Palestine solidarity activists in Thessaloniki, Greece, engaged in a creative action in support of the Palestinian-led call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israeli policies of apartheid and ethnic cleansing on 28 May when they entered an Estee Lauder cosmetics store with tree saplings in tow.
According to a press release from an activist performance group calling itself the Land Annexation Society, six participants dressed in suits as members of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and “proceeded to ‘plant’ trees over the Estee Lauder shop space … flyers were distributed to shoppers and staff informing them that ‘this Estee Lauder space is currently being rezoned.’”
The JNF is an Israeli quasi-governmental institution which has facilitated ethnic cleansing operations since 1948 and continues to administer land-grabs for Jewish-only use in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, and in places like al-Araqib in the Naqab (Negev) desert. It was tasked with literally covering up the destruction of approximately 500 Palestinian villages beginning in the late 1940s by planting trees and forests over the ruins of Palestinian homes. The JNF has currently re-branded itself as an environmental charity organization, and has implemented its land confiscation policies as ones under a benign-sounding “re-greening” project in the Naqab.
The press release continued:
This was to draw a parallel with the actions of the JNF, which has been involved in forcibly appropriating Palestinian homes and ”rezoning” them under an ecological reforestation scheme. By this “planting” of trees without prior announcement or permission, the Land Annexation Society say they wish to highlight the very activity engaged in by the JNF on Palestinian lands.
The action comes a day after the JNF hit the headlines in the UK, with British Prime Minister stepping down from his honorary patronage of the organisation following a letter from the Stop The JNF. This followed calls in the UK Parliament for the JNF’s charitable status to be revoked.
The Estee Lauder cosmetics retailer was chosen as a target due to its chairman, Ron Lauder, who also sits as the chairman of the JNF. Activists called on customers to boycott Estee Lauder as part of the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against companies involved with or profiting from the violation of Palestinian rights.
Today the JNF holds over half of the seats on the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) Council, a state institution that sets policy for 93% of Israeli land held in the public domain, while the JNF itself directly holds 13% of such land. In recent years there have been legislative attempts to bring into law the JNF policy of preserving land exclusively for Jews while a bill calling for equal allocation of land among Jews and Arabs was last year rejected.
A video of the Estee Lauder action can be viewed here. The action comes just weeks after a similar tree-filled protest took place against the JNF at their fundraiser in New York City.
RAFAH – The opening of Rafah on 28 May, the only official border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, has created a lifeline for Palestinians living in Gaza, but some, mostly refugees, will still be restricted to their localities because they lack identification papers.
Palestinians were allowed to pass freely from Gaza into Egypt through Rafah for the first time in four years. The decision marked a huge shift in Egyptian foreign policy, introduced after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, and provides a critical valve for the 1.6 million people trapped within Gaza’s borders since June 2007.
The crossing was partially opened in May last year after the deaths of international activists on board a flotilla attempting to break the siege. It operated a five-day week, from noon until 4pm, but was open only to foreign passport holders, Palestinians with foreign visas and medical patients.
The restrictions had made it incredibly difficult for Palestinians to enter Egypt, even on genuine medical grounds. From April 2011 to date, around 2,100 Palestinians have been denied entry into Egypt for unspecified reasons, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Under the new rules, all women, minors and any man under 18 and over 40 will be able to pass freely without a visa six days a week from 9am until 4pm.
Mohamed Matar, 39, a shopkeeper from Rafah, who was among the thousands of people lining up at the crossing on 28 May hoping to leave Gaza, said: “I won’t be 40 until October but I’m still going to try. My Mum is in Egypt and very sick with Alzheimer’s. She is 80 years old and none of her sons are with her. We are all here in Gaza.
“When I speak to her on the phone she sounds very tired and weak. I’m afraid she will die. If I get through the border tomorrow, at least I can sit with her for a week so that she recognizes me again.”
Not everyone happy
Not all Palestinians are as optimistic. For men aged 18-40, the reopening makes little difference. Unless they can provide proof of having a place at university abroad or a foreign visa, they will remain stuck in the Gaza Strip.
There are also hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza, mostly refugees, without identification documents who cannot leave. While it officially withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel retains control of its maritime, air and most of its land borders. It also retains control of its population registry, including the issuance of Palestinian ID numbers without which it is impossible to travel.
Sana Easa, 39, has not seen her family in Cairo since she moved to Gaza to marry her husband Salah 12 years ago. Both need medical treatment unavailable in Gaza’s hospitals, but even with the new policy at Rafah, they are stuck.
Sana is a Palestinian but was born in Cairo and lived there most of her life. Her parents left Gaza as refugees in 1967. Her Egyptian passport expired in April 2004 but in order to renew it, she must go to Cairo in person. She is still waiting for the Palestinian ID number she applied for 12 years ago.
“The last time I tried to cross Rafah with my husband was in May 2010,” she says. “We got to the Palestinian border at 4am and reached the Egyptian side at 11pm. The Egyptian officials told my husband he and my son could pass through but they told me that because I have expired Egyptian travel documents and I don’t have a Palestinian ID I had to turn back.
“At 1am we decided we would come home together. My husband refuses to go to Egypt for the operation alone. He will be a patient and will need help. It was a disaster. This new opening means nothing to me because I know my case.”
The border opened at 10am local time on 28 May and within 90 minutes 200 Palestinians had crossed into Egypt. Travellers coming in the opposite direction spoke of huge changes on the Egyptian side of the border.
