Israel this week demonstrated once again its determination to scuttle any genuine peacemaking effort that might lead to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state based on 1967 borders.
Israeli bulldozers and huge hydraulic jackhammers descended on the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah to demolish the Shepherd Hotel, a huge complex dating back to the 1930s. Part of the structure served as home to the former grand mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al-Husseini. The doomed structure thus had a lot of historical significance related to the history of the Palestinian struggle.
The demolition was the latest step by Israel to consolidate Jewish hegemony over the occupied Arab town and obliterate its erstwhile Arab- Islamic identity. The forced Judaisation of the city — holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews — is done feverishly through shadowy deals and dubious expropriation practices in which deception, cheating and trickery loom large.
Moreover, Zionist circles in cooperation with the Israeli government and Jewish settler interests have allocated hundreds of million of dollars for the purpose of channelling Arab-owned property to Jewish interests all over East Jerusalem. The demolition of the Shepherd Hotel took place despite international — including American — objections.
However, given the generally ineffectual nature of these objections, the Israeli government has grown accustomed to taking them lightly, calculating that they are only meant for public relations consumption and that in no way do they constitute a credible challenge to Israel’s settlement policy.
According to reliable Israeli sources in Jerusalem, the Israeli municipal authorities are awaiting an opportune time to carry out further large-scale demolitions of Arab homes in the Silwan neighbourhood. “If the government finds out that international reactions, especially US reactions, are weak as usual, then it will mean a kind of go-ahead signal for the demolitions,” said the source that was not authorised to speak to the media.
“They [the pro-settler Municipal Council of the city] want to desensitise international public opinion to accept [their] reality and come to terms with the fact that Israel will have its way in Jerusalem.”
Reactions to the latest provocation in East Jerusalem have been “normal”, whether from the Palestinian Authority (PA) — which as usual appealed to “the international community” to pressure Israel — or from EU, UN and Arab states, which more or less repeated the same old platitudes pertaining to Israel’s settlement policy being unlawful and counterproductive to peace.
Saeb Ereikat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, urged the West to act on its condemnation of Israeli provocations. “The UN and governments around the world, including the US and the UK, have already condemned plans to demolish this particular hotel. We call on the world to take a strong stand in defence of their positions. This intransigent and illegal behaviour on behalf of Israel must not be allowed to proceed unchecked.”
Speaking in desperate tone, Ereikat said Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was undercutting and corroding international efforts to create a Palestinian state. “While Netanyahu continues his public relations campaign regarding the peace process, on the ground he is rapidly moving to prevent the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state.
“Israel continues to change the landscape of Jerusalem aiming to change its status and turn it into an exclusive Jewish city. This process of cleansing and colonisation must be stopped to change the dark reality of Israeli occupation into a free and sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
Meanwhile, the Israeli government has been trying to give the impression that diplomatic movement was underway, probably to create a public relations counterbalance to settlement expansion and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Netanyahu met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo this week. He also asked for a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, ostensibly for the same reason. Mubarak did urge Netanyahu to reverse present Israeli policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians and the peace process. Netanyahu heard Mubarak’s appeal but didn’t listen to it. For as soon as he returned to Israel, the demolitions in East Jerusalem took place.
Meanwhile, Israel is about to dispatch an envoy to Washington to assure the Obama administration that the Netanyahu government is still committed to the peace process. This comes in the aftermath of the clarion failure of the Obama administration to convince Israel to freeze settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories, even in exchange for huge diplomatic inducements and military incentives.
Some analysts believe that the obsequious American behaviour towards the Netanyahu government, especially the excessive patience displayed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has further emboldened Israel and encouraged the Israeli leadership to ignore US pressure. “I am sure that Mrs Clinton dreads Israeli wrath and displeasure more than the Israelis dread American wrath and displeasure,” said one veteran European journalist based in East Jerusalem.
The US reaction to the demolition of the Shepherd Hotel as well as the latest coldblooded killing of innocent Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including farmers tilling their land and old men sleeping in their beds, has been characteristically hollow and wrapped in diplomatic jargon.
