TEL AVIV — Israel’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday backed a bill to define Jerusalem as a national priority area, Israeli press reported.
Among other financial benefits, the proposal would give priority to construction in Jerusalem, including in occupied East Jerusalem, the Israeli news site Ynet said. Further, the bill’s creators said it would lead to an increase in the number of Jews in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians seek as the capital of their state, Ynet reported.
MK Uri Ariel, who proposed the bill, said it would lead to “a change in the demographic balance” of the city. The bill has secured wide-spread support in the Knesset, where it will face a preliminary vote on Wednesday, the report added.
Palestinian leaders have repeatedly denounced what they say is a policy of ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem. President Mahmoud Abbas told leaders at a recent Arab League summit that home demolitions, evictions, land confiscation, and settlement building had become daily occurrences in the city.
Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem following the 1967 war, a move not recognized by the international community. The UN considers East Jerusalem to be under occupation, and recently condemned Israel’s settlement enterprise in the area as a violation of international law. The fate of Jerusalem is one of the six final-status issues to be agreed in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
UN envoy Richard Falk said Friday that “the extension of the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem by way of unlawful settlements, house demolitions, revocations of Palestinian residence rights, makes it increasingly difficult to envisage a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.”
Israel’s recent approval of 240 new housing units in illegal settlements in East Jerusalem was denounced by the international community. The US conveyed its “disappointment” to Israel over the move, which US State Department spokesman Philip J Crowley described as “contrary to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.”
Meanwhile, Israeli forces handed several demolition notices to Palestinian families on Sunday in Al-Bustan in Silwan, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
Head of the committee defending Silwan homes Fakhri Abu Diab said a large force of Israeli border guards ransacked the area, using homes as vantage points to fire tear-gas canisters, stun-grenades and rubber bullets “in all directions.”
Has the newspaper of record adopted a double standard for torture techniques—using the “t”-word when the techniques are applied by other nations, but using more evasive characterizations when agents of the United States government are in the spotlight? That question has now been authoritatively settled, and the answer is a resounding “yes.”
A new study by Harvard’s Kennedy School (PDF) looks systematically at how American print media characterized the use of waterboarding in incidents reported from 1903 (the famous case of Major Glenn, coming out of the Philippines) to the present day. Here’s the crux of their conclusions:
Examining the four newspapers with the highest daily circulation in the country, we found a significant and sudden shift in how newspapers characterized waterboarding. From the early 1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture: The New York Times characterized it thus in 81.5% (44 of 54) of articles on the subject and The Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles (26 of 27). By contrast, from 2002‐2008, the studied newspapers almost never referred to waterboarding as torture. The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63). The Wall Street Journal characterized the practice as torture in just 1 of 63 articles (1.6%). USA Today never called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture. In addition, the newspapers are much more likely to call waterboarding torture if a country other than the United States is the perpetrator. In The New York Times, 85.8% of articles (28 of 33) that dealt with a country other than the United States using waterboarding called it torture or implied it was torture while only 7.69% (16 of 208) did so when the United States was responsible. The Los Angeles Times characterized the practice as torture in 91.3% of articles (21 of 23) when another country was the violator, but in only 11.4% of articles (9 of 79) when the United States was the perpetrator.
The way newspapers characterize practices like waterboarding has an immediate impact on the attitudes adopted by their readers. Accepting the language suggested by the Bush Administration (“enhanced interrogation techniques”) helped build public acceptance for the application of torture techniques. Victor Klemperer, in his masterful study of the manipulation of language in Germany from the thirties to the end of World War II, called such phrases “little doses of arsenic: they are consumed without being noticed; they seem at first to have no effect, but after a while, indeed, the effect is there.”
In his impressive attempt to catalogue these “doses of arsenic,” Klemperer awards pride of place to the words used by the state to describe prisoners, prison camps, and the treatments to which they were subjected. Indeed, one of the phrases developed in this era is still with us today. In special circumstances and usually only with the permission of higher authorities, interrogators were permitted to use a set of highly coercive techniques on prisoners, including hypothermia and stress positions. These techniques were called verschärfte Vernehmung: “enhanced interrogation.”
But as George Orwell pointed out in his essay “Politics and the English Language,” the process of language manipulation was hardly reserved to the Axis powers during the war. He wrote two novels that focused instead on the same sort of word games that Klemperer documented, drawing on the Soviet Union as an example. And he was convinced that the same malicious force was at work in the English language:
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them… if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.
So waterboarding in the hands of the Japanese, the Khmer Rouge, East Germans, Brazilians, and Argentinians is “torture,” the American newspapers tell us, but indistinguishable techniques when used with the authority of the American government are simply “enhanced interrogation techniques,” that “critics” “refer to as torture.” This is unalloyed hypocrisy. And it has social and political consequences far beyond the nuanced semantics that fill the columns of the public editor. It is shaping a darker, more brutal society—one prepared to accept torture as a legitimate tool in the hands of the state.
© The Harper’s Magazine Foundation
Protesters in France decry Paris’ pension reforms for the 12th straight day, as the country witnesses its worst strikes and civil disobedience in 15 years.
“Just because an unjust law has been passed does not mean we passively accept it. All we wanted was discussions on how to improve the law. Even that was denied us. Now we are calling for its suspension,” The Hindu quoted Francois Chereque of the CFDT trade union as saying on Sunday.
Labor unions have called for two more strikes on next Thursday and November 6th to protest against the country’s pension reforms. A similar call brought millions of people into the streets early this week.
According to the AFP, the unions say they will continue to call on their workers and other French citizens to keep protesting until the French President Nicolas Sarkozy negotiates with them.
The French Upper House passed Sarkozy’s reform bill last Friday, raising the minimum retirement age two years, to 62 and full retirement from 65 to 67.
A joint parliamentary commission is to meet next week to give its final approval to the law, considered a mere formality.
The bill has sparked protests for more than two weeks, disrupting rail and airports services. A blockade on refineries, fuel depots and ports has also left many gas stations empty, forcing 30 percent of gas stations in the French capital of Paris to shut down.
Strikes at France’s oil refineries, which began in Marseille in September, caused panic buying and nationwide shortages.
Marseille, France’s oldest city, has been crippled by the walkouts. Protesters have barricaded roads leading to Marseille Airport, forcing passengers to abandon their cars and drag suitcases to the terminal on foot to catch flights.
A fleet of huge ships, cruising offshore, are unable to dock in the southern coastal city as railway staff and dock workers join the strikes.
A recent public opinion poll by a French television network showed that nearly 70 percent of French citizens support the ongoing strikes.
The French government has said on numerous occasions that the reform is needed to save the indebted pension system from collapse.