“It’s incredible. Anyone who came to the terminal, they just stamped their passport and gave them entry just like that. I am from Gaza and have a black passport but there were many different passports coming through – yellow, blue, red. There was a huge difference,” Hamad Yusef told IRIN.
Israeli concerns dismissed
Dismissing Israeli concerns about increased security threats to their borders, Ghazi Hamad, director of crossings in Gaza, said that Hamas and Egypt had proved – over the past four years, during which they had run Rafah crossing without European Union or Israeli supervision – that they could operate according to international standards. Claims that weapons, drugs and criminals had been smuggled through the border were false, he said.
“This is a very important day for Gaza… For four years we have been living under a siege. Now not all our problems are solved, but it’s better.
“We are in talks with the Egyptians and hope that the restrictions applied to men aged 18-40 will be lifted soon.”
Israel objects to the reopening believing that Hamas militants will funnel weapons into Gaza through Rafah.
London – A spokesperson for David Cameron on Friday refused to comment on the rationale behind the British prime minister’s decision to step down from his position as honorary patron of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The move comes as pressure on the JNF steps up in Britain, and is being hailed by activists as a big victory in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.
Campaigners with activist group Stop the JNF had written to Cameron earlier in May calling on him to cut his links with the JNF. Registered as a charity in the UK, the JNF is involved in development of illegal settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the destruction of Palestinian Bedouin villages in the Naqab (Negev) inside Israel and stands accused of institutionally racist practices and complicity in ethnic cleansing since 1948.
Cameron’s press office told The Electronic Intifada that the decision had been made after a review of all the charities Cameron supported: “This is not a particularly recent decision,” said a spokesperson on Friday. In a short statement Thursday, the prime minister’s office had said the JNF was one of a “number of charities” Cameron stood down from following the review which was undertaken “[f]ollowing the formation of the Coalition Government last year.”
The statement did not specify any reason for the move. When asked if it was related to the JNF’s involvement with Israeli settlements in the West Bank (which the British government, in line with international law, considers illegal) the spokesperson said they were “not going to get into any further details.”
The spokesperson implied that Cameron is only involved in local causes: “The charities that he’s currently involved with will normally be charities in his [local parliamentary] constituency … or a couple of national campaigns. There aren’t really any that deal with specific issues in specific foreign countries,” he stated. He would not comment on why this had changed after Cameron had become prime minister.
The JNF’s UK office refused to comment on the matter. A report in The Jewish Chronicle on Thursday suggested “time constraints” were behind the move, although the email statement did not mention this (“Cameron leaves the JNF,” The Jewish Chronicle, 26 May 2011). On the Spectator website Monday, staunchly Zionist columnist Melanie Philips used her blog to describe the move as “the latest act of aggression against Israel by HMG [Her Majesty’s Government],” and suggested that the time constraints justification are “unconvincing” (“Cameron drinks the Kool-aid,” Spectator blogs, 30 May).
The spokesperson refused to name the other groups, saying he didn’t “think it would be very fair on the other charities that he stepped down from to name them.” While the statement claimed a “full list of all the charities and organizations the prime minister and Mrs. Cameron are associated with is published on the Cabinet Office website,” several searches for this list were unsuccessful. The spokesperson declined to provide The Electronic Intifada with a link to the list.
According to a list on the JNF’s UK website, the move leaves former Prime Minister Gordon Brown as the only serving member of parliament left as honorary patron to the group. Other figures on the list include staunch supporters of Israel such as former prime minister and current Quartet envoy Tony Blair and Israeli government figures such as Shimon Peres. An open letter signed by campaigners calling for current Labour leader Ed Milliand to “break from this tradition” of party leaders patronizing the JNF was printed by The Guardian in October. So far he has not followed Brown, Blair or Cameron (who became patron while opposition leader).
The JNF is a quasi-governmental organization that controls large swathes of state land in Israel. This land is reserved for the use of Jews only — to the detriment of Israel’s 1.5 million Palestinian citizens, and the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were expelled from that land by Zionist militias in 1947-48.
The JNF has in recent years tried to re-brand itself as an environmentally-friendly charity, an effort critics have branded “greenwashing.” But pressure on the JNF mounted Saturday as Friends of the Earth (FoE) Scotland, at its annual general meeting, voted to endorse the Stop The JNF campaign. Chief Executive Stan Blackley said FoE Scotland was “pleased” to join the call for revocation of the JNF’s charitable status, according to a Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) press release (“Friends of the Earth Scotland endorses call …,” Stop the JNF website, 28 May).
The JNF has been connected with ethnic cleansing and abuse of Palestinian rights on both sides of the green line — the internationally-recognized armistice line between Israel and the occupied West Bank.
Journalist Max Blumenthal reported that the fund recently “set its sights” on al-Araqib in the Naqab (or Negev) desert. The Bedouin village has been destroyed 21 times since July 2010 so that the JNF can “develop” the area as part of the government’s Judaization campaign (“On Land Day, the Jewish National Fund’s Racist Legacy is Exposed,” MaxBlumenthal.com, 30 March 2011). The JNF is also involved in funding projects in illegal West Bank colonies such as Sansana in the south Hebron hills.
According to Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, as of 2007 the JNF owned a total of just over 2.5 million dunams of land (a dunam is the equivalent of 1,000 square meters), the majority of which was seized from Palestinian refugees.
