Ahead of the forthcoming vote in the UN General Assembly, the UN Secretary General has published a second report on uranium weapons. The report compiles responses from countries and UN agencies to a request in the 2008 General Assembly resolution.
In contrast to the previous report, more countries appear to accept that uranium weapons are a matter of concern, and several would support specific international restrictions on their use.
Belgium mentioned their domestic ban, and the more recent law banning financial investment in uranium weapons, and also signalled that it is willing to discuss legislation with other states at the international level. Panama’s report calls for the use of uranium to be restricted to civilian purposes and Lithuania stated its support for a moratorium on the use of uranium weapons.
Burundi recognised the efforts of ICBUW, called for states that voted against previous resolutions to submit evidence supporting their position, and stated that it would support a ban on uranium weapons. Ireland and Japan both welcomed the involvement of civil society in the issue. Norway’s report mentions their funding of research by ICBUW and their ongoing willingness to work with international partners to establish the extent of the health risks.
Some states only wished to express concern. New Zealand’s report mentions that peacekeepers in affected areas are given more stringent health monitoring and
Germany stated its hope that previous resolutions would help to establish clarity about the effects of DU on human health.
The Czech Republic did wish to express any particular view on the issue, and the report of the Netherlands mentioned a long-standing preoccupation – their concerns with the mention of ‘potential harmful effects’ in previous resolutions, rather than ‘possible harmful effects’. By contrast Mexico, while taking the view that the public health risk from uranium weapons is minimal, highlighted the concerns of affected populations, and called for the use of radioactive materials to be restricted to peaceful purposes.
Jordan submitted a detailed report on the physiological risks of depleted uranium, and there was support for ICBUW’s calls for transparency and technical assistance for affected countries. Cuba pointed out that the use of uranium in weapons is in violation of article XX of the IAEA statute, and called for transparency and technical assistance from user states. Mauritius spoke of the environmental and health effects of uranium weapons use, and the fact that few countries have the expertise and resources to carry out decontamination.
As regards reports from international agencies, the position of the IAEA is largely unchanged, though its report does point out that the work by international agencies in affected areas (several years afterwards in most cases) assessed the risks at the time of the work, rather than at the time uranium weapons were used. Similarly the WHO referred to their earlier positions, despite having attracted a lot of criticism for failing to include important information. Their report also stated that they were currently reviewing more recent data – a process which was also mentioned in their 2008 report, but still seems to be incomplete.
The report of UNEP is stronger, and mentions ongoing uncertainties about the environmental effects of DU in the environment, particularly in groundwater, and reiterates their support for a precautionary approach. A more detailed discussion of the positions of international agencies will be produced shortly by the ICBUW science team.
The wide margin of votes cast in favour of General Assembly resolution 63/54 clearly reaffirmed the broad and growing concern of the international community over the danger to human health and the environment from the use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium – Cuba
Jordan does not possess any arms or ammunition of which depleted uranium is a component and is of the view that the use of such weapons pose grave risks to human beings, all living things and the environment – Jordan
[Panama] believes that laws of war exist which prohibit the use of deadly and inhumane weapons away from the battlefield, or the use of weapons of war whose effects continue once a conflict has ended – Panama
Given that it is both radioactive and toxic, depleted uranium has long-term health effects not only on personnel in combat operations, but also on civilians, flora, fauna and the environment. Furthermore, the decontamination of soil is a costly exercise, and not all countries have the necessary expertise and resources to carry out such a process – Mauritius
US Treasury’s point man on sanctions, Stuart Levey, has traveled to Turkey in a bid to pressure Iran’s neighbor into “cooperation” on sanction against Tehran.
Washington’s undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence on Wednesday met with banking sector leaders and representatives of private industry in Istanbul, a statement from the US embassy in Ankara said.
Levey will then fly to the Turkish capital on Thursday to meet officials from the country’s foreign ministry and finance ministry.
As promoted during his trip to Iran’s other neighbor, Azerbaijan, Levey will try to sway Turkey into scaling down trade with the Islamic Republic.
While the US possesses and has used nuclear weapons in the past, Washington, in a politically-motivated move, is imposing unilateral sanctions against Iran, which does not possess nuclear weapons nor does it seek to develop such weapons.
Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan on Wednesday expressed doubt that recent anti-Iran sanctions will force Iran into change its nuclear policy.
“I think it’s a reality that the sanctions are putting more and more pressure on the Iranian economy,” Ali Babacan said in Washington on Wednesday.
“But is it getting any possible results about making the Iranians take steps that the P5+1 — Britain, China, France, Russia, the US plus Germany — expect? I have big doubts about it,” AFP quoted him as saying.
Turkey, which is a temporary member of the UN Security Council, has an over 400 kilometers-long border with Iran and voted against the latest round of US-engineered UN sanctions against the Islamic Republic in June.
Earlier in October, Turkish President Abdullah Gul voiced Ankara’s determination to boost trade ties with Iran, despite the US pressure to halt trade with the Islamic Republic.
Addressing the Trabzon Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Gul urged the Turkish businessmen to improve the country’s trade with Iran.
