The Coup and Its Aftermath
June 28 marked the six year anniversary of the military coup in Honduras – the day that a democratically elected left wing government was ousted by a US-backed, US-trained cabal of generals and right wing politicians and landowners. It could correctly be called a “Quiet Coup” primarily because it took place with very little fanfare from the corporate media which, to the extent that it covered it at all, did so mostly from a distorted perspective which spread more misinformation than truth. Today, six years (and many innocent lives, and billions of dollars) later, this shameful moment in recent history still remains largely forgotten.
Perhaps it was the lingering euphoria felt by liberals and so-called progressives in the months after Obama’s election and inauguration. Perhaps it was the still new economic crisis and subsequent bailout and financial turmoil. Perhaps it was plain old imperialistic, neocolonial disregard for Latin America and the rights of the people unfortunate enough to be living in “America’s backyard.” Whatever the reason, the fact remains that the Obama administration and those who supported it, then and now, are complicit in an ongoing political, economic, and social tragedy in Honduras.
But why bring it up now, other than to mark the anniversary of the coup? For starters, because one of the primary participants and benefactors happens to be the likely Democratic Party presidential candidate: Hillary Clinton. Also, far from being a discrete episode of US imperialism’s sordid past, the coup and its legacy remain a driving force in Honduran politics and society today. The beneficiaries and participants are all still either in government or have shifted to the private sector, and continue to enrich themselves at the cost of the poor and working people of the country [though alleged coup orchestrator Miguel Fucase just died]. The coup government of Honduras continues to wage a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against minority communities to benefit itself and its patrons from the US and elsewhere.
Perhaps most importantly, the coup of 2009 reveals the extent to which the United States remains a neocolonial, imperial power in Latin America, and reminds us of just what countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador have been struggling against. It illustrates in the starkest terms the human cost of Washington’s policies, not in books about a historical period, but in images and videos of a country under its thumb today. It reminds us just how real the struggle still is.
The Coup and the US Role
The 2006 election of José Manuel Zelaya, known as “Mel” to his friends and supporters, was a watershed moment in the history of Honduras. A country that, like its neighbors, suffered under a succession of US-backed right wing governments, had finally elected a man whose politics were of the people, rather than of the military and business interests. Despite coming from a wealthy family, and having been elected under the Partido Liberal (Liberal Party) banner, Zelaya’s politics shifted significantly to the left once he assumed office.
Not only did Zelaya commit the great sin of forging ties with the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) and PetroCaribe blocs, but Zelaya challenged the political status quo in the country, promising to represent the poor and working class in a country traditionally dominated by wealthy landowners and the military. As journalist, author, and former adviser to the Permanent Mission of Honduras at the United Nations, Roberto Quesada, told Counterpunch in an exclusive interview:
When Zelaya came into power, even though he was in a traditional party, he changed the traditional politics of the Liberal Party and made it into a people’s party. He turned the presidential palace into a house for the people…For the first time those without voices were given a voice…He wanted to introduce the Cuarta Urna [Fourth Ballot Box Referendum]. For the first time the Honduran people could decide what they wanted and change the constitution [because]…the constitution of 1982 was in favor of the right wing and was not in the interests of Hondurans.
And so it seemed in 2009 that Honduras, like Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua before it, would legally and democratically break free of the political and corporate hegemony of the US. Clearly this was something that Washington, even with the newly elected president of “Hope” and “Change” in the White House, could not abide. Enter: then newly appointed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Clinton has since admitted openly, and quite brazenly, her central role in legitimizing, supporting, and providing political cover for the illegal, and internationally condemned, coup against Zelaya. As Counterpunch contributor Mark Weisbrot has noted, Clinton stated clearly in her book Hard Choices that, “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico… We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”
What exactly was the plan? Aside from providing diplomatic cover by not openly calling it a military coup, Clinton employed her longtime associates Lanny Davis and Bennett Ratcliff who whispered sweet nothings in the ears of the right people in Washington and on Wall Street, including in a laughable op-ed in the Wall Street journal, thereby paving the way for new “elections” in Honduras, in order to, as Clinton put it, “render the question of Zelaya moot.” Lanny Davis, as has been noted by a number of journalists, is a direct representative of powerful business elites in Honduras.
Davis himself explained this fact in an interview just weeks after the coup when he stated, “My clients represent the CEAL, the [Honduras Chapter of] Business Council of Latin America… I do not represent the government and do not talk to [interim] President [Roberto] Micheletti. My main contacts are [billionaires] Camilo Atala and Jorge Canahuati. I’m proud to represent businessmen who are committed to the rule of law.” Indeed, Davis quite candidly exposed himself as an agent of powerful oligarch financiers and landowners who, until the election of Zelaya, had always maintained firm control of the reins of government in Honduras.
Essentially then, Clinton and her henchmen played the key role in facilitating an illegal coup against a democratically elected government in the interests of their billionaire friends inside Honduras, and the geopolitical agenda of the United States in the region. Though she is busy employing populist rhetoric in her presidential bid these days, Clinton has done yeoman’s work for the right wing, anti-democratic forces of Latin America, and the Empire broadly speaking. Of course, none of this should come as any surprise to people who have followed Clinton, and US imperialism in Latin America for that matter.