In the course of a 2004 legal challenge by Adalah, the JNF confirmed in a response to the court its discriminatory policies against non-Jews: “The JNF is not the trustee of the general public in Israel. Its loyalty is given to the Jewish people in the Diaspora and in the state of Israel … The JNF… does not have a duty to practice equality towards all citizens of the state” (“Land Controlled by Jewish National Fund for Jews Only,” Adalah press release, 29 July 2007).
Stop the JNF, which emerged in May of last year, is a working coalition of different campaigning groups including the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC). The campaign will be holding a series of workshops in London on 4 June.
Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. He is the editor of a book about the Russell Tribunal on Palestine coming out on Pluto Press later in 2011. His website is www.winstanleys.org.
Remember how the U.S. government “proved” that Osama bin Laden (and, by extension, apparently, the entire nation of Afghanistan) was responsible for 9/11? No, you don’t, since at least before the invasion of Afghanistan happened, there was little if any actual proof. But at least it was, in some way at least, a provable event.
Then there was the invasion of Iraq. Here, the proof was a combination of faked and imaginary, but again, the alleged reason for the invasion was, at least, in some way provable.
But now we have the latest declaration: the Pentagon says that cyber attacks on the U.S. will be met with physical counterattacks. Aside from the minor Constitutional issue (“If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks,” an unnamed military official told the Journal, which kind of skips the “Congress authorizes wars and the President orders them” step), we are now really in the realm of the unprovable, not to mention the spoofable.
How can we not imagine the possibility that hackers in country A could “shut down our power grid” and make it look to all the world as if the attack came from country B? Or how can we not imagine, to be even more paranoid but not that much less realistic, that the U.S., wanting to attack Iran, could have one part of its cyber-war apparatus shut down the power grid and make it look to another part of the apparatus that the attack came from Iran? Or perhaps the evidence, which none but the tiniest handful of people would ever see anyway, will be inconclusive (just like the evidence of the Lockerbie bombing, to name but one of many examples), but the U.S. will announce (and who will be able to disprove them?) that it was conclusive and go ahead and attack whoever they want to?
It’s a scary development.
In a Haaretz column today, Gidi Grinstein, the founder and president of Israel’s Reut Institute argues that US President Barack Obama should support the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral efforts to seek recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN in September. The reasons he gives, however, have nothing to do with supporting Palestinian rights, but precisely with negating them. Grinstein writes:
a declaration of a Palestinian state in September includes the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough as well as significant advantages for Israel. The establishment of such a state will help anchor the principle of two states for two peoples, shape the permanent situation with Israel controlling the security assets and the new state’s surroundings, and diminish the refugee problem by marginalizing UNRWA and limiting refugee status.
Despite Obama’s speeches, the diplomatic process will remain at a dead end as the moment of decision in September approaches. Then the United States will have another opportunity to do the right thing: to ensure that the establishment of a Palestinian state conforms to Israel’s needs.
In other words, Grinstein hopes that UN recognition will set rolling a bandwagon that limits any Palestinian state to precisely the kind of demilitarized bantustan under overall Israeli control that will “solve” Israel’s legitimacy and diplomatic problems while marginalizing Palestinian rights, especially refugee rights.
Grinstein’s Reut Institute is the organization that has set out the strategy Israel’s current campaign of “sabotage and attack” aimed at global Palestine solidarity activism, especially the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
The ruthless Israeli campaign against so-called “delegitimizers” involves defaming long-standing organizations that campaign for Palestinian human rights, especially the rights of refugees, such as the London-based Palestine Return Centre. The “anti-delegitimization” campaign inspired by Grinstein last year also targeted The Electronic Intifada.
Advantages to UN declaration?
Meanwhile, international law expert Victor Kattan has written an interesting brief for Al-Shabaka titled, A State of Palestine: The Case for UN Recognition and Membership. Kattan argues that while the strategy entails major risks, it may have some advantages, and does not foreclose the possibility of a single democratic state in historic Palestine.
While Kattan’s contribution is important and well worth reading, the advantages he lays out are marginal compared with the risks, which I explained in Recognizing Palestine?, a piece I wrote on Aljazeera.net.
That an implacable foe of Palestinian rights such as Grinstein should embrace the UN statehood effort, should only make us even more wary of it.
A still from Iara Lee’s footage shows an Israeli Blackhawk helicopter as it drops troops onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara in the early morning of 31 May 2010.
In the early morning hours of 31 May 2010, Israeli forces carried out a violent, unprovoked assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla as it sailed in international waters in the eastern Mediterranean.
Israeli commandos in speed boats and helicopters commandeered the six ships killing nine people and injuring dozens more aboard the largest vessel, the Mavi Marmara.
Amid intense Israeli efforts to jam communications, any picture, such as this one showing a person with blood on their life vest, gave vital clues to the seriousness and violence of the Israeli assault.
Countering Israel’s propaganda
Israel not only attacked the ships but commandeered them with all their passengers and crew to the port of Ashdod, where they were held incommunicado for many days. All video and photographic footage was confiscated, and media were not allowed to speak to the hundreds of kidnapped passengers. Israel has still not returned the footage and other evidence it stole.
In the first hours and days, Israel’s propaganda – or hasbara – machine went into full swing, publishing false and distorted reports and images – such as the infamous ‘man with a dagger’ photo, and heavily edited and misleading video.
Independent reporting, using information from sources ignored by mainstream media, was key to countering Israel’s propaganda.
Lubna Masarwa, one of the first Mavi Marmara passengers to be released from Israeli custody provided a harrowing eyewitness account, published by The Electronic Intifada on 8 June.