Meanwhile, Clinton put the peace process on the backburner as she toured Gulf Arab emirates and sheikhdoms, inciting them against Iran’s nuclear programme. Predictably, Clinton implied that Israel posed no threat to the Arabs and that the real common enemy of both Israel and the Arabs is Iran. Clinton went as far as discrediting statements by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan in which he said that Iran wouldn’t have nuclear weapons capability before 2015.
A few weeks ago, Clinton dismissed the charge that “unilateral Israel actions” were derailing the peace process. “Bilateral negotiations,” she said, “are the only way to reach peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” One PA cabinet minister commented on Clinton’s remarks, saying: “This is very much like telling a rapist and his victim to sort it out among themselves.”
An FBI agent reportedly issued a death threat against a U.S. citizen traveling abroad, according to the January 13 New York Times. The American, 19-year-old Gulet Mohamed, also alleges beatings and sleep deprivation in his interrogations since his arrest by Kuwaiti authorities in late December.
After he was detained by Kuwaiti authorities, “Mr. Mohamed said the agents began yelling the name ‘Anwar al-Awlaki’ at him,” the Times reported, “prompting Kuwaiti officials to intervene and request that the agents end the interrogation.” New Mexico-born Anwar al-Awlaki is an American citizen and Islamic cleric who has emigrated to Yemen and advocated jihad against America, and President Obama has reputedly put him on an assassination list of U.S. citizens for when he is found.Making a death threat against a defenseless prisoner is a crime of felony torture under the U.S. criminal code, and the jurisdiction of the crime for federal agents is anywhere in the world. The U.S. Code, Title 18, Section 2340 defines felony torture as follows: “torture means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control,” including “the threat of imminent death.”
The New York Times story added that after Gulet Mohamed’s arrest and while under FBI interrogation,
[H]e said … he was severely beaten, deprived of sleep and questioned about his travels to Yemen and Somalia…. He said the agents never presented evidence that he made contacts with militants. “They wanted me to lie about myself, and pushed me to lie about things I had done,” he said.
Although President Obama campaigned as a candidate against the use of torture, little has apparently changed in this regard since the Bush administration.
The President’s assassination list of U.S. citizens has been public since the Washington Post reported it on January 27, 2010. While the Washington Post later corrected a few details of its original story, the existence of the assassination list was verified when John O. Brennan, White House senior adviser on counterterrorism, told the Washington Times June 24, 2010 that
To me, terrorists should not be able to hide behind their passports and their citizenship, and that includes U.S. citizens, whether they are overseas or whether they are here in the United States. What we need to do is to apply the appropriate tool and the appropriate response.
Brennan then stressed:
If an American person or citizen is in a Yemen or in a Pakistan or in Somalia or another place, and they are trying to carry out attacks against U.S. interests, they also will face the full brunt of a U.S. response. And it can take many forms.
But the difference is that Anwar al-Awlaki has not been accused of participating in actual attacks against American forces abroad. He has been accused of merely justifying and encouraging them with his words.
Thus, it’s perhaps surprising that CIA Director Leon Panetta told ABC News’ Jake Tapper back in June 2010,
Awlaki is a terrorist who has declared war on the United States. Everything he’s doing now is to try to encourage others to attack this country[.] [T]here’s a whole stream of intelligence that goes back to Awlaki and his continuous urging of others to attack this country in some way. You can track Awlaki to the Detroit bomber. We can track him to other attacks in this country that have been urged by Awlaki or that have been influenced by Awlaki. Awlaki is a terrorist and yes, he’s a U.S. citizen, but he is first and foremost a terrorist and we’re going to treat him like a terrorist. We don’t have an assassination list, but I can tell you this. We have a terrorist list and he’s on it.
Panetta’s ludicrous statement that one person can “declare war” against a whole country (Can a single person really “declare war”?) is emblematic of the absurdity to which government officials will go to rationalize their attack on the Bill of Rights. While Panetta denied that the Obama administration has an “assassination list,” it’s more than clear that the Obama administration has one and that Panetta was just contesting which term is most descriptive of that list. U.S. policy is to kill terrorists.