Equally unsurprising is the US role in the training and backing of the Honduran generals who carried out the coup on that early morning in late June 2009. As School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) noted at the time:
The June 28 coup in Honduras was carried out by the School of the Americas (SOA) graduates Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, the head of the of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Honduran military and by Gen. Luis Prince Suazo, the head of the Air Force… SOA-trained Honduran Army Attorney Col. Herberth Inestroza justified the military coup and stated in an interview with The Miami Herald ‘It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That’s impossible.’ Inestroza also confirmed that the decision for the coup was made by the military… According to information that SOA Watch obtained from the US government through a Freedom of Information Act request, Vasquez studied in the SOA at least twice: once in 1976 and again in 1984…The head of the Air Force, General Luis Javier Prince Suazo, studied in the School of the Americas in 1996.
The School of the Americas (since renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, aka WHINSEC) is a US military institute located at Fort Benning, Georgia infamous for graduating a literal who’s who of Central and South American military dictators, death squad leaders, and other assorted fascists who left their bloody marks on their respective countries. It’s been called the “School of Dictators” and a “coup factory,” and it seems that Honduras in 2009 was merely the latest victim of its illustrious alumni. Indeed, this was not the first time for Honduras, as both General Juan Melgar Castro (military dictator, 1975-1978) and Policarpo Paz Garcia (death squad leader and then military dictator, 1978-1982) were graduates of the School of the Americas. Needless to say, the legacy of the United States in Honduras is a bloody and shameful one.
Honduras: A US Military Foothold in Central America
One should not be fooled into believing that since 2009 and the US-backed coup and subsequent regime change, somehow the US has not been involved militarily inside Honduras. Indeed, just weeks ago the US military announced that it would be sending a contingent of US Marines to Honduras, ostensibly to “provide assistance during hurricane season.” However, the reality is that the US is merely continuing, and indeed expanding, its ongoing military partnership and de facto occupation of Honduras and a number of other key Central American countries.
In an exclusive interview with Counterpunch, the US Coordinator of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), Lucy Pagoada succinctly explained, “The coup forced us to wake up to the reality of Honduras. I lived in Honduras until I was 15 years old. I’ve never seen my country so militarized as the way it has become after 2009. It has turned into a large military base trained and funded by the US. They even have School of the Americas forces there… There have been high levels of violence and torture since the coup against the resistance and the opposition.” According to Pagoada and other activists both in Honduras and in the US, the country has essentially become an annex of the US military, acting as a staging area for a variety of Washington’s military operations in the region.
This conclusion is confirmed by a report from the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) which noted:
The steady increase of U.S. assistance to [Honduran] armed forces [is] an indicator of tacit U.S. support. But the U.S. role in militarization of national police forces has been direct as well. In 2011 and 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST)… set up camp in Honduras to train a local counternarcotics police unit and help plan and execute drug interdiction operations… Supported by U.S. helicopters mounted with high caliber machine guns, these operations were nearly indistinguishable from military missions, and locals routinely referred to the DEA and Honduran police agents as “soldados” (soldiers). According to the New York Times, five “commando style squads” of FAST teams have been deployed across Central America to train and support local counternarcotics units…In July 2013, the Honduran government created a new “elite” police unit called the Intelligence Troop and Special Security Group, or TIGRES (Spanish for “tigers”). The unit, which human rights groups contend is military in nature, has been deployed in tandem with the new military police force and has received training in military combat tactics from both U.S. and Colombian Special Forces units.
For those with even a cursory understanding of how US support for the contra death squads of Central America in the 1970s and 1980s actually worked, the description above should bear a chilling resemblance. Essentially, US military and covert assets provide the arms, training, and coordination for a patchwork of well-organized units whose function is to terrorize communities whose real crime, far from involvement in drug trafficking, is either opposition to the government or having the misfortune of living on valuable real estate prized by the same business interests that Mrs. Clinton and her cronies represent.
Of course, the US military presence has a regional dimension as Washington attempts to use its assets to reassert and/or maintain control over the entire region which it has seen steadily slipping from its grasp since the election of Hugo Chavez more than 15 years ago, and the subsequent rise of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. But, from the strictly Honduran perspective, this military cooperation is intended to provide the Honduran military, now doubling as internal police and security forces, with the necessary support to carry out ethnic cleansing operations and killing of political opponents in order to make the country safe for business.
Cleansing Honduras for the Sake of Profit
The military operations in Honduras are aimed primarily at enriching the oligarchs running the country since the ouster of Zelaya in 2009. The goal is to ethnically cleanse prime real estate, either through eviction or brute force, in order to free it up for privatization. One of the means by which this is taking place is through the so called “Ciudades Modelos” (Model Cities) program which promotes tax-free business havens for newly privatized land seized from indigenous communities.
One of the communities most deeply affected is the Garifuna, an Afro-indigenous nation whose land stretches hundreds of miles of prime real estate on the Honduran Carribbean coast which the corrupt government of President Hernandez, and his financial backers in Tegucigalpa (the Honduran capital) and the US, envisions as a money-making tourist zone. TeleSur noted in 2014 that the Barra Vieja Garifuna community was under eviction threat by the Honduran government which prized their land for the “further development of the Bahia de Tela tourist project and the building of the five star Indura Beach and Golf Resort. In a business alliance, the Honduran government holds 49 percent of the shareholds for the project while 51 percent is in the hands of private business.” New York City alone is home to roughly 250,000 Garifuna people from Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Belize; they have to watch as their families and friends back in Honduras continue to face persecution at the hands of a right wing government serving business interests from the US and elsewhere.