And despite Israeli censorship, independent filmmaker Iara Lee who was aboard the Mavi Marmara managed to smuggle an hour of footage off the ship and past her Israeli kidnappers.
Analysis of this footage has provided vital corroboration of what happened during the Israeli assault, including: the use of European and American weapons and indiscriminate live fire by the Israeli attackers. Iara Lee’s footage also provided a poignant glimpse of the last moments of Turkish journalist Cevdet Kılıçlar, one of the nine people killed.
JENIN– The Israeli occupation forces (IOF) led military bulldozers into the Al-Farisiyya and Al-Meita areas in the Salt Valley in the northern Jordan Valley, and destroyed 13 structures owned by Arab Bedouins.
The force crushed eight homes in Al-Meita in the upper Salt Valley where Bedouins have been residing for many years, although the homes were remote from Israeli military camps. It destroyed six more buildings in neighboring Al-Farisiyya.
Damage was inflicted on homes and barns as military jeeps took guard to protect the bulldozers. Other hamlets and shelters used for animals have been destroyed within the last few months in the same area.
Locals say Israeli forces seek to restrict shepherds in the area in order to curtail their usage of the land for grazing and it also seeks to push them out.
The Salt Valley is characterized by warm and plentiful water resources. It is also an agricultural and pastoral area valuable to many farmers in the provinces of Tubas and Tamoun. There are five Bedouin hamlets and communities that live there.
The IOF handed locals notices in April 2010 declaring the area a closed military zone and forbidding Palestinians from roaming there or using the land.
Yesterday private Israeli bulldozers arrived in the village of Al Ma’sara in the West Bank and destroyed a section of farm land belonging to the Brijia family, uprooting five grape trees and an abundance of wheat. The bulldozers were accompanied by Israeli military jeeps which belonged to an electrical company that was installing an underground cable to provide electricity to the nearby illegal settlement of Efrat. The family of farmers, who have legally owned the land since 1964 had been given no prior warning of the destruction and neither the workers nor the army could provide any paperwork when asked.
This latest destruction of property is a sad blow to a family who have already lost four dunums of their land to illegal Israeli construction.
Al Ma’sara, 13 km south of Bethlehem, is home to about 900 people. The village is situated in a mountainous and fertile rural area which enjoys an abundance of natural water resources. Construction and expansion of Gush Etzion – one of the nearby illegal settlements – has already confiscated a large portion of village lands.
Villagers believe that this latest destruction of land is part of the Israeli government’s bigger plan to expand the illegal settlements around Bethlehem and link them together, isolating Palestinian villages, who are already a minority in the area and strengthening Israel’s hold on the West Bank.
The language of bubbles has permeated the American media and the American psyche. That whole categories of financial flows can grow, glow and then burst revealing emptiness, waste and fraud is now an accepted model for understanding America in the 21st century.
What these modern bubbles, and most historical ones, seem to share is government “leadership” and government blessings, and a taxpayer (born and unborn) subsidy of this or that investment. Ponzi schemes of all kinds lead to bubbles, promises of easy gains for low risk that, when they come due or are discovered, collapse swiftly and painfully. Bubbles are the predictable result of lies being told about what is wise, what is worthy, and what is good for this or that entity. We are aware of the housing bubble, the financial bubble stemming from mortgage security swaps, the coming college and the municipal debt bubbles, and the bubble growing around the U.S. Federal Reserve notes.
Some bubbles are bigger than others, of course, and different groups are differently impacted when these bubbles explode and investors sort it out and reallocate any remaining pieces. Certainly, government intervention delays and warps any post bubble recovery. What is simple in many ways is made complicated and difficult to understand, but the fundamental facts will inevitably have their day.
Earlier this week I participated in a panel discussing military aid to Israel, and why it should be reduced drastically. One argument against this aid is that Israel misuses US developed technology by stealing it, selling it, trading on it, and using it to compete against U.S. defense and security firms for global sales. Another argument is that this aid ends up costing American taxpayers far more than the actual dollar amount by fomenting tension in the region, reducing American credibility and options, and by creating unnecessary enemies, and expensive but ultimately unnecessary supplicants and “allies” in the region.
When they are in the United States, Israel’s politicians and leaders, most recently Benjamin Netanyahu, pay repetitive lip service to the idea that Israel is a dedicated military ally and reliable friend of the United States. Yet, strangely, the United States and Israel do not have, and have never had, a treaty of mutual defense. Opposition to such a treaty comes largely from the Israeli side (and consequently, from Israel’s many standing and genuflecting ovationers in Congress) who tend to see any treaty as a possible limitation on Israeli government’s ability to conduct “defense.” Certainly, territorial expansion, barrier and road building, and control of human movement and trade far beyond the 1967 borders are seen as “defensive nation building” by many Israelis. For the U.S. to be a legally binding party to such activity would be an obvious and public violation of international law, and an open rejection of the ideas that emerged after World War II. Believe it or not, there was a broad-based recoil around the world at the shocking totalitarian abuses of human rights and liberty conducted by governments on all sides against their own people, and their neighbors, during those wars.
To put it plainly, if the United States president signed such a treaty with Israel, and the Congress ratified it, many elected leaders in the United States would be on record as supporting Israel’s “defense” strategy, rather than having it both ways as they do today. A defense treaty with Israel would instantly negate all that President Obama said last week about supporting peace and democratic progress in the Middle East, and specifically contradict his vague statement regarding the 1967 borders as a guide to a two-state solution. A defense treaty would be also a very honest and open thing to do, and it would codify the fundamental and brutal nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship, here and throughout the Middle East. Such a treaty would make the United States less of a hypocrite, and it would help the rest of the world and average Americans fully understand our Middle East basing policies and practices, and our various attempts to puppet-master, promote or topple other regional governments.