When he was still a candidate for President, Obama (in an interview with the Boston Globe) denied that the President has the power under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without trial — and yet Gulet Mohamed remains detained without trial in Kuwait.
The torture and detention without trial of U.S. citizen Gulet Mohamed at the hands of the Obama administration comes at the same time that the President is lecturing in favor of “more civility in our public discourse” and against “discourse [that] has become so sharply polarized -– at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do -– it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”
But no true patriot can be civil about the blatantly unconstitutional torture (which violates the Eighth Amendment) and detention without trial (which violates the Fifth and Sixth Amendments) of his fellow citizens at the hands of an executive who defines his powers outside the limits of the U.S. Constitution.
President Obama needs to be taught that only actions such as government torture wound, not words. In fact, only very uncivil words can lead to healing of the bodily wounds inflicted upon citizens and upon the U.S. Constitution.
The standard explanations for the Arizona killings are now being set forth, such as widespread violence in America and right-wing extremism. I’d like to weigh in with another possible factor, one that I can’t prove but one that I think Americans ought to at least consider: the fact that killing has now become an accepted, essential, normal, and permanent part of American life.
No, I’m not referring to the widespread gun violence in America that liberals point to as part of their gun-control agenda. I’m not even referring to the widespread violence that accompanies the decades-long drug war, especially in Mexico. I’m instead referring to the U.S. government’s regular killing of people thousands of miles away in Afghanistan and Iraq, killing that has now gone on regularly for some 10 years and that has become a fairly hum-drum part of our daily lives.
Six people were killed and 14 were injured in the Arizona shootings, including a woman who was shot through the head and a 9-year-old girl whose life was snuffed out. Everyone is shocked over the horror, which is detailed on the front page of every newspaper across the country.
But let’s face it: Such killings go on every week in Afghanistan and Iraq and have for some 10 years. Parents, children, brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents, friends, brides, grooms, and wedding parties. People are killed in those two countries every week, and the killing has now expanded to people in Pakistan.
We don’t see those deaths on the front pages of American newspapers. They’re buried on page 14 of the papers in small news reports, if at all.
Why don’t those killings get front-page coverage?
One, the killings have become commonplace. They’re now just considered normal. Massive death on a massive scale, but normal. We just put all the deaths at the back of our minds. The football playoffs are this weekend. Got to pay the bills this month. Life demands our attention. Anyway, it’s not as if we, the American citizenry, are doing the killing. It’s the military and the CIA that are doing it.
Two, our public officials say that we’re at war and that people are always killed in war. Never mind that what we have in Afghanistan and Iraq are military occupations, not war. The idea is that a military occupation is a sort of war and, therefore, we shouldn’t let the daily killings affect our consciences. Moreover, since we’ve been told that the war on terrorism is considered permanent, we just have to get used to the fact that the weekly killings will be a normal and regular part of our lives for as long as we live.
Third, we are told that the people being killed are terrorists, enemy combatants, or unfortunate collateral damage. Never mind that our public officials have had 10 years to kill terrorists and enemy combatants to their hearts’ content but apparently still haven’t gotten them all. Never mind that the terrorists and enemy combatants might well now consist primarily of people who are simply trying to oust their country of a foreign occupier, like people did when it was the Soviet Union that was doing the occupying. Never mind that the number of terrorists and enemy combatants continues to rise with each new killing. It’s all just part and parcel of the new normality for American society.
In the process, life is cheapened — well, the lives of Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis. The weekly killings of adults and children from those three countries are relegated to page 14 of the newspaper because they’re just Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis. It’s not as if they’re Americans, after all, people who place a much higher value on human life than others.
We mustn’t forget how, for the last 10 years, the lives of Afghans and Iraqis have been expendable for the greater good of their society. How many times have we been reminded, for example, that the deaths of countless Iraqis have been worth the effort to bring democracy to Iraq? In fact, one of the most fascinating phenomena about the Iraq War, an illegal and unconstitutional undeclared war of aggression that the U.S. government waged against a country that had never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so, is that there has never been an upper limit on the number of Iraqi deaths that would justify the achievement of democracy in Iraq. Any number of Iraqi deaths, no matter how high, has been considered worth it.
