“You destroy the soldier himself”
That was the response of Munir, a Palestinian who is faced with Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint opposite his shop in Hebron every day, when I asked him how he thought being in Hebron must affect the soldiers.
I have had so many encounters with Israeli soldiers during my time in Hebron – it is impossible not to, due to the intensity of the military occupation.
I have passed the time of day and talked with some of them about what we are each doing here. Some have told me of their boredom, that they would much rather be on the beach. One helped keep a stray dog away from Palestinian school children who were frightened and I thanked him. Another told the police to leave me alone when they were harassing me about where in the street I was standing during the school run, and I thanked him too.
They have also spat at me, shouted at me, threatened to arrest me and called me stupid in Hebrew and a “sharmoota” (“whore” in Arabic). I have refused to follow their orders to move or stop taking photos. I have watched heavily armed soldiers throw stun grenades, and tasted the tear gas they shoot at Palestinian children on their way to school in response to small stones being thrown at their checkpoint. I have seen them harass and detain Palestinians trying to go about their lives, push kids for “facing the wrong direction” as Israeli settlers walk past, and arrest children. I have watched them laughing and joking many times in situations that are far from funny – most recently in the aftermath of an extremely serious attack by Israeli settlers against a Palestinian family.
I have come to know some of the Givati Brigade of the Israeli army, currently serving in Hebron, by sight and a few by name. You can often tell how many schoolbags will be searched or Palestinians detained for ID checks by who is on duty. Almost without fail, the local Palestinians say that their treatment on a given day depends on the mood of the soldiers. I have often wondered what must be going through their minds and wished that I could talk to them properly about what they think. Amidst the tension and violence of Hebron, this is normally impossible.
One Friday night settlers blockaded a Palestinian family’s gateway and stopped them from leaving their home at Tel Rumeida in Hebron. I asked the nine watching Israeli soldiers to please help. They wouldn’t. One of them, whose name is Kawalski*, said “everything is fine.” 34 Israeli settlers were stopping a Palestinian family from walking down the street and thus from entering or leaving their home. Many of the settler children were shouting abuse, hitting our cameras and spitting at us.
They went on to throw two buckets of water at us, followed by a bucket of bleach. It was an awful scene and I cannot see how he could have thought it was fine.
Most of the soldiers in Hebron are young, ranging from 19-22 years old, and are conscripted into military service for three years. This is compulsory with a few exceptions, so most of them have not made a positive choice to be in the army. Yet in Israeli society there is real kudos attached to being a combat soldier like those in Hebron – just take a look at the Israel Defense Forces Facebook page. Only a tiny minority ever refuse to serve and spend time in prison as a result. Kawalski, the soldier on that Friday night, must be no more than 22 years old. After the incident, I wondered a lot about his “everything is fine” comment and thought maybe it was actually his internal reasoning – him trying to persuade himself it was all OK and he was in control (he most definitely was not).
Later, when he called an ambulance for my colleague after the attack on us that he had failed to prevent, he must have been forced to acknowledge that everything had not been fine.
Thousands of settlers and their supporters came to Hebron recently for Shabbat Chayei Sarah, which commemorates Sarah of biblical times, who is buried in Hebron. It was a difficult weekend, with heightened tensions and violence. Movement restrictions were even tighter than usual – the Ibrahimi Mosque and nearby Palestinian shops were forcibly closed. Most of Shuhada Street, which Palestinians are never allowed to walk down, was closed to my colleagues and I as well – “Jews only” as the enforcing soldier told me. Extra soldiers drafted into H2 checked the ID of Palestinian men every 50 metres.
I was patrolling with a colleague and we went to an area with a few Palestinian homes and many settlers nearby. I felt nervous because large groups of settlers, some armed and some drunk, are not normally a great thing to encounter. A Palestinian family was harvesting olives on a hill where many settlers were hanging around. We checked if the family was OK and sat down under a tree, hoping to deter the settlers from coming to bother them, throw things at them etc (there was a fence between us and the Palestinians so we couldn’t help with the olives). A couple of Israeli soldiers were standing nearby.
After a bit, a group of male settlers tried to make their way towards us and I stood up, worried about what would happen next. But rather than standing back and letting them come over, the soldier stepped in the way and asked the settlers to leave. They did. I had never seen such a thing before and, when the settlers had moved away, I thanked the soldier. “Don’t worry” he said. Shortly after, a second group of settlers tried to come and the soldier and his colleague again turned them away. After this the soldiers came to ask if we were OK. I was slightly stunned that they were looking out for us and for the Palestinians. I thanked them both and said that we would move on soon. They told us there was no need for us to leave and not to worry, they would make sure everything was OK with the Palestinians. This was the opposite of what I am used to in Hebron, where the soldiers will often do whatever they can to get rid of us, and simply stand by as settlers harass and attack Palestinians. The first soldier told me that his name was Yossi* and he was not normally based in Hebron.