“Those who do not know may be annoyed by our trade ties with Iran, but Turkey-Iran trade is important to us,” Turkey’s Zaman newspaper quoted Gul as saying in the northeastern city.
Turkish State Minister for Foreign Trade Zafar Caglayan has also said that Ankara will not allow unilateral US sanctions imposed against Iran over its nuclear program hamper business with the oil-rich country.
“Turkey will act in line with UN decisions. But decisions made by the United States on its own do not bind us,” he said.
Michael Ratner is the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a leading organization in opposing the dismantling of civil liberties under the Bush, and now Obama, administrations.
He spoke with Nicole Colson about the recent raids on the homes and offices of antiwar and socialist activists in Chicago, Minneapolis and North Carolina–and why the Obama administration, despite claims to the contrary, has been disastrous when it comes to promises to protect our civil liberties.
NC: RECENTLY, ANTIWAR and socialist activists in Chicago, Minneapolis and North Carolina have had their homes and offices raided, and were given grand jury subpoenas. What is your take on these raids? What’s your sense of what the government is after?
THE RAIDS have all the earmarks of a fishing expedition–both the search warrants as well as grand jury subpoenas. They all claimed to be investigating “material support to terrorism,” in particular around both the Middle East and the country of Colombia. It appears to be a fishing expedition because the materials that were authorized to be seized and the subjects about which questions were to be asked were quite broad.
The search warrants were like wholesale seizure warrants. The FBI goes into five or six houses in Minneapolis, two houses in Chicago, some houses in North Carolina and Michigan as well, and seize everything. They take people’s cell phones, they take all the computers out, they take every document out. This broad language in the search warrants purports to allow the FBI to take everything in those offices.
And then the subpoenas, which require people to testify in front of the grand jury, they also are very open ended. Asking for everything people know about certain organizations, phone numbers, associates, friends, etc. So you would think if it was a narrowly tailored prosecution in which they thought there might be real criminal conduct, the focus would be much narrower.
So while it appears from the warrants they might have some suspicion about something (but who even knows if that suspicion is valid), they certainly don’t have very much, because they are going very, very broadly.
It’s something like looking for a needle in a haystack, in which they destroy many lives and chill people’s rights–and there may not even be a needle. And because of that, they are clearly encroaching on the First Amendment rights of people who are doing antiwar organizing and working to change U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East and in South America.
There are many problems, but one of the problems here is that the search warrants and subpoenas are so that broad, they cut directly into all kinds of First Amendment activities. So the people in Minneapolis, who were among the main organizers of some of the Republican National Convention demonstrations in 2008, then become the targets of the FBI or the Joint Terrorism Task Force–and their First Amendment activities, and their right to organize and oppose the government are therefore chilled or even prevented all together.
A broad, wholesale attack like this on the antiwar movement and on activists is bad for the people who were directly attacked, and it also tells all of us that the activities we undertake are subject to government surveillance and much more in this case–the actual seizure of the documents and grand jury subpoenas.
So it’s quite serious. It makes you very suspicious because it’s so broad. It was so coordinated, it was across the country, and they don’t really have that much, if anything.
A second problem is the ostensible reason for the search. The various warrants and subpoenas cite the law concerning material support for terrorism. And of course, that’s the material support statute.
A case arguing the unconstitutionality of that statute was recently argued by the Center for Constitutional Rights in the Supreme Court [Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project]. We lost. The Supreme Court, for the first time since 9/11, said advocacy or speech on behalf of an organization on the attorney general’s terrorist list is covered by the criminal statute–the material support of terrorism statute–if that speech is coordinated with, or you work with or have contact with, people in the alleged terrorist organization.
So once an organization is put on the terrorist list, if I only write an op-ed, and if I gather the information from the designated organization or have any contact with anybody there, even if it’s just asking for information, that might be interpreted as “coordination” with them, or some kind of material support for that organization. And there is no due process given before an organization is put on the list. It’s almost impossible to challenge. Oftentimes, placement on the terrorist list is a political decision.
So first you have the Supreme Court decision in June 2010, and then you have these raids a couple of months afterward. It makes you very suspicious that the current government is pushing the boundaries of the material support statute and reading it very broadly.
Organizations are going to be put in fear of any kind of opposition to U.S. foreign policy if there is a claim by the government that there is contact with organizations that are designated terrorists. Domestic American organizations that oppose U.S. foreign policy may well be chilled in their work.
COULD YOU say a little bit more about the way that the material support provision has been used since 9/11? There have been a number of really high-profile cases–particularly of Islamic charities, for example–where no violence was ever alleged to have occurred as a result of the so-called “material support,” so a lot of us on the left have seen this as a broader attempt to whip up support for the “war on terror.”
ONE OF the main uses of the material support statute, I think is to demonize organizations that the U.S. government doesn’t like. Had they had such a statue during the period of the African National Congress (ANC) opposition to the apartheid government in South Africa, they would have labeled that–and that’s how they thought of it in the U.S., under Reagan and before–as a terrorist organization. Any contacts with the ANC of any Americans opposed to apartheid would have been considered criminal.