One of the key features of a bubble ready to pop is that a small number of intimate observers of the situation begin cry into the wilderness, often pointing to certain fundamental flaws, or unnoticed oversights. These observers and participants who warn of a coming collapse or bursting bubble may be thought of as canaries in a mineshaft. But unlike the humble canary, whose song is welcomed because it means the system parameters are still solid, the naysayers, the cautious critics, and the wise proactive analysts tend to be ignored by the “investors” when they sing, and these canaries are pressured to go silent.
Certainly this is the case of those who challenge the idea that the congressionally forced U.S. taxpayer funding of Israel’s defense industry is a worthwhile investment in American security. The $3 billion in annual financial military financing and other military aid, and the other lending of diplomatic and military credibility to the Israeli government, no matter what that government does, or how it does it, is an expensive policy. Unlike most other military aid doled out around the world, the United States attaches no substantive conditions on this and the massive in-kind gifts to, and cached weapons we store in, Israel. We require no U.S. basing rights, no standing overflight rights, and do not require, as we do for all other FMF, that the tax money be 100% spent on U.S.-produced products and services. We do not require that Israel abide by international law or norms in the use of American military products, such that American cluster bombs and white phosphorus artillery shells may end up used on civilians or on civilian infrastructure, incriminating the American taxpayer in collateral maiming and murder, and illegal destruction of habitats and economies. Instead, Israel has been able to game the free money system such that today, 25% of the assistance may be spent solely on the burgeoning Israeli defense industry, which competes with the major American defense sector for customers around the world – without the constraints U.S. companies have in selling goods, services, and technologies to the United States’ antagonists and sanctionees of the day.
As we speak of bubbles yet unpopped, I will suggest two. In general, the United States defense industry constitutes a bubble, even as contrarians accurately understand that governments in financial trouble and facing a discrediting national collapse tend to go to war to silence domestic critics and squeeze the last nickel from the collective coffers for their political and corporate friends, and as both parties fight to save the industry as a last ditch “jobs” program for the children. It is the way of all empires, and will be so for us. Thus ultimately, big state debt- and deficit-funded defense spending is a bubble overdue for a collapse, a sputtering and then a raging rush away from this wasteful, unnecessary and over-hyped industry. When during budget debate time, every other radio advertisement you hear in Washington demands you heart Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, overwhelming even the incessant push for antidepressants, one can sense the concern that someone will find out about this house of cards, and observe that it struts upon the stage, as Shakespeare would say, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Far more vulnerable to an imminent pop, with few tears by average Americans, will be foreign financial aid to all countries, including Israel, the largest recipient of such aid. AIPAC is stale and aging, an old man’s commiseration club, sufferable only because it is habitual. Christian Zionists, some of whom I witnessed earlier this week engaged in verbal and physical violence towards a CNIF member, are losing their cool in more ways than one. For the first time, I met an infamous supporter of U.S. tax-funded assistance to Israel and its geographical expansion, a retired three star Army general and helpful contributor to our current pro-Israel policy that includes several wars and occupations in the Middle East, and our torture and rendition of detainees. He worked as a second to Stephen Cambone and was part of the neocon cadre so prominent in the Pentagon and Executive corridors in 2002 and afterwards. The portly and emotion-driven Jerry Boykin must have been a weak and angry shadow of his former self, I thought to myself.
But indeed, he is what he is, and what he always was. What changed was my perception of him, my new and concrete awareness that he was a fraud, a walking sales pitch for more war and war spending when, in fact, none was or is necessary. Oil will be pumped, processed and traded, and Israel will survive and prosper, even as the United States withdraws financial aid and symbols of military might from the region. The great build-up of bases in the region, from Saudi Arabia to Iraq, in Bahrain and Kuwait, in North Africa and Afghanistan – all without a serious defensive debate or justification is amazingly typical of a bubble in the months and years before it decisively collapses. It’s the hurry up and get on board phase of the Ponzi scheme, the mad rush to get in on the deal, because it is almost too good to be true.
Americans are beginning to ask questions, and the answers they are getting from the U.S. Government, the Israel lobby and Israel’s political leadership amount to “…move along, nothing to see here, folks.” When pressed for details, Americans are getting congressional obsfucation, bumper sticker-style labels, and a bit of self-righteous anger. By now, Americans know all about the nature of bubbles, and hopefully they won’t be surprised by these coming collapses.
For Omar Said, the time he spent in the custody of Israeli secret service agents — and the emotional ordeal that accompanied his interrogation and detention — won’t soon be forgotten.
“You can’t imagine how many hours and how many questions. [The secret service agents] were all the time with me. It’s like your shadow, all the time with you,” Said told The Electronic Intifada. “This measure is very, very heavy and very, very effective. Many of the people can be convinced [to confess to anything] just to get some rest.”
A pharmacologist and expert in traditional Arab medicine based in the Galilee region, Said was arrested by agents from Israel’s General Security Service (GSS, also known as the Shin Bet or Shabak, according to its Hebrew acronym) on 24 April 2010 at the King Hussein/Allenby border crossing with Jordan.