But of course, the Garifuna are not alone, as many other indigenous communities in Honduras face unspeakable repression at the hands of the militarized Honduran government and its 21st Century version of death squads. As Lucy Pagoada recounted in her interview with Counterpunch, “Margarita Murillo, an indigenous woman, dedicated her life to the defense of the land and the workers. She was killed with seven bullets by her home in the department of Yoro… She was a leader of the resistance.”
Indeed, the brutal assassination of Murillo in August 2014 was yet another chilling reminder of the war waged by the Honduran government on peasants and indigenous people in the country who refuse to be displaced in the interests of the business elites. Murillo, who had just recently been named President of the Asociativa Campesinos de Producción Las Ventanas (Window Production Peasants Association), had been an advocate for her fellow indigenous peoples and the poor, and had been involved in mediating a land dispute between a number of local families and a group of wealthy landowners in the area. She was shot execution-style by a group of three men in ski masks.
Murillo’s assassination was far more than simply a murder motivated by a local land-grab. Rather, it was a clear warning to the resistance movement in Honduras that any organized effort to fight back against the government and the wealthy landowners backing it would be met with brute force. This is the sort of message that the people of Honduras, especially those who lived through the 1970s and 1980s, understand all too well. In fact, such violence, and the despair that it produces, has driven many Hondurans, especially from the Garifuna community, to flee to the US in search of a better life.
Maria Vives is an administrative assistant with the Give Them to Eat ministries of the Bronx Spanish Evangelical Church. Speaking with Counterpunch she recalled:
We have a soup kitchen and food pantry. We help people on an emergency basis… Three Garifuna women showed up last summer and expressed needs—they were frustrated. They have [sic] been caught crossing the border and ankle bracelets have [sic] been put on them. They were shackled… Word spread that we were helping people in need and soon we had a total of almost 50 or 60 women who show up with their children… They have several reasons for leaving Honduras. For the violence, they were killing off a lot of people in the neighborhood because they wanted to take over their lands. Some were scared their children would join gangs. As soon as the children reach a certain age they were recruited to join the gang. I know one mother in particular who brought over her three children because one of them was being recruited into the gang.
Although the corporate media constantly referred to the “child immigration crisis” during its brief coverage in 2014, the reality was that it was a refugee crisis, and that those children, at times accompanied and at times unaccompanied, were fleeing precisely the sort of repression described above. Whether Garifuna or members of other indigenous or peasant communities, those children and families sought refuge in the US, refuge from the horrors perpetrated against them in Honduras; of course, all with the tacit approval and covert participation of the US Government.
As we mark the sixth anniversary of the 2009 coup against the legal government of Honduras, we must be sure to not simply recognize the event as yet another despicable example of US imperialism and its support for repressive governments in Latin America. We must instead recognize that that singular event set into motion a series of events which have led to the political and social crisis ongoing in Honduras today. As Roberto Quesada told us, “We can’t talk about the coup as if it is in the past. It continues to leave the country in a state of chaos.”
Ramiro S. Fúnez is a Honduran-American political activist and independent journalist based in new York City. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jewish group suggests ‘outing’ of American anti-Israel professors, calls for Israel studies programs
A Jewish institute has proposed “outing” of anti-Israel professors from universities in the United States in order to reduce anti-Israel activity on American college campuses.
The Jewish People Policy Institute said in its 2014-2015 annual assessment that there are over 300 anti-Israel groups at American universities and they are responsible for resolutions passed by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
According to the report published on Sunday, severe anti-Israel activity “is limited to around 20 campuses, mainly in California and in some elite eastern schools.”
“We recommend exposing ‘activist’ faculty members who use their academic lecterns to advance an anti-Israel agenda,” said the report.
It suggested enlisting Jewish donors in efforts “to prevent the misuse of academic freedom in promoting a politicized anti-Israel platform.”
Other suggestions are promoting “additional departments for Israeli studies programs on campuses” and increasing “cooperative endeavors with Israeli universities.”
The group gave the report to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The BDS campaign seeks to increase economic and political pressure on Israel until it ends the occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands and respects the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
The boycott campaign began in 2005 by 171 Palestinian organizations, calling for “various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law.”
In 2013, two US academic groups — the American Studies Association and the Association for Asian American Studies — supported the boycott.
The refusal of the University of Illinois to hire Professor Steven Salaita last year for his tweets about Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip sparked controversy.
Salaita decided to leave his job at Virginia Tech University after he was offered a professor’s job at the University of Illinois in 2013.
He wrote a number of messages in 2014 to condemn Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip.
In one message, Salaita said, “Only #Israel can murder around 300 children in the span of a few weeks and insist that it is the victim.”
He was told that he would not get the job after writing the messages.
Activists in Britain are planning to block an Israel-linked arms factory to mark one year since Israel’s devastating assault on the Gaza Strip.
In what organisers are billing as “the biggest, most beautiful action” ever seen at a UK arms factory, buses of activists from around the country will descend on Shenstone in the West Midlands on July 6 for “a day of creative action in solidarity with Palestine.”
Last August, during Israel’s attack on Gaza, activists occupied the roof of the UAV Engines Ltd factory in Shenstone, which is owned by the Israeli arms company Elbit Systems. The drone engine factory was shut for two days as a result, which activists claim cost the company more than £180,000.
Elbit-produced drones are used by the Israeli military, and were used to conduct attacks during ‘Operation Protective Edge’.
A year on, and activists plan to ‘Block the factory’ on July 6, “transforming the space around the arms factory… into a fun, creative and child-friendly environment.” The focus is on “an inclusive and family friendly affair”, activists say.