There are two aspects to this. One is that the government can label, without any kind of hearing or way to challenge it, a foreign organization as a terrorist organization. The other is that any American contact with that organization or support for that organization is prohibited.
This is true even if that support is, as I said, by writings that are at all coordinated; by giving blankets to their hospital; by, according to the case we lost in Supreme Court, wanting to teach the [Kurdistan Workers Party] or the Tamil Tigers about the Geneva Conventions. Wanting to teach people peaceful means of resolving disputes, or wanting to get them to the negotiating table–when Jimmy Carter negotiates questions in the Middle East and he has contacts with Hamas or Hezbollah–those all are now prohibited.
So this statute is the favorite of prosecutors to go after people, because the smallest kind of contact with a designated terrorist organization can be considered material support. It’s an easy way to intimidate, wipe out and jail opponents of U.S. foreign policy, and an easy way to demonize organizations that many would call liberation organizations in other countries.
The provision has been used often. It is a favorite among prosecutors because you have to prove so little. So the Holy Land Foundation, which was the biggest Muslim charity in the United States, was accused of giving money to Hamas, but so indirectly that it’s hard to believe any of the facts in the case–it was giving it to groups that I think even the UN was giving to in Gaza. But somehow, they were supposed to believe or know that those groups were connected to Hamas, which has been put on the U.S. terrorist list.
The statute is used very broadly to say, “Muslims in this country and all their charities, what they’re doing is supporting terrorism.” When in fact, the vast majority of those charities–I obviously don’t know every one, but from what I know–gave aid to organizations they didn’t think were terrorist for starters, or on the list, and, secondly, they were giving humanitarian aid or doing things like teaching the Geneva Conventions.
I WANTED to go back to this recent Supreme Court case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, that was argued for the Obama administration by former Solicitor General Elena Kagan–who is now, of course, sitting on the Supreme Court. What do you think that case signals about the court’s view of free speech issues and its efforts to broaden this statute?
THEY WERE pushing to broaden out this statute, of course. I was at the argument, and the solicitor general did make very broad arguments–broader than the case required for saying that certain kinds of what she called “material aid” should be criminally punished under the statute, or could be.
So, for example, let’s say an organization was designated as a terrorist organization, and it comes to you and says, “We were improperly designated, we want to try to challenge it.” I couldn’t do that, as a lawyer representing them. Elena Kagan said in the Supreme Court that such representation would be “materially aiding” a terrorist organizations.
So she took a very broad position in the court. The solicitor general does have some ability to say, “I’m not taking a position that’s broader than the case,” but she didn’t do that. The Supreme Court didn’t decide every question on this, but you’d be taking a real chance if you went and represented a designated terrorist organization that was on the list. So it doesn’t bode particularly well that Elena Kagan argued in that case that she was willing to go for a very broad reading of the statute.
The other issue had to do with the plaintiff we represented, the Humanitarian Law Project, which wanted to teach the Geneva Conventions or explain to a designated terrorist group how to use the UN as a peaceful means of achieving their goals. Kagan argued that such teaching was “conduct,” and not “speech”–and therefore wasn’t protected by the First Amendment.
We argued that it was speech, and the court did agree that it was speech. So even on that issue, the government was willing to say that teaching the Geneva Conventions was speech.
But then they said this was one of the rare cases where we’re going to outlaw speech, which is what they did.
I THINK a lot of people felt some real hope that with Barack Obama’s election, civil liberties would be safer, given his promise to close Guantánamo, and to try detainees in civilian courts. But he’s really fallen far short of almost all of these promises, hasn’t he?
I WOULD say it’s a disaster. It’s a continuation of the Bush policies, and in some cases, the deepening of those policies. So Guantánamo is still open. We still have arbitrary detention, or detention without trial, and we have a number of people at Guantánamo who will never go to trial.
In a recent case that came up in federal court, the court barred testimony that might have been the result of torture. The Obama administration tried to use it. But the government still uses military commissions to try people, and those commissions can still use evidence derived from torture.
The Obama administration still uses the “state secrets” defense to get cases dismissed. They just did it again in a case of ours, in which we’re suing Obama to stop the assassination by drone or otherwise of Imam (Anwar) al-Awlaki in Yemen. The government asserted the “state secrets” defense to that case. We don’t know what the court will decide.
But they have been pretty deferential to the Obama administration on the question of state secrets. We have not won a case. So on every issue–Guantánamo, preventive detention, state secrets, use of torture evidence, military commissions–there’s been an identical practice to that of the Bush administration. Some people would argue they’re surrounded with a few more procedural protections, or laws, but it’s the same policy.
And when it’s coming from a Democrat, it should be a particular lesson to people–that on these national security issues, there’s very, very little difference between the two administrations, Democratic or Republican. It’s also particularly bad, because if one had hopes that the Democrats were going to shift on these issues, it just demonstrates how deeply imbedded the erosion of civil liberties has become in the U.S. and the willingness to sacrifice civil liberties in the name of “national security” or “stopping terrorism.”