Later, when there were no settlers watching, I bumped into Yossi again. I asked him if he understood what I was doing there. “You want peace” he said, and told me that he wanted peace too. He told me that after my colleague and I had gone, the settlers had pushed him and thrown stones at him. He was astonished by this and couldn’t understand it. I asked what he knew about Hebron – not much. His orders that day had been to keep the Jewish and the Palestinians apart. I told him what it is like in Hebron – the settler violence, the soldiers refusing to help, the clashes, and showed him pictures. It was all news to him. “It’s good that you are telling me this, I will tell my commander”, he said. I really appreciated this but told him I didn’t think it would help – his commander was 24 years old and decisions about what happens in Hebron are made high up in military and political circles. None of those in charge will be unaware of what actually goes on in Hebron.
Yossi told me that he loved being in the army. He told me that he loved his gun. “Why do you love your gun?!” I asked him, “It’s for killing people.” “No!” he said, “I love target practice, I don’t want to kill anyone.” “But why do you think they give you a gun?!” I asked. I learned that Yossi was 19 years old. He seemed like a good, decent young man and I believed him when he said he wanted peace and didn’t want to kill anyone. But, as I have previously written about other discussions I’ve had with Israelis, I was surprised by his lack of understanding about the facts of the conflict he is part of. I asked him to keep being nice to the Palestinians and he told me to take care in Hebron.
My encounter with Yossi really made me think. That I was so surprised at his fair conduct says a lot about the norm for soldiers in Hebron.
I wonder how it comes to be that so many of the young soldiers behave in the morally unacceptable ways I have so often observed or seen evidence of: arresting children and beating them up; demolishing Palestinian houses with bulldozers and then preventing tents and emergency aid from being delivered; even deliberately shooting innocent people, as veterans’ organisation Breaking the Silence has documented. Sometimes they will be following their orders in doing these things, and sometimes not. Mohaned, a 13 year old from the town of Beit Ummar, told me how soldiers raided his house at 3am, blindfolded and arrested him wearing only his underwear. He was held for 10 days, in which he was slapped, hit with the butt of a rifle, beaten and then released.
Surely it is important to ask how young men, most of whom start off as normal, decent guys like Yossi, end up doing these things?
On a day off I visited the Golan Heights and got talking to some soldiers about their jobs. One of them said that they themselves had been discussing these issues, “Some of us were talking – we are children and they give us guns.” I met another soldier in Haifa, Israel. He was 23 years old and had previously served in the Golani Brigade in Hebron. He recalled an army education week when there had been a discussion about putting the heads of dead Palestinians on poles. He had been in the minority 20:1 to say that such things were wrong. Another former Golani soldier simply refused to speak about what he had done when he served in the army.
My friend Sam is Jewish, an Israeli of British origin who I got to know in our student days. After my blog about my some of my experiences in Israel, he emailed me saying, “I think another big reason why it’s hard to convince Israelis about what’s going on in the territories is that almost every Israeli knows somebody who serves in the territories… it’s hard for us to believe that they are monsters.”
His use of the word “monster” really stuck with me. I don’t believe the soldiers are monsters – perhaps with a few exceptions, as with all people. But sometimes they end up doing monstrous things on a regular basis. They are born into a system which takes apparently normal teenagers and seemingly trains them to behave in these ways.
One soldier who served in Hebron told Breaking the Silence, “In Hebron, I was disturbed and frightened most of all by the unregulated and uncontrolled power, and the things it made people do.” Another said, “Another thing that has stayed with me from Hebron? I think of myself as a little injured maybe, I don’t know. Not physically injured. More emotionally injured.”
Rather than monsters, I think it makes the young soldiers part of the tragedy of the conflict. I am pretty sure that it will damage them too, that they will suffer in the long run. Aside from the terrible harm that the military occupation does to the Palestinians, I am sure that Israel also hurts itself and its own young people in what it does. What kind of society, what kind of country, will Israel end up as?
Avraham Shalom is in a position to know. He led the Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence service, between 1980-86 and in the film The Gatekeepers he says,
“We have become cruel. To ourselves as well, but mainly to the occupied population.” The Israeli army has become “a brutal occupation force.”
*Not his real name
In a breathtaking display of absurdity, US secretary of defense Chuck Hagel and Britain’s Foreign Minister William Hague were among senior Western delegates to address the annual conference on “regional security” held in Bahrain at the weekend.
These officials pontificated about regional threats, conflict, international law, human rights and so on; meanwhile out on the streets of Bahrain, not far from the venue, peaceful protesters calling for democratic freedom were being bludgeoned by regime police thugs.
How absurd can it get? Like a comedy double act, Hagel and Hague were enthusing about high-minded democratic principles to their unelected, dictatorial hosts, the Al Khalifa rulers, surrounded by representatives of the other Persian Gulf Arab dictatorships, prime among them the absolute, tyrannical monarchy of the House of Saud.
And yet outside, ordinary Bahraini civilians yearning to see these same principles put into practice were getting their heads cracked open by uniformed thugs acting under the orders of the very same despots applauding Hagel and Hague. Talk about inside-out, upside-down doublethink.