The planned action is “part of the wider Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) and the Stop Arming Israel Campaign”, with the latter urging “the UK to end its extensive collaboration with the Israeli weapons industry and to institute a two-way arms embargo.”
Organisers note how “anger and disbelief over last year’s massacre led to widaespread and creative forms of resistance”, including “mass demonstrations, occupations of government buildings and complicit businesses, and growing public pressure on governments and arms companies to stop arming Israel.” The intention is for July 6 to be a continuation of such efforts.
From left to right: Algerian MP Nasser Hamdaduche; Former US Army colonel and retired State Department official Ann Wright; Moroccan MP Abouzaid El Mokrie El Idrissi; and journalist Abdul Latif from Echorouk TV on one of boats of the Freedom Flotilla III, sailing in international waters towards Gaza
On June 26th 2015, four boats of the 2015 the Freedom Flotilla III set sail toward Gaza to try to break Israel’s nine-year-long economic siege on Gaza. The ships are planning to sail from international waters directly into Palestinian waters, with no Israeli involvement. But just hours after setting sail, the captain of one of the ships took note of a military reconnaissance plane that appeared to be tracking the ships.
The captain of the lead ship, ‘The Marianne’, noticed military vessels and reconnaissance planes near Marianne on Saturday afternoon. The crew could not identify nationality for neither the vessels or the planes. The vessel and plane disappeared around 5pm, and the crew has not seen any sign of them since then.
According to a statement by the group, the Flotilla is due to reach Gaza in just a few days. Participants on board include about 50 human rights activists, journalists, artists, and political figures representing 17 countries. This is the third Freedom Flotilla, in addition to nine single boats that have undertaken to sail to Gaza, beginning in 2008 when several voyages reached Gaza City harbor and returned to Europe after their mission of bringing supplies and solidarity to the people of Gaza.
Israeli forces attacked every subsequent attempt to break the siege on Gaza by sea, seizing the humanitarian goods, medical supplies and water treatment equipment on the ships and arresting the participants. In an attack which garnered international attention, Israeli paratroopers dropped onto a Freedom Flotilla ship called the ‘Mavi Marmara’ and began shooting the passengers, killing nine.
In the current Freedom Flotilla, a converted fishing trawler, dubbed the ‘Marianne of Gothenburg’ left Sweden in May to join the flotilla and has made numerous stops along its journey around Europe. Marianne is carrying solar panels that will help alleviate the serious problem of electricity in Gaza, as well .as medical equipment. Three other sailing vessels (Rachel, Vittorio and Juliano II) are accompanying Marianne in its mission to break the blockade of Gaza, in solidarity with the 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. With different strategies and different itineraries, the group says they will continue to sail until the blockade is lifted and Gaza’s port is open.
Dr. Basel Ghattas, a member of the Israeli Knesset, is on board one of the ships, as well as Dr. Moncef Marzouki, former President of Tunisia, the first president after the 2011 popular uprising. Members of parliament from Spain, Jordan, Greece and Algeria are also on board, together with members of European Parliament. Ten of the current participants and crew have been on previous missions. Media outlets on board the flotilla are Al Jazeera, Euronews, Maori TV (New Zealand), Al-Quds TV, Channel 2 TV (Israel) and Russia Today TV, as well as several independent print journalists.
Over 100 European Parliamentarians have signed a letter to the EU’s High Representative, Federica Mogherini, in support of the Freedom Flotilla and calling for an end to the blockade of Gaza.
The rookie NYPD cop who shot and killed Akai Gurley in a stairwell last year waited almost 20 minutes to report the shooting, refusing to call for or provide medical assistance, as he bickered back and forth with his partner about who should be the one to call their sergeant.
Meanwhile, Gurley lay bleeding on a stairwell with a bullet wound to his chest, still breathing, while his girlfriend ran to a neighbor for help, according to a new document presented this week in the manslaughter trial of New York City police officer Peter Liang.
The statement of facts, presented by the district attorney in rebuttal to a motion from Liang’s defense attorney that the case be dismissed– offers the most detailed account of the shooting to date, describing the rookie officer being more concerned about keeping his job than keeping Gurley alive.
In the minutes after the shooting, Melissa Butler, never having been trained in CPR before, kneeled over her boyfriend, applying pressure to the wound and administrating CPR as her neighbor remained on the phone with the 911 operator relaying instructions.
The cops, despite being trained in CPR and required as police officers to administer it when needed, stepped around them as they made their way down the stairs, still arguing about who should call the sergeant.
“Hurry up and call,” NYPD police officer Shawn Landau told Liang.
“What’s the address?” Liang asked his partner.
Liang finally reported the shooting at 11:19 p.m., almost 20 minutes after the shooting, estimated to have taken place a little after 11 p.m.
And five minutes after the neighbor had already called 911.
During that time, Liang also texted his union representative in a desperate attempt to save his job.
It all started on November 20, 2014 when Gurley, who was unarmed and not breaking any law, was visiting his girlfriend at the Brooklyn housing project she lived in.
NYPD officers Liang and Landau were on-duty patrolling the housing projects when they entered a darkened stairwell from the eighth floor to make their way downstairs.
Liang pulled out his gun before entering, even though he was not being threatened.
Meanwhile, Gurley and his girlfriend entered from the seventh floor after having waited for an elevator that never arrived.