You would have trouble distinguishing the policies of Bush from Obama. Even on the issue of rendition, when you take a person from one country to another illegally, Obama has continued this. He claimed that he wouldn’t render people to countries where they would be tortured, but we haven’t seen that yet–the first person who was picked up to be rendered had the heck beaten out of them on the plane over here.
So even on rendition, they’re similar. One difference, you could say, is that there isn’t the open and notorious torture of people that there was under Bush–at least not that we know of.
I say that cautiously, because there are still some secret prisons out there–a section of Bagram that no one’s allowed into–so we don’t know everything that’s going on around the issue of torture. And there’s certainly been no accountability for the torture regime of the Bush administration. Many of those same people are still in the current administration.
I WAS reading a recent Rolling Stone interview with Obama, and he said that people need to vote for the Democrats in November if we want the kind of country that respects civil rights and civil liberties. It just seemed totally disconnected from the reality of what’s happened in the last two years under his administration.
IN EVERY case we’ve gone to court on regarding accountability, the Obama administration has stopped us.
We represent two people who allegedly committed suicide in Guantánamo. We have evidence now that they were murdered, and the Obama administration opposed our suit, and we lost. In another case, we went to court claiming that our Guantánamo lawyers at the Center were wiretapped without warrants. We just lost that case in the Supreme Court. They denied review. Again, the Obama administration opposed us.
The ACLU went to court to try and get at the rendition issue against a subsidiary of Boeing, which was involved in some of the flights. Again, the Obama administration opposed it.
I can name 20 cases where they’ve come into court, and they’ve made sure that there will not be exposure, much less liability, of the torture regime, and violations of fundamental Constitutional rights that occurred under Bush. And many of these violations are still occurring today. You don’t have an outcry about Guantánamo now, yet we have 40 some people there facing indefinite permanent detention without trial.
GIVEN WHAT you’re saying about these recent raids being about demonizing organizations the government doesn’t like, what kind of advice would you give to activists in this kind of climate?
I CERTAINLY think it’s not a time to cut back on actions, that’s for sure. If there is a need for action, it is now–whether it’s on the wars or civil liberties or immigration or otherwise. Otherwise, you’ll be basically conceding this territory to the government. So I don’t think one should pull back on major activity.
I do think one has to assume, in whatever you do, that most of what you do is wiretapped or surveilled, and there’s no doubt that the FBI guidelines are very broad on that. You have to assume that there’s an informant of some sort in a group, and that therefore what you say is going to be heard–whether by the government through surveillance or by someone in the group. And because of the breadth of the statute, you have to be extremely careful about your dealing with organizations on the [foreign terrorist] list.
When I say that, I mean your activities independent of those “terrorist” organizations are okay. So you shouldn’t pull back from that. So, for example, I can write an op-ed article tomorrow supporting the FARC in Colombia, but what I can’t do is have contact with the FARC in terms of saying that I need some help or something like that. Now, where it gets into real journalism is a harder issue.
I think organizations have to be extremely careful dealing with groups on the various terrorist lists that our government keeps. But you can do independent activities. Tomorrow, I can write an article saying “Hezbollah should be the legitimate rulers of Lebanon.” But I can’t contact Hezbollah and say, “Well I’m going to write this article, what do you think about this?” As soon as I do that, I cross a line.
I think organizations have to be extremely careful about contacts, if any, with designated terrorist organizations, and I wouldn’t recommend it. Not the way this government is acting right now and not with these decisions.
IN TERMS of the response to the FBI raids, I know there were several demonstrations in cities in the days following the raids, and when the first grand jury appearance was scheduled, even though all the activists refused to testify, people came out for that as well. Do you think that kind of public pressure is important?
I THINK those have been very helpful. I was really excited to see that there were 27 cities that had demonstrations around the raids and the grand jury appearances. And the fact that everybody decided to take the Fifth Amendment and not testify I think surprised the government. The government didn’t come back immediately and give certain people immunity, or maybe it realized they overreached a bit, and that it was a fishing expedition.
I think the demonstrations made a difference in that. That’s not saying that something more won’t happen, because you know they don’t do these things and then just walk away. But I think demonstrations did help, and protests really limit the scope that the government can act on in these kinds of raids. I think they are absolutely a crucial part of opposition.
I think that if there weren’t those protests, for all I know the government would have enforced those subpoenas right away and dragged those people right in to the grand jury. But now, maybe they’re rethinking it. They may still do it selectively–I don’t have any idea–but I certainly believe that making this into the civil liberties fight that it really is, is crucial.
The International Court of Justice ruled that Israel’s construction of the wall on occupied Palestinian land was illegal. (Flickr)
Last week, the Dutch National Crime Squad raided and searched the headquarters of Riwal in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, following criminal complaints lodged by the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq. Riwal is a European company that makes large-scale cranes and access equipment for construction sites and has been involved in the construction of Israel’s wall and settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Early morning on 13 October, more than forty detectives in plain clothes entered the Riwal building from different sides and ordered the staff to stay in the cafeteria as they conducted a thorough search for documents.
