palestinian people, struggling against racism, dispossession, apartheid and occupation under Zionism, but it is also a form of resistance by the Lebanese people themselves. Tens of thousands of Lebanese have been killed by Israel over 66 years of multiple invasions and bombing campaigns targeting residential areas, medical facilities, and fundamental infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have been denied their right to return to their homes and lands – for which they have been struggling for over 66 years.
Through your active engagement and public support of the boycott of Israel, you are taking a stand against the bombs, the invasions, and the war machine of apartheid Israel.
On far too many occasions, we write to artists to call upon them to cancel their performances in Israel before they plan to perform in Lebanon. It is, therefore, a refreshing change to instead write to you welcoming your visit to Lebanon. Through your active engagement and public support of the boycott of Israel, you are taking a stand against the bombs, the invasions, and the war machine of apartheid Israel.
We are particularly delighted to hear Robert Del Naja stating that: “If the EU and the US pressured Israel for change and forced the end of the blockade, we might get somewhere. That pressure should also come culturally… So it doesn’t sit right for me to go back to Tel Aviv while there is a giant wall and an economic stranglehold on a whole nation of people.”
It is particularly important for artists and cultural workers, and for bands whose music, like yours, is heard around the world, to be heard clearly upholding Palestinian rights and refusing to engage with occupation – and Massive Attack presents an excellent example to other international cultural performers in this regard. We fully support Del Naja’s comments that “musicians have a major role to play…I find the more I get involved, the more the movement becomes something tangible. I remember going to ‘Artists Against Apartheid’ gigs, and ‘Rock Against Racism’ gigs around the same sort of time.” The legacy of cultural campaigns for justice in the past continues today in the cultural boycott of Israel.
We would like to invite you to meet with us during your visit to Lebanon, and arrange for you to visit Qana, the site of the 1996 and 2006 massacres of civilians by Israeli airstrikes; the detention centers in South Lebanon, where Israeli forces imprisoned Lebanese; and the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. We would also like to discuss your involvement in cultural boycott and support for Palestine with Lebanese campaigners.
Again, we welcome you to Lebanon and salute your ongoing commitment to keep up the needed pressure through refusing to be part of the cultural machinery of war, apartheid, and occupation and supporting the Palestinian, Arab and international “picket line” boycotting Israel.
Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon
The Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon started in 2002 after the massacre in the Jenin refugee camp, and they are the first country-based BDS organization that documents, exposes, and protests Lebanese companies dealing with Israel.