The manufactured “anti-semitism crisis” in the British Labour party rumbles on into new realms of ideological insanity. The witch-hunt against commentary critical of Israel or Zionism has been in full flow, and now an internal party inquiry led by Jan Royall has reached its conclusions.
Note that in this report by the Guardian newspaper, it appears to be a given both by Royall and the Guardian that Ken Livingstone and the others suspended from the party are guilty of anti-semitism rather than anti-Zionism. I have challenged that assumption in previous posts, such as here and here. I am therefore going to put quotation marks around the word “anti-semitism”, at least as used by Royall, because it is far from clear to me that most of those under investigation have said things that are anti-semitic.
Royall’s first conclusion is that there should be no “statute of limitations” on “anti-semitism.” That’s a green light for every right-winger and Blairite to go trawling through Labour party members’ back catalogue of social media posts in search of anti-Zionist or anti-Israel utterances. Here’s a simple piece of advice to John Mann and the Blairite brigade: if you want to simplify your task, examine postings from winter 2008 and summer 2014, when Israel was killing hundreds of children in Gaza. I suspect you’ll find the “anti-semitism” you’re looking for in those periods.
Royal also suggests that there may be a need for “more rigorous vetting procedures for national and local government candidates.” So the Blairites will be further encouraged to trawl through candidates’ social media postings on Israel in the knowledge that they can thereby ensure only people like themselves get to stand for election.
Another of Royall’s conclusions is that a membership ban for “anti-semitism” should not be for life if there is “demonstrable” change by the offender. Re-education camps, anyone?
So members may be allowed back into the Labour party if they can show that over a sustained period of time they have disavowed their criticisms of Israel. Presumably, to reassure the party that they are not likely to slip back into their former bad ways of thinking, they will need to enthusiastically embrace Zionism and support an ethnic Jewish state that oppresses Palestinians in the occupied territories and systematically discriminates against the fifth of its citizens who are Palestinian.
In other words, these measures will have the practical effect of ensuring that the party is reserved for those of a Blairite persuasion.
There are other disturbing conclusions reached by Royall. She is apparently recommending that an imminent external inquiry she will also sit on consider whether members should qualify for investigation simply because “the victim or any other person” has “perceived” a comment to be anti-semitic. In short, every Netanyahu-loving Zionist may soon be guaranteed the chance to force the suspension of any Labour member who offends them by criticising Israel.
Royall suggests that the coming inquiry consider “swifter action to deal with antisemitism”, which is surprising given that the current suspensions have all been implemented summarily.
And she prefers “a review of how online debate is conducted to make it welcoming and productive.” In other words, Labour members will be expected not to criticise Israel or Zionism in case it puts off hardcore Israel supporters.
It is not hard to see where all this is leading, and was designed to lead by the Blairite faction trying to engineer a coup against leader Jeremy Corbyn. Polls show that Corbyn’s support has actually grown over the past year among ordinary members, despite the endless character assassination against him.
So the Blairites who dominate the Labour parliamentary caucus are simply re-engineering the party more to their liking: terrify into submission a new generation of candidates who have been inspired by Corbyn to enter politics, and through a war of attrition demoralise the hundreds of thousands of new members who joined the party, in the hope they will leave.
This is self-sabotage on a vast scale. The Blairites (and their cheerleaders in liberal media like the Guardian ) would prefer to destroy the party than help Corbyn and his supporters mount a credible challenge to the Conservative government. And that insight tells you all you need to know about the true ideological sympathies of the Blairites, who were so ready to cosy up to the corporations and the Murdoch media.
Saudi Arabia and its allies have asked Israel to resume Middle East negotiations under new terms which include changes to Riyadh’s “peace” initiative, Israeli media reports say.
The kingdom, its Persian Gulf allies, Jordan and Egypt have been sending messages to Israel through various emissaries, including former British PM Tony Blair, the Israeli newspaper Arutz Sheva reported.
“They are expecting to receive from Israel a response and are also expecting Israel to make gestures toward the Palestinians” in the West Bank, the paper said.
The Saudi “peace” initiative, unveiled in 2002, offers to normalize ties with Israel by 22 Arab countries in return for Tel Aviv’s withdrawal from the occupied West Bank.