In March 2010, attorney Liesbeth Zegveld of Bohler advocates lodged two complaints against Riwal on behalf of Al-Haq. The criminal complaints assert that Riwal is complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. These offenses are contrary to the Dutch International Crimes Act and six years ago, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that Israel’s construction of the wall on occupied Palestinian land was illegal.
Zegveld told Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad earlier this month that “This company has knowingly contributed to apartheid and persecution” (“Inval Nederlands bedrijf wegens hulp bij bouw muur Israël,” 14 October 2010).
On 3 July 2006, two years after the International Court of Justice ruling, Riwal’s involvement with the Israeli occupation was unintentionally revealed in a Dutch television documentary on the West Bank wall. Alert viewers noticed the the Riwal cranes and Bert Koenders, then member of parliament, asked the minister of foreign affairs for clarification. At the time, Ben Bot, then foreign minister, replied that Riwal was an Israeli company. Two months later, however, a report by United Civilians for Peace (UCP), a Dutch nongovernmental organization, demonstrated that Riwal was a 100 percent Dutch company (“Dutch economic links in support of Israeli occupation …,” September 2006 [pdf]). Bot subsequently forced the company to promise that its equipment would be no longer made available for the construction of the wall.
Less than a year later, in June 2007, Riwal equipment was noticed at a construction site of the wall near Bethlehem. Pictures of the Riwal cranes were sent to UCP which asked the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem to conduct a further inquiry and B’Tselem confirmed that Riwal cranes were used in the construction of the wall. The news received extensive media attention in the Netherlands and led to a debate in parliament. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Verhagen warned the company: “I expect Riwal to stop providing cranes for the wall. I hope this will be the last we hear of it” (“Dutch gov’t warns company to stop work on W. Bank fence,” 9 July 2007).
Despite this warning, Riwal equipment was once again observed by the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace at the new Ariel West industrial park in the occupied West Bank in 2009. The director of Riwal Israel, Tal Pery, told Dutch journalist Simone Korkus in September 2009 that “it is very well possible that Riwal equipment is used in Ariel. We have a big fleet” (“Kritiek op hulp Dordts bedrijf aan Israël,” Algemeen Dagblad, 26 September 2009, via UCP).
Riwal’s activity building Israel’s illegal infrastructure in the occupied West Bank might be linked to the background of one of the owners of the company, Doron Livnat. Livnat is a board member of the Hague-based Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI), which has been characterized by Haaretz as a pro-Zionist lobby group (“Report: Dutch gov’t funding anti-Israeli organization,” 26 October 2007).
In addition, Livnat is the chairman of the Advisory Board of the Dutch Collectieve Israel Actie (CIA) which raises funds for Keren Hayesod, the official fundraising arm of the World Zionist Organization. Founded in 1920, Keren Hayesod aims to strengthen Israeli society, facilitate Jewish immigration to Israel and further Jewish Zionist education around the world, according to its website. Under Dutch law, donations to the CIA are tax deductible.
For more than four years a group of Dutch, Palestinian and Israeli organizations, parliamentarians, concerned individuals and lawyers worked together to document Riwal’s activities and hold the company accountable. The raid of Riwal’s offices by the Dutch public prosecutor shows the success of this cooperation and is likely to send a ripple though the European corporate community and may represent a tipping point in the financial and material support of European companies for Israel’s occupation.
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.
“Zionism is incompatible with peace”
Setting aside for a moment the argument of whether dividing historic Palestine into two states was ever a good idea, clearly forty years ago it was a viable solution. Today as liberal Zionist Jews and others call for this solution, it is a sad and pathetic sight.
In 1967, after the IDF completed the conquest of Palestine, great men like Dr. Nahum Goldman, Dr. Yishayahu Leibovitch, General Dr. Matti Peled and other prominent Jews called for the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. However, Jews in Israel, America and elsewhere around the world were basking in the messianic glow of the conquest of historic Israel, bewitched by the sounds of biblical names now made accessible. Names like Hebron and Bethlehem, Shilo and Bet El, all of which were now within reach of everyone, [bringing] secular liberal Jews to believe that there is a God and that he was really on their side.
Never mind that a solution whereby half of the population receives barely 20 percent of its historic homeland while the remaining half receives the rest had little chance of success to begin with. Now the West Bank is riddled with towns and malls and highways built on Palestinian land for Jews only and Israeli cabinet members openly discuss population transfers, or rather transfer of its non-Jewish population. The level of oppression and the intensity of the violence against Palestinians has reached new heights and so the questions that begs to be asked are: who exactly will allow Palestinians to establish their mini state? and where will this state exist? If there is any doubt in anyone’s mind, Israel has no intentions of ever letting go of any part of historic Israel.
Discussing the two state solution now under these conditions shows an acute inability to accept reality. As one learns about the history of the Zionist movement and the early years of the state of Israel one will understand that parting with any portion of historic Israel is not something Israel will ever do. Liberal Jews in the US (see J Street) and in Israel (see the Zionist liberals like David Grossman who recently received a peace award in Germany) all of a sudden realized that there was a problem. They all claim that the solution is partition and segregation via the creation of a tiny and impotent state for the Arabs of Palestine. They do claim that Israel must be reprimanded for its treatment of Palestinians and they even condemn the siege on Gaza. These are commendable statements coming from Zionists anywhere particularly in the US where criticizing Israel is a mortal sin, but this is just talk.