When Bahrain’s mainly Shia majority rekindled their decades-old protests against the unelected Khalifa crime family in February 2011, it was the Saudi-led [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council that marched into the tiny island to crush the pro-democracy movement.
The GCC military force is perversely, but aptly, named “a defense operation”. For its purpose is not the defense against some alleged, non-existent threat from without, but the imminent threat from within.
That threat is the spread of democracy in the region, which would sweep away the unelected super-wealthy families that rule over Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain – the six member states of the [Persian]GCC.
The Saudi-led invasion of Bahrain in March 2011 to wipe out “the contagion” of democracy in the oil-rich region was given the green light by Washington and London, with whom the Saudi rulers consulted days before sending in the troops and tanks.
Saudi forces still remain in Bahrain – albeit covertly, wearing Bahraini uniforms – where they continue to brutally attack pro-democracy demonstrators every week, as they have done for the past nearly three years.
And it’s not just protesters on the streets that are killed and injured. Saudi-backed Bahraini forces attack whole villages and family homes with night raids and poisonous gas, many of the occupants, including infants and elderly, having died from suffocating fumes.
Thousands of Bahraini families have been ripped apart, as fathers, mothers, sons and daughters are hauled off to jails and torture centers. The prisoners are denied any legal rights, convicted on the basis of tortured confessions, and many of them imprisoned for life.
Prisoners who have incurred disabilities and diseases from their trauma are also denied basic medical attention, putting their lives at risk. Such detainees include the photographer Hussain Hubail, suffering cardiac problems, elderly political opposition leader Hassan Mushaima, who is battling cancer, and human rights defenders Abdulhadi al-Singace and Naji Fateel, both of whom have become paralyzed from their physical beatings.
The same vicious assault on pro-democracy civilians goes on in Saudi Arabia where some 30,000 prisoners of conscience are rotting away behind dungeon bars, as well as in the other Persian Gulf states, although to a lesser extent.
The US and British governments are fully apprised of the systematic violations and torture carried out by their Persian Gulf dictator allies. Let’s be under no illusion. It’s not just that Washington and London are merely aware of the abominations and turn a blind eye; these Western governments are colluding in the ongoing barbarity.
Addressing the Manama Dialogue conference in Bahrain at the weekend, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said: “I am under no illusions, like all of you, about the daily threats facing this region, or the current anxieties that I know exist here in the [Persian] Gulf.”
Indeed, Hagel is “under no illusions”. The threat to security that he alludes to is not the fairytale, fictional threat attributed to Iran.
The very real danger is that of democracy taking hold in the Persian Gulf. Whereby the people of the region might be able to avail of the vast oil wealth for genuine social development instead of the billions of dollars being funneled into the hands of crony royal families who in turn squander these billions on American and British weaponry.
The abundantly evidenced risk to security in the region is from the US and British-backed Arab tyrannies fuelling terrorism in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere, as well as brutally repressing their own people.
When Hagel and Hague and their despotic clients talk about “defense” what they are referring to is the defense of dictatorships against democracy in the Persian Gulf and the protection of multi-billion-dollar weapons contracts to American and British companies (who in turn buy political prostitutes like Hagel and Hague to do their bidding).
There is zero evidence of any other kind of threat, certainly not from Iran, except in the figment of twisted, propagandized imaginations. By contrast, the evidence for American and British-backed despotic terrorism (including that of nuclear-armed Israel) is glaringly real in the form of thousands of lives killed, maimed, displaced and rotting away in ghettoes and jails.
But cracks in this absurd façade are appearing and widening. The Omanis have given notice that they are no longer willing to participate in this ludicrous charade, saying at the weekend that they will not be part of any Persian Gulf military club, probably knowing that its pretext is patently untenable.
Also, Western and international public awareness is becoming increasingly indignant and intolerant of the parody. Why are billions of dollars being spent on planet-destroying weapons and manufacturing terrorism when so many urgent social needs are being trampled on at home and abroad?
Ordinary people around the world know that the threat to peace, security, democracy and prosperity is not Iran or any other alleged bogeyman.
They know the real and imminent danger stems from elite Western-dominated capitalism and its satellite terrorist-sponsoring regimes in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf dictatorships.
The truth is both arresting and liberating. Western ruling cliques and their despotic “allies” – under the control of corporate fascism – are now seen more acutely than ever as the enemies of democracy and peace.
The absurd pretence otherwise is well and truly over.
December 10, 2013
On December 10, the world celebrates the Human Rights Day, which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1950 to review the international achievements in the field of universal respect, promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental liberties that are the core principles of International Bill of Human Rights, which States have repeatedly emphasized their legal and moral commitment, in cooperation with the United Nations (UN), to promote and respect for all human beings.
This anniversary coincides with the 20th anniversary of signing the Oslo Accords, under which human rights were sacrificed under the pretext of achieving peace and security that have not been achieved yet.