Tel Aviv has rejected the Saudi initiative due to the fact that it calls for Israel to accept the right of return for the Palestinians who were forced to flee their homes under the Israeli occupation.
Saudi Arabia and its allies are now prepared to discuss changes to the initiative in order to resume talks between Tel Aviv and the Palestinian Authority, Israels’ Channel 10 News revealed.
The daily Maariv revealed earlier this month that the Israeli regime would present a bill to the Knesset in the coming weeks, calling for the annexation of 60% of the West Bank.
According to the paper, preliminary talks have been held to annex Area C of the West Bank where more than 350,000 illegal Israeli settlers are based.
Nevertheless, there is a desire among the leadership of the Arab countries in the region to change their attitude towards Israel and to start taking an active mediating role, Channel 10 reported, citing diplomatic sources.
The report comes days after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi urged Israelis and Palestinians to seize what he said was a “real opportunity” and renew “peace” talks.
Most extremist cabinet in the works
PM Benjamin Netanyahu, however, is set to form the most extremist cabinet in Israel’s history after revealing his intention to name notorious politician Avigdor Lieberman as the new minister of military affairs.
Palestinians have denounced the planned appointment, saying the decision showed Israel was intent on spreading extremism and expanding illegal settlements.
As the minister of military affairs, Lieberman would oversee military operations in the Palestinian territories and have a major say in policy towards the settlements.
Lieberman himself lives in a settlement which the international community considers illegal and persistent expansion of settler units as one of the biggest causes of the escalating tensions.
He has called on the Israeli regime to treat Palestinian resistance movement Hamas the same way as the United States treated “the Japanese in World War II.”
On Saturday, an Israeli website said the “nightmare” of those critical of the new Israeli cabinet “is if Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, along with Netanyahu and Lieberman, will sit on the same podium and sign a cooperation agreement.”
“But this is a reality that is happening every day, not just wishful thinking,” the Israeli military intelligence website Debkafile wrote.
Last month, a well-connected former general in the Saudi military said the kingdom would open an embassy in Tel Aviv if Israel accepted the Saudi initiative to end the Middle East conflict.
Anwar Eshki was asked during an Al Jazeera interview how long it would be before Riyadh opened an embassy in Israel.
“You can ask Mr. Netanyahu,” Eshki replied, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Jerusalem Post reported on its website.
“If he announces that he accepts the initiative and gives all rights to Palestinians, Saudi Arabia will start to make an embassy in Tel Aviv,” Eshki said.
Eshki met publicly in June with Dore Gold just before the latter was appointed director-general of the Israeli foreign ministry. Gold said then Israel had contacts with “almost every Arab state.”
In the interview, Eshki said the Saudis are not interested in “Israel becoming isolated in the region.”
In March, Netanyahu said Israel’s relations with regional Arab countries were “dramatically warming” in what analysts said was an acknowledgement of behind-the-scenes ties.
Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s minister of military affairs who resigned on Friday, pointed to open channels between the regime and Arab states in February.
Ya’alon said he was unable to shake hands with Arab officials in public due to the “sensitive” political realities, however, the two sides “can meet in closed rooms.”
The Israeli minister later publicly shook the hand of Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal al-Saud, who himself has openly met with a number of Israeli officials in the past.
Israeli training Saudi forces: Hezbollah
Sheikh Naim Qassem, deputy secretary general of Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement, said in April that Israel was training Saudi military forces under the framework of clandestine relations.
Dozens of Saudi military officers were being trained following secret contacts that led to military cooperation, he said.
“The Saudis are currently fulfilling the cycle of the Israeli project in public and secret meetings,” he added.
The latest thematic report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) concerning Colombia makes for shocking though quite important reading. In short, it details human rights abuses on a massive scale, and lays the blame for these abuses chiefly upon the right-wing paramilitaries aligned with the Colombian State. Citing Colombia’s Center for Historical Memory, the IACHR concludes that Colombia, with its over 6 million internally displaced persons, is indeed “a displaced nation.”