Seconds later, Liang fired his gun, striking Gurley in the chest. Investigators said the bullet ricocheted off a wall before striking Gurley.
Fearing for their safety, Gurley and Butler ran down two flights of stairs but Gurley collapsed on the fifth-floor stairwell. Butler then ran down to the fourth floor where she knocked on the neighbor’s door for help.
“What the fuck happened,” Landau asked his partner.
“It went off by accident,” Liang responded, who then began repeatedly saying he would be fired.
The document states that Liang reported the shooting at exactly 11:19 and 46 seconds, followed by a series of follow-up reports to dispatch of an “accidental discharge.”
But New York City Police Lieutenant Vitaly Zelekov had already received a report at 11:15 p.m. that a man had been shot in the building, thanks to the neighbor’s call.
Minutes later, Zelekov arrived at the building as numerous other cops were arriving. He reached the fourth-floor landing and spotted Liang, asking him what had happened.
“I shot him accidentally,” Liang told him.
Zelekov took Liang’s gun, secured it in his waistband and made his way up to the fifth floor where he saw Butler attempting mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Gurley.
Zelekov ordered another officer to relieve Butler, then radioed to dispatch to “rush the bus,” meaning to send an ambulance as soon as possible – the first time that night anybody had requested an ambulance.
That request was logged at 11:21 p.m. and seven seconds. Gurley was pronounced dead at a local hospital at 11:55 p.m.
Liang’s lawyer Stephen Worth told the New York Times that Liang was hyperventilating in the moments following the shooting, and was “too distraught” to help Butler attempt to save Gurley’s life, so therefore, charges should be dismissed.
But Justice Danny K. Chun rejected the motion to drop the charges against Liang, who is facing manslaughter in the second degree, criminally negligent homicide, assault in the second degree, reckless endangerment in the second degree, as well as two counts of official misconduct.
Officer Landau has not been charged for his role in Gurley’s death.
JERUSALEM – An Israeli minister on Friday urged French Jews to move to Israel after a suspected Islamist attacked a factory near Lyon and pinned a severed head to the gates.
“I call on the Jews of France – come home! Anti-Semitism is rising, terror is increasing,” immigration minister Zeev Elkin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party said in a statement.
“This is a national mission of the highest priority.”
A suspected Islamist launched a daylight raid on an industrial gas factory in France Friday, killing a businessman from the suburbs of Lyon.
“The intent was without doubt to cause an explosion. It was a terrorist attack,” said French President Francois Hollande in Brussels, cutting short an EU summit to chair emergency meetings in the French capital.
Netanyahu sparked controversy by encouraging French Jews to move to Israel in the wake of January’s Paris attacks that left 17 dead, including four at a Jewish supermarket, many arguing that the Israeli PM acted on political opportunism.
In response, director of the European Jewish Association Rabbi Menachem Margolin was quoted as saying he regretted that “after every anti-Semitic attack in Europe, the Israeli government issues the same statements about the importance of aliyah [immigration to Israel], rather than employ every diplomatic and informational means at its disposal to strengthen the safety of Jewish life in Europe.
“Every such Israeli campaign severely weakens and damages the Jewish communities that have the right to live securely wherever they are,” Haaertz reported Margolin as saying.
More than three million Jews have immigrated to Israel since its creation in 1948 — including one million from former Soviet states since 1990 — under the Law of Return, which offers citizenship and benefits to Jews from anywhere in the world.
However, millions of Palestinians in exile — those whose descendants were among the 750,000 who fled or were driven from their homes during the war that led to Israel’s creation in 1948 — are barred from returning to their land in what is now Israel.
Ma’an staff contributed to this report.
Just nine days after the fall of the World Trade Center, George W. Bush announced that he was imposing a radical new policy on virtually the entire globe: “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”
As dramatic as the statement was, just about every phrase was open to question in one form or another. But rather than launching into a long and vigorous debate about the meaning of terrorism or America’s right to impose diktat on the world at large, congressmen turned their minds off and gave Bush a standing ovation.
Today, the same Bush Doctrine is sinking beneath the waves as a growing portion of the punditocracy declares that some forms of terrorism are better than others and that harboring a terrorist may not be so bad if it advances U.S. interests. But once again, the response is not questioning, debate, or even applause, but silence.
The latest evidence of a sea change in establishment thinking is a blog that Ahmed Rashid, a prominent Middle East correspondent, recently published on The New York Review of Books website. Entitled “Why We Need al-Qaeda,” it argues that Al Qaeda and its Syrian affiliate, Al Nusra, are evolving in a more moderate direction in growing contrast to its rival, the super-violent Islamic State. So why not use Al Nusra as a counterforce against both Bashar al-Assad and ISIS?
As Rashid puts it: “Unlike ISIS, which demands absolute subjugation of the inhabitants of any territory it conquers (surrender or be executed), al-Nusra is cooperating with other anti-Assad groups and recently joined the ‘Army of Conquest’ alliance of rebel militias in northern Syria. Moreover, in contrast to ISIS’s largely international and non-Syrian fighting force, al-Nusra’s fighters are almost wholly Syrian, making them both more reliable and more committed to Syria’s future.
“Meanwhile, in interviews with Al Jazeera, al-Nusra leaders have vowed not to attack targets in the West, promoting an ideology that might be called ‘nationalist jihadism’ rather than global jihad. In recent months, al-Nusra’s leaders have toned down the implementation of their own brutal version of Islamic law, while putting on hold their own plans of building a caliphate.”