There is an illusion that a liberal, forward thinking government can rise in Israel and then everything will be just as liberal Zionists wish it to be. They will pick up where Rabin and Arafat left off and we will have the pie in sky Jewish democracy liberal Jews want so much to see in Israel. This illusion is shared by American Jews, liberal Zionists in Israel and around the world and in the West where guilt of two millennia of persecuting Jews still haunts the conscience of many. If only there were better leaders and if only this and if only that… But alas, reality continues to slap everyone in the face: Zionism and peace are incompatible. I will say it again: Zionism is incompatible with peace.
A serious study of the history of modern Israel will show that the emergence of Netanyahu and Lieberman was perfectly predictable. They are the natural successors of David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin. As one looks at the political map in Israel one can see that future Zionist leaders, be they from Labor, Likud, Meretz or the religious nationals, will be no different and offer no change. The problem is Zionism and the solution is dismantling the Zionist framework and instituting a secular democracy that does not discriminate between Israelis and Palestinians. In other words, no one nation will rule over the other but the rule of law will govern everyone equally.
Zionism has created a state that wants nothing to do with peace or reconciliation. The problem is not Benjamin Netanyahu and Lieberman and the solution is not Yossi Beilin or David Grossman who represent the Zionist liberals. The problem is that the basic premise on which the Jewish state was founded, Zionism, is flawed.
* Author Miko Peled is an Israeli now residing in the US and the son of former Israeli general, Matti Peled.
Sarkozy Under Siege
When he entered the Elysée palace in 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy dreamed of a glorious destiny. Enthusiastic commentators predicted that his casual populism would revamp the Bonapartist right, and that his Gallic brand of neoliberal policies would sell the “American dream” to a mistrustful population. Things have not gone according to plan. Sarkozy wanted to be the French JFK; today he looks more like Louis XVI awaiting trial in 1793. He may escape the guillotine, but his presidency is now under siege.
The French are deeply unhappy with the way they have been governed, but their main grievance is about pension reform, which is seen as a cynical ploy to make ordinary people work more for inferior entitlements, while bailed-out bankers and the rich get tax rebates and continue to enjoy the high life. Over the past month, six national demonstrations have gathered together an estimated average of 3.5 million per action day. The latest, on Tuesday, was again a big success.
The movement is popular: 69% of the nation back the strikes and demonstrations; 73% want the government to withdraw the reform. And high school pupils have now joined the fray. Over 1,000 high schools are on strike as the youngsters take to the streets to protest against mass unemployment and the raising of the retirement age. The government has patronisingly labelled them as “manipulated kids”, but these comments have backfired and served only to galvanise the young, who have hardened their resistance and taken further interest in the reform. When interviewed by the media, pupils come across as articulate and knowledgable. Parents worry about their children’s future, so they will not stop them from striking.
In France, strikes and demonstrations are seen as a civilised and effective way to enact one’s citizenship. Students are expected to join marches from an early age, receiving by the same token a “political education”. France’s youth have always scared governments because of their radical potential. Student demonstrations of late have been invariably popular because people know that the young have been badly hit by unemployment over the past 30 years.
University students are preparing to strike as well. Sarkozy, like Louis XVI in 1789, does not seem to have grasped how volatile the situation has become. He should know better. Since May 1968, all governments have been forced on the ropes every time youngsters have entered a social movement. This time it could prove crucial in helping to reach a tipping point; a stage in the conflict where the balance of power switches from the government toward those opposing the pension reform.
Last week, Sarkozy had to send in riot police to reopen fuel depots blocked by strikes in several places. Yet several hundred filling stations had to shut because they had run out of supplies. Lorry and train drivers are also starting strike actions.
How can the current situation be interpreted? Undoubtedly, the rebellion seems durable and runs deeper than the question of pensions. The reform has triggered a web of collective actions that are now spreading fast. Discontent is fuelled by low incomes and unemployment, but also by the impact of the crisis on people’s daily life, the arrogance of the Sarkozy presidency, corruption cases and police brutality.
There is a sense of moral outrage at the imposition of a neoliberal medicine to cure an illness caused by the same neoliberal policies. The French are not hostile to reforms: they just demand those that redistribute wealth allocate resources to those who need it the most. Any comparison with May ’68, however, may be hasty. Then, France was experiencing a period of economic prosperity. Today, events occur in the context of a deep economic depression. This is why the political situation is potentially explosive. Radicalised workers and youngsters are forcing the unions to up their game. The normally toothless Socialist party has pledged to return the retirement age to 60, should it come back to power in 2012.
One can envisage two possible scenarios. Opposition to the reform hardens, in which case Sarkozy may have to water it down or even withdraw it. This would mark the first major popular victory in Europe against the post-2008 neoliberal order. Alternatively, Sarkozy stays put and imposes a deeply unpopular reform, in which case the political price to pay for the incumbent president would be very high, should he decide to run again in 2012.