As a result, the Palestinian people have been paying the price of those policies as their fundamental liberties and rights are abused, especially the ongoing denial of their right to self determination and all their civil and political rights as well as their economic, social and cultural rights.
This year is one of the worst in regards to the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and there is not yet an end in sight. Rather, day- by-day the situation continues to worsen with civilians paying the price.
The summary report for 2013 outlines the human rights violations committed by Israel as well as by the Palestinian security services and the two governments in Gaza and Ramallah. The report also includes information about ongoing settlement expansion and related violence and the ongoing closure of the Gaza Strip.
Regrettably, the international focus has been reduced to issues related to basic needs and means of subsistence, including electricity and water supplies, and allowing the entry of some basic goods, such as construction materials rather than addressing the underlying causes of the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
This report aims to shed light on the numerous human rights violations and the institutionalization of policies and laws that continue to undermine the rights of the Palestinian people.
The full report is available online at:http://www.pchrgaza.org/files/2013/PCHR-SUMMARY.pdf
Full text of the report:Summary Report On Human Rights Violations In 2013
You could very well say that Navi Pillay was more than anyone else the person responsible for NATO’s disastrous invasion of Libya. As UN Human Rights Commissioner she chaired that fateful meeting in February, 2011 where Libyan NGO leader Soliman Bouchuiguir was allowed to repeat incredible tales about the “massacres” taking place in Libya – tales he openly admitted after the NATO invasion he had just made up. “There is no evidence,” he exclaimed when asked after the invasion to back up his claims, which were the basis of the chain of events that led to NATO bombing.
The first link in that chain was the UN Human Rights Commission hearing chaired by Pillay, where Bouchuiguir’s lies led to the suspension of Libya from that body and the referral of the Libya issue to the UN Security Council. At the hearing, Pillay took her cue from the falsifier Bouchuiguir, exclaiming that, “The Libyan leader must stop the violence now.” Eventually the Security Council passed Resolution 1973, cracking the interventionist door to Libya, which NATO very soon kicked open.
Commissioner Pillay wasted no time setting her “humanitarian interventionist” sights on another crisis just waiting for a military solution. As early as August, 2011 she began urging the International Criminal Court to take up the case against the Syrian government, which was fighting against a foreign-sponsored insurgency seeking its overthrow. Never mind the illegality of her position urging the overthrow of a sovereign state, Pillay has argued relentlessly from the beginning in favor of a Libya-style NATO invasion of Syria.
Now Pillay is back in the news, releasing an incredibly dubious “report” concluding that the Syria government is guilty of war crimes in its fight against a foreign-sponsored insurgency. Pillay’s methodology would be laughed out of any courtroom except perhaps those of Stalin’s show trials. Her “investigators” had no access to Syria, conducted no on-the-ground investigations, but instead conducted their interviews in neighboring countries or via Skype. As with her previously discredited Libya claims, there is no independent verification of her findings, no way of even knowing who she talked to in the collection of this “evidence.” In fact, she would not even reveal the names of the accused, a list of perpetrators which she claims was secretly handed to her. No, she prefers to keep her information secret in hopes that the International Criminal Court would finally take up her case against the Syrian government.
Pillay’s fanaticism and the religious fervor of her devotion to the doctrine of “humanitarian interventionism” harkens back to an earlier era where the murder of millions was justified in pursuit of the historical inevitability of utopia on earth. It is a dangerous and deadly philosophy, which justifies all manner of death and destruction. The oft-cited C.S. Lewis quote comes most often to mind when thoughts wander to the Navi Pillays of the world:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Over the past few months, I’ve certainly wondered quite a bit about just how bad the NSA seems to be at recognizing how the public feels concerning what it’s doing. This week’s revelations about tracking mobile phone locations was incredible because folks at the NSA must have known that information about this program was in Snowden’s collection, and yet when they were asked about collecting location info a few months ago, they made statements that would clearly look bad, when put next to the truth:
“We don’t get any cell site or location information as to where any of these phones were located.” — Keith Alexander
These phones. Under this program. But under this other program we collect pretty much everything. Beyond that, the various “code names” the NSA uses are somewhat revealing as well. Lots of people commented on the insanity of calling the giant database FASCIA. But, at the very least, you could argue that the NSA never expected those code names to be made public. And with the misleading statements, they were still holding out hope that maybe, just maybe, a meteor would magically flatten Glenn Greenwald, Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras before the info got out.
But… how about when the US intelligence community actually does something publicly. Like live tweeting the launch of a new spy satellite. Apparently, they slap the most unsubtle logo on it that you can imagine.
Yes, it’s an octopus, with tentacles reaching all over the globe. And the tagline is “Nothing is Beyond Our Reach.”
Sure. They’re spies. This is what they do. But, somehow, you’d think that maybe, just maybe, someone with a tiny bit of sense back there at the office of the director of national intelligence would think that, “gee, a lot of people around the globe are pretty fucking angry at us for all the spying we’re doing right now. maybe we shouldn’t be spitting in their faces, mocking their concerns, and reminding them that we’re blatantly evil people who really don’t give two shits about their privacy.”