Thus, according to Rashid’s viewpoint, Al Nusra is cooperative, patriotic, unthreatening to anyone other than Assad, and in favor of a kinder and gentler form of shari‘a as well. Yet, Rashid argues, that while Turkey and the Arab gulf states recognize that change is afoot, the U.S. keeps its eyes resolutely shut:
“With 230,000 killed and 7.6 million people uprooted in Syria alone, the Arab states want a quick end to the Assad regime and a viable solution for Syria. They know that solution will never come from the weak moderate opposition, and that any lasting peace will require support by the strong and ruthless Islamist groups fighting there.”
Gulf States’ Favorite
So the gulf states are backing the second most ruthless Islamist group in Syria (Al Qaeda’s affiliate) in hopes of offsetting the first most ruthless (ISIS) and making short work of the Baathist regime in Damascus. But as Arab leaders prepare for direct negotiations with Al Nusra, Rashid warns, “the only one not at the table could be the United States.”
This is dramatic stuff. After all, Rashid is not taking aim at some minor doctrine, but one that has been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy since 9/11. Moreover, he’s not the only one talking this way. Since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan flew to Riyadh in early March to meet with Saudi King Salman and discuss ways of upping support for the Syrian Islamist opposition, there has been a veritable boomlet in terms of calls for a rapprochement with Al Qaeda.
Within days of the Riyadh get-together, Foreign Affairs went public with an article arguing that even though “the United States is the closest it has ever been to destroying al Qaeda, its interests would be better served by keeping the terrorist organization afloat.” Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, wrote a few weeks later that “while not everyone likes Nusra’s ideology, there is a growing sense in the north of Syria that it is the best alternative on the ground – and that ideology is a small price to pay for higher returns.”
Charles Lister of the Brookings Institute’s Doha Center, wrote that Al Nusra is undergoing a “moderating shift.” Frederic Hof, Obama’s former envoy to the Syrian guerrillas and now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said the group has become “a real magnet for young Syrian fighters who don’t have any particular jihadist or even radical sectarian agenda.” They are drawn to Al Nusra, he explained, for two reasons – because it’s “well-resourced” and because it “seems to have been willing to fight the regime and not to engage in some of the corrupt activities and warlordism that you would find elsewhere within the panoply of Syrian opposition.”
So, Rashid’s views are hardly unique. Nonetheless, they’re the most explicit and upfront to date, an indication that support for an alliance with Al Qaeda is on the upswing and that advocates are growing bolder and more self-confident. So how should ordinary people who are not part of the elite foreign-policy discussion respond?
For one thing, they might notice that such articles are remarkably one-sided and poorly reasoned. Rashid may be “one of Pakistan’s most respected journalists,” as the BBC puts it, someone whose work has appeared in such publications as the Daily Telegraph and the Far Eastern Economic Review. Yet shooting holes through his arguments is child’s play.
Take his claim that “al-Nusra’s leaders have toned down the implementation of their own brutal version of Islamic law.” Whatever the difference between Al Nusra and ISIS on this score, it’s less impressive than Rashid lets on.
The Soufan Group, a New York-based security firm headed by a Lebanese-American ex-FBI agent named Ali H. Soufan, notes, for instance, that while Islamic State released a video in January showing its forces stoning an accused adulteress, Al Nusra released one around the same time showing its forces shooting two women for the same alleged offense. Since the victims in either case were killed, the difference, as the Soufan Group noted, was purely “stylistic.”
Rashid claims that Al Nusra is less extreme in its hostility to Shi‘ism, in part because it thinks “anti-Shia fanaticism” is backfiring and becoming “an impediment to gaining more territory.” Indeed, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, Al Nusra’s commander-in-chief, told Al Jazeera in a rare interview on May 27 that his forces were willing to welcome Alawites, as Syria’s Shi‘ites are known, back into the fold.
“If they drop weapons,” al-Julani said, “disavow Assad, do not send their men to fight for him and return to Islam, then they are our brothers.” But when he described Alawism as a sect that has “moved outside the religion of God and of Islam,” the meaning became clear: Alawite must either convert or die.
Whether this makes Al Nusra less genocidal than ISIS is open to debate. According to the pro-rebel Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, meanwhile, Al Nusra recently massacred more than 20 Druze villagers in northwestern Syria – reportedly after a local commander denounced them as kuffar, or infidels, while al-Julani, in his Al Jazeera interview, specified that Christians must pay the jizya, a special head tax imposed by Islamic law, as well – a stipulation Syria’s ten-percent Christian minority is not likely to find very reassuring.
Ordinary people viewing this from afar might notice that the government that al-Julani is seeking to overthrow is officially secular and non-discriminatory and that even Obama has conceded that it has “protected the Christians in Syria,” as he told a Syrian Christian delegation last September. They might also notice that Rashid’s article is in other respects highly revealing, although not in ways he cares to admit.
For instance, Rashid writes that U.S. policy in the Middle East is beset by “growing contradictions.” This is obviously correct. But the problem is not that Washington refuses to face facts about Al Nusra’s alleged moderating trend, but that the U.S. is attempting to hammer out an accord with Iran while struggling to preserve its alliance with Israel and the Arab gulf states, all of whom regard Iran as public enemy number one.
Obama’s Fence Straddling
The effort has led to monumental fence straddling. While entering into talks with Iran, the Obama administration has given the go-ahead to Saudi Arabia’s two-month-old assault on Iranian-allied forces in Yemen while turning a blind eye to growing Turkish and Saudi support for anti-Iranian terrorists in Syria.