Exhibit at Center for Historical Memory, Showing Personal Effects of “False Positive” Victim
As the IACHR explains, the paramilitaries were responsible for 72% of the attacks recorded in the first half of 2015. Incredibly, the Colombian State, along with its U.S. sponsor, insist that the paramilitaries (also known as Autodefensas) no longer exist as a result of a demobilization (largely faked) back in 2003-2006. And, it is this very denial, the IACHR points out, which allows the paramilitaries to carry out their reign of terror with near complete impunity. After all, the State will not dismantle or prosecute what it claims does not even exist.
As explained in the report, “during 2015 the IACHR has continued receiving information about actions of the illegal armed groups that emerged after the demobilization and which are identified as being related or having among their members, persons that belonged to paramilitary groups who, in many cases allegedly continue acting under the protection of State agents.”
The misdeeds the paramilitaries are carrying out under State protection include disappearances, of which there were an incredible 3,400 during the first 7 months of 2015 alone. In all, the IACHR reports that there have been a total of between 45,000 and 61,918 forced disappearances in Colombia in the past 30 years. Thus, there have potentially been more than three times the disappearances in Colombia than in Argentina during all of the Dirty War years. And, of course, with such disappearances come mass graves, of which Colombia has many – 4,519 of them to be exact, with 5,817 bodies exhumed from them so far.
Meanwhile, the IACHR reported on the fact that at least 5,736 individuals were the victims of extrajudicial executions by the Colombian State forces between 2000 and 2010 – that, is during the period of the U.S.’s major military support for Colombia known as Plan Colombia. Nearly all of these executions were “false positive” killings in which the Colombian military murdered innocent civilians – many of them young, unemployed men – and then dressed them up as guerillas to justify to the U.S. the military assistance the Colombian military was receiving for counter-insurgency purposes. And, while the rate of such killings has decreased since 2010, they nonetheless continue, with 230 reported cases since then.
To the extent Colombia is covered at all in the mainstream press these days, one rarely gets a glimpse into the horror show which is taking place in that country. And, casual visitors to places such as Bogota or Medellin would rarely get a glimpse of this either. This is so because the lion’s share of the violence described above is taking place in the more remote areas where Colombia’s Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities live, and it is these communities which are suffering the brunt of this violence.
As the IACHR explains, these communities are largely “invisible” in Colombian society, “are victims of racial discrimination and disproportionately affected by violence, forced displacement, poverty and social exclusion.” In addition, “the majority of victims of sexual violence in armed conflict are Afro-descendant and indigenous women.” And, impunity for sexual violence in Colombia is near total “given that sexual violence against women would be perpetrated mainly by paramilitary, but also by agents of the government . . . .”
As for the issue of poverty, these communities are suffering from some of the most extreme versions of it, and live in conditions of misery which residents in the major cities are often shielded from. For example, in Choco – a town nestled in between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts and populated by mostly Afro-Colombian and indigenous – the infant mortality rate is 42.69 per 1000. This figure is higher than that of post-invasion Iraq, and nearly as high as that in such countries as Burma, Bangladesh, Namibia and Haiti. Meanwhile, in Bogota, the figure is 12.88 per 1000. These figures underscore the incredible inequities and disparity in wealth which make Colombia one of the most unequal societies on earth, with a very stark divide along racial and ethnic lines.
However, the violence against Afro-Colombians and indigenous is not just the product of racism, but is also the product of the unfettered capital penetration of their rich, ancestral land. As the IACHR points out, large scale megaprojects – many of them mining projects – “have led to the appropriation of Afro-Colombian’s collective territories, and have resulted in “brutal forced displacements, massive violence and selective assassinations.”
And, of course, many of these megaprojects are owned, in whole or in part, by North American companies to which the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) has opened Colombia wide open.
An example of such a deadly megaproject detailed in the IACHR report is the port expansion of Buenaventura, a town which is 90% Afro-Colombian. This port expansion was carried out to facilitate the trade and tourism created by the FTA. And, the struggle of the paramilitaries to control the wealth generated by the port expansion has led to the forced disappearances of hundreds of Buenaventura residents “and the operation of ‘chop houses’ (casa de pique)” where people are chopped up alive.