Of course, that would take some actual recognition of what anyone thinks of them, and that doesn’t seem to be part of the way that the US intelligence community operates.
Today, standing in front of news-cameras and press, newly elect mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio responds to the grievances of stop and frisk critics and progressive non-profits groups by appointing ‘America’s Top Cop,’ William Bratton as chief commissioner of the New York City Police Department. This is a slap in the face for many liberals across the city as their dreams of a progressive mayor are quickly dashed. Yet, for the few community activists that have not sold their hopes to city electoral politics, the appointment of Bratton signals the state response to dissent and a reaffirmation of the role of police in the neoliberal era with new points of interest, namely the criminalization of youth across New York City.
Now 66 years old, Bratton, admonished by many as “America’s Top Cop” comes back to the city that in the 1990s gave him the free pass to practice his zero-tolerance policing strategies, albeit, back then under a republican mayor. Some may question de Blasio’s decision. Given the tensions that have mounted recently against stop and frisk, why appoint someone that is so closely tied to this particular form of ‘quick-fix’ policing that continues to alienate communities of color?
Broken-windows policing was the brainchild of social science. James Q. Wilson and William Kelling in a 1982 article in The Atlantic proposed that eradicating graffiti, loitering, and other outward signs of community decay would effectively make communities safer and simultaneously address future crimes. The theory was taken up and applied by William Bratton, in his tenures as police chief in New York City in the 1990s and Los Angeles in 2000s. Since then the relationship between broken windows policing and crime rates has been debunked. Bernard Harcourt for example, in his book The Illusion of Order, challenges the correlation often drawn by criminologists between crime and disorder. It is also important to note that broken windows theory, also known as zero tolerance policing became the main form of policing strategy as neoliberal agenda was being consolidated. The consequences of zero tolerance policing have been documented far and wide from heightened surveillance to harassment, police brutality, over-arrests and overall dehumanization of poor communities and communities of color. Zero-tolerance policing has effectively allowed the NYPD to practice search and stops that are similar to the counterinsurgency military techniques of ‘cordon and search’ used in Afghanistan.
So given the way in which Bratton was instrumental in implementing zero tolerance policing, out of which ‘stop and frisk’ is an aspect of, why assign him again to the task of overseeing the NYPD?
Before we get angry at DeBlasio for failing to fulfill the role that many liberals across the city have boxed him into, let us recall the mainstream response to stop and frisk policing by the “progressive” elements of NYC.
On February 4th, 2012 at a rally in the South Bronx for the beating of Jatiek Reed and the murder of Rahmarley Graham, city council members and progressive officials took the opportunity to get on the microphone and to speak against stop and frisk and to criticize the NYPD for the egregious assault of one young man and the murder of another. While politicians gave speeches on end, no one from the community was invited to speak about their experiences with the NYPD. Furthermore, the rhetoric remained one that was critical of ‘stop and frisk’ but supportive of the role that police play in combating crime. Take Back the Bronx along with other activists drew attention away from the banter of the politicians to the heart of the matter by chanting: “Fuck the NYPD.” The real problem community members shouted was not only ‘stop and frisk’: the real enemy was the NYPD. The angry politicians tried to quiet the voices, but it was too late. The community members attending the march already left the politicians behind, chanting and taking over the streets of the South Bronx. This is a unique response to stop and frisk and to policing in general that is missing from progressive mainstream accounts.
Instead, the progressive activists and their non-profits have hijacked the discourse and have focused their energies on reforming the NYPD. Examples of this abound from so-called progressive East Flatbush councilmember Jumaane Williams to coalitions like Communities United for Police Reform (which includes many progressive non-profit groups throughout NYC). Together, they have been fundamental in channeling a radical critique of the NYPD to one that has boiled down to essentially legislative reform.
So, I wonder if these same groups will be surprised today as Bratton “the father of community policing” is called up to the task of overseeing the NYPD?
It may seem confusing to try to pinpoint why Bratton is hired at a moment when ‘stop and frisk’ has come under such scrutiny. Yet when we look at developments in Chicago and Oakland the picture is clearer.
Recently, in Oakland community groups came together to challenge City Council’s decision to hire Bratton as a consultant for its police department. In Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel has openly embraced broken windows policing as a way to deal with violence. While politicians and their middle-class supporters cite violence as one of the main reasons for the need for heightened police presence, they do not look deeper to see the ways in which neoliberalism has affected Chicago, Oakland and New York City. Neoliberal re-structuring has displaced thousands. In neighborhoods that continue to ‘hold out’ and whose location is prime target for developers the only people that stand in the way are the youth. So, what we see in places like Chicago, Oakland and increasingly New York City is a focus on criminalization of youth, particularly street families or as the police likes to call them: gangs.