Philippe Marlière is professor of French and European politics at University College, London (UK). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How many lies can Alan Dershowitz tell in 60 seconds? There have been several posts concerning the recent debate between Dershowitz and Susan Abulhawa at the recent Boston Book Festival. Many have noted the dramatic contrast between the calm Abulhawa and the manic Dershowitz. A full dissection of Dershowitz’s falsehoods over the full hour of video would be too time-consuming, but let’s take a look at a single minute of his rantings, from about 34:15 to 35:15.
Denouncing the allegation of a massacre in Jenin, the Dersh lectured:
The massacre was the massacre of 55 Jewish people sitting at a Seder in the Park Hotel just before [the Israeli incursion into Jenin], and Palestinian terrorists from Jenin went in and murdered 55 Israeli family members having a seder. Israelis responded not from the air which they had the right to do but from the ground. . . There was no massacre in Jenin,. . it didn’t happen. There was a battle in Jenin in which fewer people died than were killed at the Park Hotel. This is total fiction, total false fiction. You must learn the facts.
Let’s leave aside the bigger picture of whether Israel’s actions constituted a “massacre,” “human rights violations,” or “war crimes” under various definitions of those terms. UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen called the destruction “horrific beyond belief” and said it was “morally repugnant” that Israel denied access by emergency workers for 11 days. Let’s just focus on Dershowitz’s smaller lies:
1) The Park Hotel suicide bombing claimed 30 lives, not 55.
2) The bombing was carried out by a single terrorist, not multiple terrorists.
3) The single bomber was from Tulkarem, not Jenin.
4) The victims were not all members of one family.
5) The Palestinian death count in Jenin was 52, greater than the number actually killed at the Park Hotel, but less than the number Dershowitz falsely claimed were killed.
6) Israel had no “right” to respond to the bombing by bombing Tulkarem or Jenin from the air, at least not under international law or under any widely accepted moral or ethical code. (Israel’s “right” to indiscriminately bomb any Palestinians for the actions of some does have many precedents, however. For example, in the aftermath of the Munich Olympic deaths of 11 Israelis, Israel bombed refugee camps in southern Lebanon and Syria, killing anywhere from 60 to hundreds of people unconnected with the Munich operation but guilty of the crime of being Palestinian.)
Not bad for one minute. Not a Dersh personal record, but not bad. I do love the end of this monologue, when Dershowitz says, with complete conviction and passion: “You must learn the facts.”
“We do not fit the general pattern of humanity…” – David Ben-Gurion
“…only God could have created a people so special as the Jewish people.” – Gideon Levy
The fecundity of the Zionist project in producing claims of exceptionalism is not in doubt. Anyone who scans the voluminous Zionist literature will be suitably impressed by its repeated resort to claims of Jewish and Israeli exceptionalism. There is scarcely any aspect of Israeli or Jewish history that has not been embellished with some claim to uniqueness.
Israeli exceptionalism has many uses. It defends, obscures, explains away the ‘abnormal’ character of the Zionist nationalist project. When the Irish sought national liberation, their goal was straightforward. They wanted to regain national control over their lives and their country from a foreign power. No one had to convince the Irish that they are descended from the gods; that they possessed a unique essence which set them apart from all other peoples; or that their history, religion, race, language, morality or culture set them above their colonial masters. Occasionally, driven by exuberance or hubris, nationalists have advanced exceptionalist claims, but the success of their movement has not depended on their acceptance. The Irish claimed sovereignty because they knew that they are a nation with their own territory. In order to create their own state, they did not have to establish that they are exceptional.
The Zionists confronted two handicaps that Irish nationalists did not face. The diverse and scattered Jewish communities of Europe – and even more so, the world – did not constitute a single people. Instead, the Jews of the world were loosely united by their religious heritage, but they shared their languages, cultures and genes with their neighboring communities. Moreover, no Jewish community had its own country, a substantial and contiguous territory where it formed a majority of the population. Despite these twin Jewish deficits – the absence of a nation and a national territory – the Zionists were determined to ‘liberate’ the Jews of Europe and endow them with their own state.
The Zionists would remedy the first deficit by denying its existence. They knew that the Jews were not a nation, but it would be unwise to begin their ‘nationalist’ movement with the admission that a Jewish nation did not yet exist. They also did not think that this deficit was a serious hindrance to their movement. With help from anti-Semites, whose attacks had been growing in recent decades, the Zionists were convinced that they could quickly convince enough frightened Jews that they are a nation. Instead of constructing a nationalism based on a common religion, however, the Zionists chose to cultivate a racial basis for Jewish nationalism. They embraced the anti-Semitic accusation that Jews of Europe are an alien race, not Germans or Russians, descended from the ancient Hebrews.