While paying lip service to the Bush Doctrine that he who harbors a terrorist is as bad as a terrorist, the Obama administration made no objection when the Saudis and Turks donated U.S.-made TOW missiles to Al Nusra-led forces in northern Syria or when the Saudi bombing campaign allowed Al Qaeda to expand in Yemen.
It’s a mixed-up policy that has people in the Middle East shaking their heads. Yet Rashid adds to the confusion by misrepresenting the Saudi role. He writes, for instance, that the Arab States are swinging behind Al Nusra because they “want a quick end to the Assad regime and a viable solution for Syria,” when, in fact, Saudi Wahhabists have sought from the start to impose a government much like their own, as a report by U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency observed back in August 2012.
Rather than “viable,” such a government would be precisely the opposite for a highly variegated society like Syria with its large Christian, Shi‘ite, and Druze minorities fearful of Sunni fundamentalist domination – yet the gulf states, backed by the U.S., have pushed on regardless.
On the issue of Al Qaeda’s brutal intolerance, Rashid adds, “For Arab leaders, determining whether al-Qaeda has really changed will depend on the group’s long-term attitude toward Shias,” suggesting that the gulf states are seeking a fairer outcome for Syria’s Alawites.
But this is misleading as well since Saudi attitudes toward the kingdom’s own 15-percent Shi‘ite minority are deeply oppressive and seem to be getting worse.
According to the Cambridge scholar Toby Matthiesen, for example, Saudi Shi‘ites are barred from the army and the National Guard as well as the top rungs of the government. State-mandated schoolbooks denounce them as “rejectionists,” while, according to the independent scholar Mai Yamani, they cannot testify in court or marry a Sunni and must put up with abuse from Wahhabist clerics who regularly preach that killing a Shi‘ite merits a greater heavenly reward than killing a Christian or a Jew.
Since Salman’s accession in late January, there is no sign of a softening. Indeed, by bombing Yemen’s Shi‘ite Houthi rebels and stepping up support for fanatically anti-Shi‘ite rebels in Syria, Salman gives every indication of intensifying his anti-Shi‘ite crusade and taking it abroad.
Neocons pushing for an explicit alliance with Al Nusra are thus attempting to plunge the U.S. ever more deeply into a growing sectarian war. Ordinary people might also notice that such “experts” expound their views from cushy posts financed by Qatar (the case with Brookings’ Doha Center) or by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain (the case with the Atlantic Council).
Yet Congress doesn’t care about such conflicts of interest and the White House is too intimidated to speak out, while the American people at large are not consulted. Questioning and debate are more imperative than ever, yet they are as absent as they were back in 2001.
As many as 90 per cent of Palestinian prisoners have been subjected to various types of torture and abuse in Israeli jails, a report revealed yesterday.
The report by the Palestinian Committee for Prisoners’ and Ex-Prisoners Affairs, which came on the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, highlighted the increasing practice of torture against Palestinian prisoners after the kidnapping of three settlers in June 2014.
According to the report, torture is systematically practiced by the Israeli Security Agency, Shin Bet, under legal cover from the Israeli government, the Israeli Legal Counsel and the Supreme Court who allow investigators to use violence and internationally prohibited means during interrogations under the pretext that the detainees pose a “security risk for the state of Israel”.
The Committee’s report points out that Israel’s use of torture is considered a war crime according to the Geneva Convention and the International Criminal Court, however the Israeli penal code gives immunity for Shin Bet interrogators.
Earlier this week, the Israeli Knesset extended a law which allowed security officials not to record the interrogation of detainees held on security charges, which many believe leaves them open to being tortured and forced to confession under duress.
The report said the Israeli intelligence used brutal and immoral methods of torture during interrogations including: severe beatings, insults and curses, isolation in solitary confinement, no access to lawyers, arrest of family members as a means of pressure, sexual harassment, sleep deprivation, violent shaking, electric shocks and stress amongst others.
According to the report, the percentage of complaints on the use of torture increased after mid-2014 to reach twice the number documented in 2013.
Human rights organisations point out that as many as 850 complaints were filed by Palestinian prisoners against the practice of torture; however the cases were rejected by the Israeli judiciary.
Israel’s Civil Wrongs Law passed on 23 July 2012 prevents Palestinian victims from filing complaints against Israeli officials who committed crimes including torture against them.
BETHLEHEM – One of the ships taking part in a flotilla headed towards the Gaza Strip was sabotaged south of Crete, an activist aboard one of the ships said Thursday.
Israeli-born Swedish activist Dror Feiler told Nazareth-based al-Shams radio that the ship had been sabotaged by professionals, and would have sunk if sailed at sea.
“Somebody went underneath the ship at night and sabotaged its propellers, just like they sabotaged the same ship in 2011,” Fieler said referring to similar damage that was inflicted upon a ship participating in a previous flotilla.
Feiler, who relinquished his Israeli citizenship after moving to Sweden, boarded the trawler Marianne of Gothenburg in Sweden with 18 other activists six weeks ago. The crew had refrained from stopping at European ports prior to avoid being held by authorities, but their trip was cut short after realizing that they might have drowned had they continued.
Despite the sabotage, the remainder of the flotilla convoy will move as planned with the ships expected arrive in Gaza in succession within three days, Feiler said.