We saw this same reasoning through 11 years of brutal sanctions on Iraq, which were imposed for the purpose of achieving regime change — the ouster of Saddam Hussein from power and his replacement by a pro-U.S. regime. When Bill Clinton’s U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright, was asked by Sixty Minutes whether the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children had been worth it, her answer perfectly reflected the mindset of Washington officials for the past two decades: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.”
How much value is placed on the lives of people, including children, who are sacrificed for the greater good of society? Not much value at all. Life is supposed to be sancrosanct. But then again, don’t forget that those are only Iraqi people we’re talking about.
How can all this massive, regular, permanent death and destruction not affect and infect a society? Sure, it all takes place thousands of miles away. Sure, it’s buried on page 14 of the newspaper. We don’t see the caskets or the burials. We don’t see the crying, the anguish, or the anger of the survivors. We just go about our daily business, deferring to authority. Our public officials know what is best. That is their job. We have to trust their judgment. If they say that American soldiers and CIA officials have to stay in Afghanistan and Iraq permanently and just go on killing people forever, then we, the citizenry, just have to accept that. If they say they have to expand the killing to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia or wherever, then that is just the way things are. They are the experts. They are in charge.
In the process, everyone convinces himself that the people who are being killed are “bad guys” or people who just happened to be too close to the bad guys, including their wives, children, other family members, or friends.
Of course, the possibility that the U.S. government — the invader, the occupier, the interloper — is the “bad guy” doesn’t even enter into most people’s minds. The thought is too horrible, too terrifying. It might cause citizens to have to search their consciences. Easier to simply continue “supporting the troops” who are “defending our freedoms” by killing all those people on a regular, weekly basis.
The news media are reporting that the accused Arizona shooter, Jared Loughner, tried to join the U.S. military but was unsuccessful. The irony is that if he had been successful, he would have gone to Iraq or Afghanistan and participated in the weekly death-fest and, upon his return, public officials, pundits, media personalities, and even many church ministers would be hailing his heroism and thanking him for serving his country by killing Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, and others in the “defense of our freedoms” here at home.
Did the normalization and trivialization of killing and the denigration and devaluation of life in Afghanistan and Iraq trigger something inside the apparently disturbed mind of the accused Arizona killer? I don’t know. But how can such actions not have a horrible long-term adverse effect on people whose government is permanently engaged in such evil?
Tunisia’s constitutional council says the presidential election must be held within 60 days, after placing the country’s Parliament speaker in power.
The council, Tunisia’s highest legal authority on constitutional issues, decided to formally oust president Zine El Abidin Ben Ali and put Speaker Fouad Mebazaa in charge based on Article 57 of the Constitution.
Premier Mohammad Ghannouchi had earlier taken over from Ben Ali.
Tunisian airports were reopened after Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia.
Ben Ali ruled Tunisia for more than two decades. His era was marred by repeated human rights violations and torture.
Meanwhile, unrest continues in the capital Tunis where the central railway station and a market were set on fire. Witnesses have reported lootings in shopping centers.
Police have arrested several people in central Tunis during the overnight curfew.
Analysts believe the ouster of the Tunisian president is a warning to authoritarian regimes across the Arab world.
In an interview with Press TV, Clovis Maksoud, Lebanon’s former ambassador and permanent observer of the League of Arab States in the United Nations described the Tunisian uprising as a wake-up call for the Arab world.
“It’s going to be infectious in several other areas in a manner that might not necessarily lead to bloodshed but [could] weaken the authority [in many Arab countries],” Maksoud told Press TV.
Meanwhile in another development in the country, reports also say that at least 42 inmates have been killed in an inferno at a jail in the Tunisian resort town of Monastir.
“The whole prison is on fire, the furniture, mattresses, everything,” Reuters quoted one witness as saying.