Shortly after being stopped at the border, Said explained that Shabak agents searched his car, home and office and seized files and computers, including those of his children. He later learned that he was being accused of having contact with a foreign agent — a man with connections to the Lebanese resistance movement Hizballah — while on vacation in Egypt. He was also accused of endangering the security of the State of Israel.
“They took me to [Shabak prison in] Petach Tikva [for investigation]. They put me in a very small cell. It’s very dirty and it was cold all the time because they used air conditioning. The light was on all the time,” said Said, who is also active in the Balad party, a Palestinian political party in Israel.
After spending several days on virtually no sleep and under continued interrogation, Said explained that he was transferred to another Shabak-run prison facility in Ashkelon. There, the interrogations continued.
“They [held] me 18 or 17 days without meeting my lawyer. I felt it was like two years when you are there alone, you feel isolated and [like] you will be a victim [because they can do anything they want]. This is a very, very, very dangerous situation,” Said said.
Around the time that Said was arrested, Haifa-based Palestinian political activist Ameer Makhoul was also detained by Shabak and interrogated under the same pretenses: that he had made contact with an agent of Hizballah and was a danger to Israeli security.
Makhoul signed a plea deal in his case late last year, and was sentenced to nine years in prison in January 2011. Said, for his part, was charged with “servicing an illegal organization” after agreeing to a plea bargain and sentenced to seven months in prison.
He was released in September 2010.
“[Shabak] can do whatever they want but I think they are also very, very careful,” Said told The Electronic Intifada. “They can choose their targets. There is logic behind this. It’s not just to take people and put them in prison. They want to send a message to the people.”
Challenging inhuman and degrading conditions
Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority rights in Israel, and Nadi al-Aseer, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, filed a pre-petition on 11 May demanding an end to detention in prison facilities run by Shabak.
Presented to the Israeli Attorney General, the Minister of Internal Security and the Head of the Israeli Prison Service (IPS), the pre-petition argued that holding detainees in Shabak-run facilities — the Ashkelon, Jalameh, Petach Tikva and Russian Compound facilities — should stop due to “the inhuman and degrading conditions to which detainees are subjected in them” (“Adalah and Nadi al-Aseer Demand an End to the Detention of Palestinian Detainees in Shabak Facilities Due to Inhuman and Degrading Conditions,” 12 May 2011).
“The pre-petition is targeting the physical conditions of the Shabak interrogation cells,” Adalah attorney Abeer Baker, who presented the pre-petition on behalf of Adalah, told The Electronic Intifada.
“What we asked first is to close these cells as long as the conditions there are not improved. The second issue we said [is] that all of the physical conditions of the detainees should be equal, whether they are security or criminal detainees. We asked a demand for external supervision of these cells,” she added.
Baker explained that after Shabak agents interrogate security detainees — detainees who are suspected of being a security threat to the State of Israel — the detainees are sent into very narrow cells, similar to cells used for solitary confinement, in an attempt to break their spirit.
According to Baker, the Shabak facilities are also not inspected or supervised by external bodies. Human rights organizations examine the physical conditions of prisons of every other Israeli prison in the country, but not the Shabak facilities, thereby making them exempt from outside scrutiny and accountability, Baker said.
“These bad conditions are made on purpose in order to affect the personality of the detainee and make him confess and break him, break his spirit,” Baker said.
“We are talking about the dignity of detainees, a process that should be monitored by law,” Baker added. “We are not talking about something which is not embodied in law. We are talking about the right for dignity. These are the basic constitutional rights of every detainee.”
In the case of detainees and prisoners, Article 10 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that “all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”
Regarding Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza who are also often detained and interrogated by Shabak agents inside Israel, Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention stipulates that “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.”
“They violate international law which demands that putting people under custody must maintain dignity. Especially people from occupied territories, you have the Geneva Conventions which demands this also,” Baker said.
“By interrogating these people in these facilities, they are facilitating the process to criminalize the Palestinian people to put them behind bars. It’s political.”
Shabak impunity cemented in Israeli law
In 1987, the Landau Commission — an Israeli governmental commission charged with examining the interrogation methods used by the Israeli General Security Services — found that the continued use of “physical force” in interrogations was acceptable.
Twelve years later, in 1999, the Israeli high court finally prohibited torture of any kind in Israel, and outlawed certain interrogation techniques. In “ticking time bomb” situations, however, the court found that the use of physical force could be justified.
This caveat, otherwise known as “the necessity defense,” has been used to justify the use of physical force and torture by Shabak interrogators since the high court’s ruling. While meant only for use in extreme cases, human rights groups have criticized the “ticking time bomb” defense for its widespread and inappropriate use.
The GSS argues that its agents should be exempt from criminal prosecution during these types of situations due to Article 34K of Israel’s Penal Code, which states that “no person shall bear criminal responsibility for an act that was immediately necessary in order to save his own or another person’s life, freedom, bodily welfare or property from a real danger of severe injury, due to the conditions prevalent when the act was committed, there being no alternative but to commit the act.”
According to a December 2009 report released by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), Shabak interrogators “are protected by layers of concealment, the withholding of information, and immunity shielding them like the layers of an onion.”
Titled “Accountability Denied: The Absence of Investigation and Punishment of Torture in Israel,” the PCATI report found that the levels of protection include the fact that Shabak employees are not required to identify themselves, that Shabak interrogations are exempt from any video or audio documentation, and that detainees are denied from speaking with an attorney or anyone else from the “outside world” during most of the interrogation process (“Accountability Denied,” December 2009 [PDF]).