In Oakland, Bratton’s hire as a consultant for the police department was proposed at a time when community groups were heavily fighting gang injunctions, youth curfews etc. Similarly, in New York City, his appointment as Chief Commissioner of NYPD comes at time of increased scrutiny of police practices. The state is making a particular choice when it hires Bratton as chief commissioner of the NYPD. It is responding to its critics and is clamping down on them. Bratton is coming into New York City at time when the NYPD is turning its attention to youth gangs like never before. In the next year, we will see the state focus more of its forces more heavily on criminalization of youth. What will be our response?
Zhandarka Kurti lives in the Bronx. She can be reached at email@example.com
- Here’s What to Expect from NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton (blogs.villagevoice.com)
- UK detains 3,000 people in unrest
- Liberals should stop and frisk Bill de Blasio
- The Shady Ties Between de Blasio and the Clintons
- Without Any Legal Basis, The NYPD Has Been Classifying Its Own Documents For More Than A Decade
The American Studies Association, a 60-year old US academic organization with 5,000 members, passed a resolution on Wednesday committing to the boycott movement against Israel.
Citing its commitment to “the pursuit of social justice” and to “the struggle against all forms of racism,” the ASA revealed in a statement published on its website that it had voted to support the academic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
“The American Studies Association endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions,” the statement read.
“The ASA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine and in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement.”
ASA noted the “significant role” played by the United States “in enabling the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the expansion of illegal settlements and the [apartheid] Wall in violation of international law, as well as in supporting the systematic discrimination against Palestinians, which has had documented devastating impact on the overall well-being, the exercise of political and human rights, the freedom of movement, and the educational opportunities of Palestinians.”
The BDS movement has gained traction over the past years, as a growing number of scholars and academic entities have committed to the cause.
More than 950 scholars working in American institutions have endorsed the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
The Association for Asian American Studies became the first US academic organization to officially support the boycott movement in April.
In May, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking withdrew from an Israeli conference, citing his decision to respect the Israel boycott.
A group of high-profile academics has written an open letter warning that food poverty has become an “emergency” in the UK. Use of food banks has tripled in the past year alone, but the government says this does not mean more people are starving.
“This has all the signs of a public health emergency that could go unrecognised until it is too late to take preventive action,” said the letter, co-signed by six leading public health experts, and addressed to the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ).
The authors, led by David Taylor-Robinson from the Medical Research Council, speculate that “the rising cost of living and increasingly austere welfare reforms” from the Conservative-Liberal government are at fault.
“The effects of these policies on nutritional status in the most vulnerable populations urgently need to be monitored… Access to an adequate food supply is the most basic of human needs and rights.”
Official statistics show that the number of those admitted to hospitals with malnutrition has risen from 3,161 in 2008/09 to 5,499 in 2012/13.
Even those who are not on the verge of starvation are suffering. The signatories cite a recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies that claimed that families are spending 8.5 percent less on food than before the recession, and there has been a “reduction in quality” of produce consumed during a “substitution towards processed sweet and savoury food and away from fruit and vegetables” particularly by poorer and single-parent families.
Leading food bank charity The Trussell Trust, which operates 400 outlets, says that three times more people have asked it for help than just a year ago. Nearly 350,000 people have received at least three days’ worth of meals from it in the 12 months leading to October.
British Red Cross has also started its first food aid collection drive since World War II.
The government has not only refused to take blame for increased food poverty, but has questioned that there has been an increase at all.
“The benefits system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed and there is no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks,” said an official statement in response to the open letter.
“In fact, our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities with the universal credit making three million households better off – the majority of these from the bottom two fifths of the income scale.”
Government officials have said that the rise of food banks – which are made up from private donations – has actually been the result of greater generosity from private citizens, and charities opening new access points. Another issue is that of entitlement to receiving meals from the food banks. In order to be given a free meal, a needy individual has to be issued a voucher by a local official, policeman, or church minister. In recent months, employment office workers have begun to offer more food vouchers, whereas before, they might have handed out cash benefits.
But no definitive, non-ideological estimations of the scale of the food poverty problem are likely at least until the publication of an official Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) report on the issue commissioned last February, which has been completed but not released to the public.
The authors of the BMJ letter and The Trussel Trust have both hit out at the government for failing to publish the report – supposedly finished in July – implying that it is hiding the devastating effect of its welfare reforms, which include stricter criteria for receiving state aid and greater penalties for those who fail to comply with them.
In response Defra has said that it is simply conducting the “necessary review and quality assurance process” before publication.
Negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to end fifty years of war have been ongoing in Cuba for a year. Agreements on agrarian rights and recently political participation have boosted peace hopes. But whatever the outcome of negotiations, chances for peace rest largely on what happens in cities and regions like Barrancabermeja.
The road there is uphill, as evidenced by the fate of political prisoner David Ravelo and violence directed against Credhos, the Barrancabermeja human rights group Ravelo founded and led. A mainly U.S. solidarity delegation visited with Ravelo in Bogota’s Picota prison in late 2012, and also called at CREDHOS headquarters in Barrancabermeja. The present writer joined that delegation. This communication serves as follow-up to the visit.