A racial identity offered the best hope of inculcating nationalism in culturally diverse Jewish communities. Only an identity, based on the myth of a common descent, could unite peoples who were as different ethnically and culturally as the Jews of Portugal, Britain, Germany, Greece and Russia. Only the myth of racial unity, only the conviction that they are a single family, descended from Abraham and Jacob, could unite orthodox, conservative and reform Jews into a nation. Once the Jews were convinced of their racial identity, preserved over hundreds of generations in exile, this would also endow them with pride in their ancient pedigree and their unique ability to survive and preserve their racial purity through difficult conditions. This was sure to engender a strong sense of their distinctiveness, superiority and destiny, rooted in Jewish traditions and the Jewish Bible. With confidence, the Jews could see themselves as a unique nation, both ancient and divinely blessed.
The Zionists were more candid about their ‘land deficit;’ this was not something they could fudge. Indeed, their land deficit defined the ‘abnormal’ condition of Jews; they were an abnormal people because they did not have a country they could call their own. Conceptually, the land deficit was easier to fix. The Jews only had to stake a claim to Palestine as their country: there were two ways of doing this. Jews of secular persuasion could claim that they had a historical right to Palestine, since they were descended from the ancient Israelites. In addition, it would be easy to reclaim this land because – according to early Zionist rhetoric – ‘this was a land without a people.’ No one had claimed Palestine during their absence. The religious Jews had a simpler and – for them – more irrefutable claim. Their God had promised the land to their ancestors for keeps. All they had to do was invoke their divine right to this Promised Land.
It turns out, after all, that the Jews are a people with their own land. Once the Zionists had made their case, there would be nothing abnormal about their national project. This was the official rhetoric of the Zionist project of national liberation for the Jewish people. On the back of this rhetoric, the Zionists would succeed in convincing the Western world to support their exclusionary colonial project in the Middle East.
This is an excerpt from the author’s book, Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism (Palgrave, 2010)
NABLUS — A group of Israeli settlers broke into an all girls’ school in the Nablus district village of As-Sawiya on Wednesday, setting fire to its storehouse containing furniture and unused sports equipment, the headmistress said.
Maysoon Sawalha said the school’s cleaning woman arrived to find the lock on the main door broken as well as that of the storehouse, with all its contents torched.
The fire did not spread to the rest of school because the water main is located in the storehouse she said, adding that “otherwise the whole school would have been set on fire.”
Settlers had also written racist slogans on the school’s walls, including “regards from the hill tops.”
“This is not the first attack on the school. Many attacks were carried out previously, the last of which was last year when settlers intercepted one of the classrooms and fired rounds of ammunition and gas canisters,” Sawalha said.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said a complaint had been filed with Israel’s Civil Administration and that the body was now directly in touch with Palestinian Authority officials to “keep things quiet” in the area. Israeli police, she added, are investigating the incident.
Sawalha called on international organizations to work on stopping such attacks “that put the life of the girls on risk causing them to suffer psychologically and panic out of such attacks.”
The suspected arson follows a wave of reports from Palestinian farmers that settlers have been setting fire to agricultural land since the beginning of the traditional olive harvest in October.
On 4 October, Israeli settlers were suspected of setting fire to a Bethlehem village mosque, after ransacking it and setting fire to the carpets.
Director of PA Ministry of Religious Endowment in Bethlehem Muhammad Ayish at the time describing the arson as a “campaign against everything Palestinian.”
On Tuesday, an Israeli rights group said that 90 percent of claims filed against settlers in the West Bank for assault to person or property against Palestinians fail to secure a conviction.
Tourism in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is an extremely political issue. The narrative given by tour guides shapes the views of visitors to the area, and the Israeli narrative is far different from the Palestinian one. So when Israeli Knesset (Parliament) members propose a plan to ban Palestinian tour guides from Jerusalem, Palestinians say that what this means is the all-out negation of the Palestinian narrative of the history of the region.
In the last year, Israeli tour guides have slowly taken over the guidance of tours in the West Bank, which has always been the purview of Palestinian guides. Now, that takeover has extended to Jerusalem, thus ridding the tourism industry of the last of the tour guides who provide a different perspective from the Israeli one.
A group of Israeli Knesset members led by Gideon Ezra have called on the Israeli government to de-commission all Palestinians licensed to lead tours in Jerusalem, saying that they do not represent Israel’s interests in their tours and are “hostile to the state of Israel”. The bill, if passed, would prevent all Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from being tour guides, as it includes a clause that all tour guides would be required to be citizens of Israel.
The text of the bill reads in part, “Some of the residents of Israel, like those in East Jerusalem, often have ‘dual loyalty,’ since they vote in elections of the Palestinian Authority. These residents often present anti-Israeli positions to groups of tourists that they guide. To ensure foreign tourists are exposed to the national Israeli viewpoint, we suggest ruling that travel agencies, and any organization providing tours for foreign tourists, ensure that the groups are accompanied by a tour guide who is an Israeli citizen and has institutional loyalty to the State of Israel.”
The indigenous Palestinian population of the city are not considered to be citizens under Israeli law. They are “residents” and Israeli authorities issue them Jerusalem residency cards, which are often revoked if a Jerusalem resident is found to have left the city for any significant period of time.
The ‘Jerusalem residency’ laws are one of a number of methods used by the Israeli government to rid the city of its indigenous Palestinian inhabitants.