A “facade of investigations into complaints of torture and abuse” also points to the impunity with which Shabak (GSS) interrogators operate, the report found.
“Complaints of torture by GSS interrogators submitted to the Attorney General are forwarded for inspection by the Officer in Charge of GSS Interrogee Complaints (OCGIC), a function filled by a GSS agent. Thus complaints of torture during GSS interrogations are examined by a GSS employee who does not constitute an independent or impartial investigator,” the report stated.
As such, more than 600 complaints have been submitted between 2001 and 2008 about mistreatment by Shabak interrogators, but not a single complaint has developed into a criminal investigation, according to the PCATI report.
In late March of this year, various nongovernmental organizations — including Adalah, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and PCATI — petitioned the Israeli high court to investigate the mistreatment and torture of detainees at the hands of Shabak interrogators.
According to PCATI, this latest petition aims to bring an end “the long standing refusal of the Attorney General to open criminal inquiries into cases of alleged torture and ill treatment which has effectively granted long-term immunity from prosecution to interrogators who use illegal methods that have and continue to include torture and ill treatment” (“PCATI Petitions the High Court of Justice: Order the Attorney General to Investigate Torture and Ill treatment,” 23 March 2011).
Cutting ties to the outside world
According to Omar Said, while he wasn’t tortured during Shabak custody, his interrogation and imprisonment were extremely difficult experiences that still affect him today.
“A man like me who was arrested many times, it was very hard and difficult for me. I can’t imagine what will happen to other people who haven’t been arrested before [to be arrested by Shabak],” Said said.
By persecuting Palestinian political leaders, Shabak is trying to intimidate the Palestinian community inside Israel and cut its ties to the wider Arab world, Said said.
“He told me from the beginning: we will teach the Arab population here how to behave and who [they can] contact. The first day, the Shabak interrogator said that. He said, ‘We cannot live with that connection that you made, and the Arabs here made, with the Arabs outside Israel,’” he recalled.
“We are activists in our societies and we represent the new generation of the community and we have wide connections with Arab activists and social activists. They want to cut these relationships.”
MONTREAL, QUEBEC – The Canadian Boat to Gaza (CBG) is dismissing Foreign Affairs Minister Baird’s misinformation about the upcoming flotilla, and is promising to sail with the Freedom Flotilla II next month. John Baird, newly appointed Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, has taken to discouraging Canadians from participating in the upcoming flotilla, which aims to break the siege of Gaza.
CBG views Minister Baird’s statement as an attempt to abdicate the Canadian Government’s obligation to ensure the safety of the Canadians who will be on board the flotilla, including the Canadian boat Tahrir and to justify, in advance, any crimes Israel may commit against peaceful unarmed civilians from Canada and all over the world, as it did a year ago tomorrow.
“We are sailing to change the unjust and illegal situation Israel imposes on Gaza and to challenge the Canadian government’s support for those policies,” says Wendy Goldsmith, CBG steering committee member.
“Baird has characterized the Freedom Flotillas as “provocative”. How is aid provocative? How is standing up for international law and social justice provocative? How is it provocative to work for the freedom of the 1.5 million Palestinians in the open air prison of Gaza?” asks Ehab Lotayef, a CBG spokesperson.
“What’s provocative is the government of Israel’s impunity and systemic violations of international law,” says Lotayef. “What’s provocative is the Harper government acting as an apologist for all of Israel’s actions, even when they are illegal and immoral, like the siege of Gaza. CBG and the flotilla are nonviolent direct responses to Israeli provocation.”
In his statement Mr. Baird mentions Israel’s right to prevent the smuggling of weapons. “What is he trying to imply?” asks Goldsmith. “If Mr. Baird has any doubts about our mission or what we will carry, we invite him or any Canadian body to inspect the Canadian Boat to Gaza.” She added.
“We would like to remind Mr. Baird that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), one of the official channels to send aid to Gaza, has itself said: “all States have an obligation to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of all relief consignments, equipment and personnel [into Gaza],” not just those passing through channels approved by the government of Israel.”  said Lotayef.
CBG is a civilian to civilian initiative funded by citizens and civil society organizations and did not benefit from any government funding or taxpayers funds as some misinformed media reports mentioned lately.
The full list of endorsements and supporting individuals and organizations is online at www.tahrir.ca.
A Reckless Denial of Reality
The national organization Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), committed to protecting public health, demands the de-commissioning of all currently operating nuclear plants in the US and urges members of Congress to refuse to subsidize the construction of new ones with loan guarantees and liability insurance. Why? Here is the scientific/common sense justification for such an uncompromising position:
1. After the accident at the Three Mile Island (TMI) plant, the official Columbia U. study found no increased health effects among the surrounding population, consistent with the officially accepted exposure levels as estimated by the TMI plant operators and applying the internationally accepted radiation risk factors, derived from the long-term follow-up of the externally exposed A-bomb survivors. Contradicting these findings, a subsequent study by Wing et al found statistically significant excess cancers. These cancers have affected the lives of real persons. Yet, Wing’s results were angrily dismissed by the radiation establishment and government health agencies because risk assessments, based on “current radiological science,” precluded that the officially accepted, very low levels of population exposures (doses) released from the TMI reactor could induce the observed excess cancers. The possibility that combining flawed dose estimates with flawed risk models could predict flawed numbers of cancers that might be off by several orders of magnitude (factors of ten), was never considered by the Columbia U. investigators.