Barrancebermeja, population 230,000, is situated on the long, commercialized Magdalena River. Colombia’s largest oil refinery is there, and the region’s history is replete with oil-industry strikes. By 1987 when Credhos (Regional Corporation for Defense of Human Rights) was founded, paramilitaries were on the way to subjecting Barrancabermeja to a reign of terror. David Ravelo and Credhos resisted.
Credhos serves the Magdalena Medio region through “promotion, defense, and protection of human rights, democracy, and international humanitarian law.” It pursues “actions and scenarios for understanding, tolerance, living together, and civilized peace.” Over time killers eliminated nine Credhos activists.
Credhos secretary-general David Ravelo told an interviewer in 2010 that, “There are many murders and forced disappearances in Barrancabermeja and in the Magdalena region. Credhos accompanies victims’ families who are seeking the truth and damages for harm that was done. We demand reparations on their behalf and justice that is their due.”
Credhos’ formation coincided with repression carried out against the newly formed Patriotic Union (UP). That electoral coalition emerged from an agreement between the government and FARC whereby insurgents would give up arms in return for being able to join others in building a left political movement. U. P. activist David Ravelo gained a seat on the Barrancabermeja city council. Then amidst murders, arbitrary arrests, and disappearances, he went to jail for two years on fabricated charges.
Some 20 years later, violence was continuing. Credhos reported that in Barrancabermeja during the first two months of 2013, there were “five murders, three forced disappearances, two people wounded, and 20 death threats.” Blame fell on paramilitaries intent upon “maintaining social and political control of the city’s poor districts and thus sustain drug trafficking, a lucrative business through which they finance their criminal action.” Human rights defenders and members of a women’s political group endured “fear, anguish, intimidation, and instability.” Credhos activists were being tracked and spied upon.
David Ravelo was in prison again. Detained on September 14, 2010, he learned in December, 2012 that he would remain there for 18 years.
During April, assailants killed nine individuals in the city, among them Gilberto Arguello, president of the Board of Community Action. In early May citizen Giovani Polo Gómez was being killed in one barrio at the time Rafael Rodríguez, secretary general of the USO oil workers union, evaded an assault in another.
In November Credhos secretary general Abelardo Sánchez, the target of repeated death threats, came under attack as did Credhos president Ivan Madero Vergel. By hiding upstairs, the latter avoided discovery by a man who forcibly entered his building. As the month ended, guards stymied an attack on Credhos headquarters by three men suspected of being paramilitaries.
Additionally, the Santander Superior Court in October, 2013 rejected David Ravelo’s appeal. Responding, Credhos blamed a “lack of guarantees and weakened due process” Facts lawyer Alirio Uribe presented in Ravelo’s defense confirm that point.
Prosecutors charged Ravelo with complicity in the 1991 murder of a Barrancabermeja city official. At Ravelo’s trial, the prosecution relied upon accusations from two jailed paramilitary chieftains, once active in Barrancabermeja, who gained reduced sentences in return for their testimony. One of them, Mario Jaimes Mejía, testified he had ordered Ravelo’s assassination. The accusers allegedly bribed a corroborating witness. The judge at Ravelo’s trial in early 2012 refused to hear testimony from 30 defense witnesses.
Ravelo’s appeal centered on the criminal behavior of his prosecutor who as a police lieutenant took part in 1991 in the forced disappearance of a man named Guillermo Hurtado. William Pacheco, not yet a prosecutor, spent a year in a military prison for the crime. Colombian law bans criminals from serving as prosecutor. Pacheco entered his resignation early in 2013, but remains on the job.
Reacting to the judicial persecution of one of its leaders and having known chaos and murder in its own city, Credhos has lessons for Colombians as to difficulties in store for them as they try to build peace with social justice. In its analysis of the David Ravelo case, Credhos holds that “at the highest levels of the Colombian state they want to weaken social protest.” And, “there are hundreds of cases in which they have opened criminal investigations for daring to defend and promote human rights as a fundamental principle of a society dedicated to human development and defense of vulnerable communities.” As to the Colombian state: “experience has shown us that [its] strategies are structural and systematic.”
That insight speaks to North Americans who would confront the war-making U.S. state. Colombia of course is not only Latin America’s prime U.S. military ally - host of a network of U. S. military bases – but also is the recipient of military aid funds well known to trickle down to the benefit of paramilitaries and other lawless characters.
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.
In the first ever public hearing, Europe’s human rights court examined Poland’s role in CIA ‘black site’ prisons and torture of suspects.
Lawyers of two terror suspects currently held at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, accused Poland of abuse during Tuesday’s hearing at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
The hearing examined claims that Warsaw allowed the CIA to operate a jail for suspected terrorists, who were tortured, in Stare Kiejkuty, a remote village in north-east Poland.