The flotilla is the third of it’s kind to attempt to access the Gaza Strip by sea since 2010, aiming break the nearly nine-year Israeli blockade causing what is termed by rights organizations as a humanitarian crisis for the strip’s 1.8 million residents.
In May 2010, Israeli forces staged a raid on a six-ship flotilla which ended in bloodshed, claiming the lives of 10 Turkish rights activists and sparked a crisis with Ankara.
The participation in this year’s flotilla of Palestinian Knesset member Bassel Ghattas sparked an outcry among right wing members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, who called for Ghattas to be stripped of immunity from prosecution for joining.
Similar response was given to Palestinian MK Hanin Zoabi who took part in the 2010 flotilla, when Israeli minister Miri Regev accused Zoabi for “joining terrorists.”
Israeli leaders say that joining efforts to break the Israeli military blockade of Gaza is directly working against the security of Israel.
“It is the gravest thing possible that an Israeli MP would join the flotilla whose aim is to help the Hamas terror organisation,” said Israeli Immigration Minister Zeev Elkin from the ruling right-wing Likud party earlier this week.
Ghattas will be joined by the former Tunisian president, European lawmakers, and activists in what the Freedom Flotilla Coalition described as “a peaceful, nonviolent action to break the illegal and inhumane blockade of the Gaza Strip.”
The US Senate has passed a controversial trade bill that contains provisions opposing the growing international boycott movement against Israel.
The Senate passed the measure as part of the Trade Promotion Authority legislation. The legislation was already passed by the House of Representatives and can now be signed into law by President Barack Obama.
The bill was passed under massive pressure from the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the United States.
The provisions require US negotiators to oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel during the ongoing free trade negotiations with the European Union.
The BDS campaign seeks to increase economic and political pressure on Israel until the regime ends the occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands and respect the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
“Today, for the first time in nearly four decades, Congress sent legislation to the president’s desk to combat efforts to isolate and delegitimize the ‘state’ of Israel,” US Representative Peter Roskam wrote in a statement released shortly after the Senate vote.
“After today, discouraging economic warfare against Israel will be central to our free trade negotiations with the European Union,” said Roskam, one of the lawmakers who sponsored the provisions.
This comes as several groups and organizations in the European states have already supported the campaign against Israel.
The boycott campaign against Israel began in July 2005 by 171 Palestinian organizations, calling for “various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law.”
In 2013, two US academic groups — the American Studies Association and the Association for Asian American Studies — supported the boycott.
BETHLEHEM – Palestinian Authority foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki is scheduled to make the State of Palestine’s first submission to the International Criminal Court in the Hague on Thursday in pursuit of war crime charges against Israel.
The PA foreign minister and a high-profile delegation are expected to arrive at the office of the prosecutor of the ICC at 3 p.m. and will deliver hundreds of pages of documents describing in detail Israeli breaches of international law, Palestinian ambassador to the Netherlands Nabil Abu Zneid told Ma’an.
“It will take the ICC a long time to take action, possibly 5-10 years as this is one out of a hundred steps,” Abu Zneid said.
The PLO will continue to collate information and testimonies to later be submitted to the ICC as evidence of Israeli crimes.
The report due to be submitted Thursday was prepared by a 45-member committee appointed by President Mahmoud Abbas in February and chaired by PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat.
The Higher National Committee includes PLO Executive Committee Members, political parties, security forces, unions, ministries and senior Hamas official in Gaza Ghazi Hamid.
A team led by five senior international lawyers commissioned by the PA guided the drafting of the report.
Committee member Mustafa Barghouthi, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, told Ma’an that Thursday is just the first step in removing Israel’s immunity for violations of international humanitarian law.
The documents will include violations committed by Israel from June 13, 2014 to May 31, 2015 in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.
Among the specific cases is the mass Israeli crackdown on the Hebron district in 2014, the war on Gaza last summer, and ongoing settlement activities and crimes against Palestinian prisoners, including administrative detention.
“Our goal is to prove that crimes were committed so as to convince the general prosecutor to start investigations,” Barghouthi said.
“We are also seeking to remove the immunity of Israel and its leaders as we seek to reach justice, protect the Palestinian people and make sure criminals do not avoid punishment.”
Such achievements will strengthen international solidarity with the Palestinian people, including the BDS movement, he added.
On Monday, a UN Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict announced it had gathered “credible allegations” that both sides had committed war crimes during the conflict, which killed more than 2,140 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 people on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.
The PLO has been seeking to open criminal proceedings against Israel at the ICC as part of an increased focus on diplomatic maneuvering and appeals to international bodies.
The Israeli Knesset is to extend a temporary bill that permits police interrogators not to use audio or video recordings to document interrogations of people suspected of security offences, Arab48.com reported yesterday.
The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) condemned the measure and sent a letter to the Israeli Public Prosecutor and the government’s Judicial Advisor demanding they appeal against the bill.
“This amounts to severe violation of basic prisoners’ rights, including the legal right to remain dignified and have just judicial measures,” Adalah said. “Extending this bill clearly undermines any opportunity to monitor the legality of interrogation measures and confessions raised to the court.”
The Israeli Knesset approved a bill in 2002 demanding security services document the questioning of any prisoner who may get more than ten years in prison for his crimes. The bill included an article which made such documentation unnecessary in cases of security-related offences.
According to Adalah, this article was a temporary measure agreed to remain in place for six years. In 2008, the Knesset extended it until 2012 and then it was extended to 2015. Adalah said Palestinian prisoners are affected most by this article.