Following a tradition illustrated nearly 400 years ago by Gallileo’s fate, accepted beliefs and supporting theoretical models, combined with vested interests, trumped observation. Questioning assumptions in adopted radiobiological models and radiation risk assessments would be equivalent to heresy.
2. All over the former Soviet Union increased incidence of cancers and a multiplicity of other serious health detriment, associated with varying levels of environmental radioactivity from the Chernobyl disaster, have been documented by clinical reports and public health statistics. Until recently, the majority of those studies, however, could only be published in Russian scientific/medical journals and these were arrogantly ignored by the Western radiation health establishment. Instead, the nuclear technology promoting United Nation’s (UN) agency: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (the World Health Organization (WHO) is not permitted to conduct independent studies on radiation health) published report after report with estimated numbers of Chernobyl radiation victims that are orders of magnitude smaller than those observed and documented in the recently published compendium of the Russian data in English (Yablokov et al., Annals of the NY Academy of Sciences, 2009, usefully summarized by the German equivalent of PSR). The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) (and the WHO) had accepted IAEA assertions of very low numbers of radiation victims, purportedly based on the world’s most reliable current radiobiological and radiation risk models. Thus, mainstream radiation health scientists proclaim that the variously documented large numbers of radiation-associated health effects after the Chernobyl catastrophe in the former Soviet Union “cannot be caused” by radiation, rather they must be the result of psychosomatic traumas.
Similarly, in far away Western European countries for which UNSCEAR had estimated very low fallout doses after the Chernobyl explosion, a multitude of excess health effects have been reported in refereed medical/scientific journals, such as neo-natal mortality, Down’s syndrome or lowering of child IQ. However, mainstream radiation regulating and protection agencies, quoting the IAEA/WHO reports, deny any causal relationship between Chernobyl fallout and most of those observations. Vested political and financial interests, cherished theoretical models, mixed with intolerable arrogance, again trump reality.
3. Several years ago, the German government commissioned a team of prestigious government-employed health scientists to design a state-of-the-art study of children <5 years who lived in the proximity of any of the 16 German normally operating nuclear power reactors. Presumably, the study was meant to assuage with maximum credibility the continuing citizens’ concerns about observed childhood leukemia clusters around some of these reactors. Therefore, to my knowledge, it is the only government-sponsored radiation study ever that was designed with full input from and oversight by an independent scientific commission, including several members who had publicly supported the citizens’ concerns. Contrary to their expectations, the government scientists found irrefutable evidence that for <5 year old children there exists an association between residence within 10 km of any of these reactors and a more than doubling of risk for contracting leukemia or other cancers. This amazing finding caused quite a stir in the German media (and remains underreported and unacknowledged in the US), but it has never been credibly refuted. Some defensive (“ecologic”) studies with negative outcomes around power reactors in France and England claim to have cast doubt on the German results, but critical analysis of their data shows them to lack the necessary statistical power (i.e. sensitivity to detect an effect) to invalidate the German findings. Desperate for an “out,” the government researchers, the health agencies involved and the German government then declared these excess cases of early childhood leukemia and cancers in the proximity of nuclear plants to be “inexplicable” at this time. They claim that according to “currently accepted radiobiological models” the initiation of these excess malignancies would require levels of radioactive emissions to be three orders of magnitude larger (1,000 times) than what the reactor operators claimed to have been released. However, (1) officially accepted radiation risk factors do not take into account the extreme radio-sensitivity of the developing fetus and of very young children (R.H. Nussbaum and I. Fairlie).
Also, (2) the officially assumed levels of radioactive emissions ignored, e.g., large releases of radioactive Noble Gases (e.g. Krypton) and of Tritium (radioactive hydrogen). Both of these radioisotopes can easily enter the human body via the food chain. Equally important is the fact (3) that the traditional measure of radiation exposure, the concept of dose (absorbed energy averaged over a unit mass of exposed human tissue), which is a fundamental macroscopic concept in current radiation risk estimates, is clearly inadequate to describe a variety of known injurious microscopic cellular/molecular mechanisms that can be triggered, in particular, by internally lodged radioactivity.
Those who deny or deceptively play down the catastrophic threats to public health from all phases of the nuclear power cycle, from mining to the lack of any proven solution to permanent and safe disposal of very long-term deadly spent nuclear fuel, recklessly ignore the medical/scientific lessons we should have learned from current and previous nuclear accidents. The international radiation health science establishments, such as IAEA or ICRP, many of whose members are solidly enmeshed with nuclear arms and nuclear energy production, have for decades deliberately ignored observed detriment from radioactive emissions. Their estimates of the public health impact from environmental radioactivity are based on partially outdated and flawed theoretical models that had been developed decades ago to quantify the effects of exposures to external radiation, such as those suffered by the Japanese A-bomb survivors. In agencies that are mandated to protect public health a mindset that denies reality is intolerable.
In addition to unacceptable long lasting effects on public health, even if operating normally (see section 3), nuclear energy technology can only be financed by taxpayers worldwide because private capital considers it too risky and refuses to underwrite it. The nuclear power industry holds citizens hostage to protect its profits. The industry’s safety claims and its new marketing gimmick of modular design reactors are largely deceptive, since it has nothing to offer in terms of safe disposal of spent nuclear fuel rods.
It is particularly tragic that the current Japanese population is again a study cohort for the devastating effects of a very different mix of environmental radioactive contamination.
Rudi H. Nussbaum is a Professor emeritus of Physics and Environmental Sciences at Portland State University.