Both suspects said at the hearing that they were brought to Poland in December 2002 with the knowledge of the Polish authorities.
Poland declined to reveal to the court any information saying that it could compromise a separate investigation by Polish prosecutors, and because the court could not guarantee the information would be kept confidential.
“The government does not wish to confirm or deny the facts cited by the applicants,” said Artur Nowak-Far, Under-Secretary of State in the Polish foreign ministry.
The Polish investigation has gone on for five years without an outcome. Polish authorities have never disclosed the investigation’s terms or scope, while human rights groups have accused Warsaw of deliberately postponing the investigation.
The UN Committee Against Torture has criticized the “lengthy delays” and said that it was “also concerned about the secrecy surrounding the investigation and failure to ensure accountability in these cases.”
The lawyers of the two detainees said that the evidence of torture presented to the judges at the hearing will make it harder for the Polish government to close its eyes to the case.
“A really strong and compelling case has been put here, so in that sense the hearing was very encouraging,” said lawyer Helen Duffy, on behalf of Interrights, a human rights group, Reuters reported.
The ECHR is to take several months before issuing a ruling, while no further hearings have been scheduled.
The CIA’s post 9/11 extraordinary rendition and secret detention programs are believed to have involved up to 54 foreign governments which aided the US in its operations in a variety of ways. This included hosting CIA black sites on their territories, detaining, interrogating and torturing suspects, allowing the use of domestic airspace and airports for secret flights transporting detainees, and providing intelligence which aided efforts to the detain and rendition individuals.
American lawmakers have never said where the ‘black site’ prisons were based, but intelligence officials, aviation reports and human rights groups said they included Afghanistan and Thailand as well as Poland, Lithuania and Romania.
Investigators believe a military base in north-eastern Poland was the location of one of the CIA secret prisons between December 2002 and September 2003.
Former US President George W. Bush first acknowledged the secret prisons in 2006 after numerous media reports on the issue. He ordered their closure and announced that many of the detainees would be transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The two detainees – Abd al-Rahim Hussayn Muhammad al-Nashiri, a Saudi Arabian national of Yemeni descent and a Palestinian, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, also known as Abu Zubaydah – claim that they were waterboarded at the Polish facility during the interrogations. Currently, the two detainees are held under ultra-secure conditions in a section of Guantanamo known as Camp 7 according to a declassified report released in 2009.
The City of Montreal has purchased 24 drones to help law enforcement tackle crime as authorities look to cut back the police force over the next 15 years. The UAVs, equipped with facial recognition technology, will be armed to ‘neutralize suspects’.
“It’s very exciting,” the chief of police for the borough where the drones will be deployed, Montreal North, told the Montreal Journal.
“The drones with facial recognition will patrol the streets 24 hours a day. Officers will interrogate individuals suspected of criminal acts or searched directly through speakers and microphones installed in the drones, but soon they can be provided with equipment capable of neutralizing on-site suspects pending the intervention of the law enforcement officers. It will mainly make our work less dangerous, especially in an area where there is a lot of social tension,” he said.
When asked to clarify what intermediate weapons would be used to neutralize suspects, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) spokesman told the Journal the “UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] will carry persuasive technologies, but non-lethal types, such as electric shock, blinding or paralyzing gases.”
He added that despite the seemingly limitless possibilities, only non-lethal weapons are “intended for the moment.”
The drones are set to be deployed in early 2014.
Despite the $400-million- plus price tag, the drones are intended to facilitate cutbacks to the city’s police force in line with nationwide efforts to curb RCMP expenditures, which have doubled over the last 15 years.
Employing new technology to create leaner, more effective law enforcements agencies, however, remains highly contentious.
A late 2012 poll conducted by Jennifer Stoddart, the privacy commissioner of Canada, found the public remains ambivalent about the use of UAVs in policing.
While 80 percent of those surveyed were comfortable with police use of drones for search-and-rescue missions, only 40 percent of respondents felt comfortable with their use in monitoring public events or protests.
“Considering the capacity of UAVs for surreptitious operation, the potential for the technology to be used for general surveillance purposes, and their increasing prevalence — including for civilian purposes — our office will be closely following their expanded use,” the report read.
“We will also continue to engage federal government institutions to ensure that any planned operation of UAVs is done in accordance with privacy requirements.”
The RCMP national drone is thus far in its infancy, with Mounties promising they will not be used to conduct general surveillance against the public.
A study released last month – Unmanned Eyes in the Sky – found that despite drones’ potential benefits for police, law enforcement had not “sought feedback from the public on how UAVs should or should not be adopted as a tool to serve the public interest,” the Canadian Press reported.
The study concluded that in light of the “potential for intrusive and massive surveillance,” Canadians needed reassurances that they would not be spied on once the drone program goes into full swing.
- Facial recognition, once a battlefield tool, lands in San Diego County (backcountryvoices.wordpress.com)
- Montreal buys 24 drones with facial recognition that will interrogate suspected criminals (blacklistednews.com)