Like the Colombian and U.S. governments denials of the existence of the paramilitary death squads, the very failure of our mainstream media to acknowledge or discuss the existence of the above-described crimes allows them to continue. Thus, the U.S. government is able to continue supporting the Colombian military, and by extension its paramilitary allies, and North American multi-nationals are able to keep violently exploiting the Colombian people and their land by virtue of the fact that we are kept in the dark about this reality by a press corps which is failing in its duty to report on such matters of public concern. It is only by breaking this silence around these crimes that we have any chance of stopping them.
Daniel Kovalik lives in Pittsburgh and teaches International Human Rights Law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.
Jerusalem, Occupied Palestine – The 14 members of Abu Sadam’s family remain homeless after their home was destroyed by the Israel Army in the early hours of Tuesday morning in the Hizbet area of Wadi Joz, Jerusalem.
The family are calling for solidarity and support and would welcome visitors to join them.
If you want to help please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The leader of the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah, Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, heaps praise on the movement’s military commander Mustafa Badreddine, who was killed in Syria last week, saying he was a front-runner in the fight against Israel.
“Badreddine played a key role alongside [his predecessor] Imad Mughniyeh… in the 2006 war against Israel before assuming several responsibilities including the dismantling of Israeli spy networks,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech on Friday.
Nasrallah was speaking to mark one week after Badreddine was killed.
He said Badreddine was tasked with overseeing Hezbollah’s security and military units in Syria since Takfiri militants initiated a war there in 2011.
Hezbollah fighters are combating alongside the Syrian government forces against a range of terrorist groups operating in the war-torn Arab country, including Daesh and the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front.
The Hezbollah leader said Badreddine was initially directing the Syria operation from Lebanon, but later “insisted” on traveling to Syria to oversee in person the sensitive operation.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah was against Badreddine’s presence in Syria as the group knew of the media controversy that would arise of his involvement in the war.
He noted that Badreddine’s presence in Syria helped Hezbollah prevent the fall of the country “into the hands of Takfiris and their American masters and spies in the region.”
The 55-year-old Hezbollah commander led Hezbollah’s military wing which is helping the Syrian government drive out foreign-backed Takfiri terrorists from Syria.
Badreddine also directed military operations against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and was a frequent target of attempts by Tel Aviv, Washington and its allies to assassinate or capture him.
He was the cousin and brother-in-law of Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated by Israel in 2008.
He said Hezbollah has not entirely ruled out Israel of having a hand in Badreddine’s killing, but the group has not found any clues during the probe that could directly hint at Israel’s role.
Nasrallah denied speculations raised in some Arab media that Hezbollah did not assign blame on Israel for Badreddine’s killing because it wanted to escape responsibility for retaliation, saying throughout 34 years of confrontation with Israel, the regime in Tel Aviv has never doubted the genuineness of Hezbollah pledges for carrying out such retaliations.
“Our history is a proof that when we vow to retaliate we honor our pledges,” Nasrallah said, adding that Hezbollah would not stand on ceremony to openly blame Israel for perpetrating a crime when the evidence exists.
Nasrallah said Badreddine’s murder came at the hands of Takfiri groups and was orchestrated by those actively seeking to undermine the resistance front, including the United States.
He said, however, that the death of the commander would not lead to Hezbollah withdrawing from Syria. “Badreddine’s blood will push us to a bigger presence in Syria… We will remain in Syria and more leader will go into Syria,” Nasrallah said.
Else in his speech blasted Al-Saud’s calls for « democracy » in Syria and said:
The Saudi regime wants early parliamentary and presidential elections in Syria. But Saudi Arabia from its very inception as a nation-state until now has never had elections on its own soil. There is a ‘king’ and a ‘royal’ family and a dictatorship. Does anyone dare open his mouth against the regime in Saudi Arabia?! If someone dares to post two lines on Twitter, the ‘royal’ family goes crazy and sentences him to 1,000 lashes. What kind of Islam is this?! What sort of religion is this?! This is the ugliest form of hypocrisy!
Nasrallah continued, “This is not about freedom or democracy or elections or constituons! This is about the Syrian government not kneeling! This is about #Syria refusing to be a tool of American-Zionist hegemony. This is because Syria holds on to Resistance, refuses to betray Iran, defends Palestine, demands the return of the Golan Heights and maintains its sovereignty. This is because Syria is still a bastion of Arabism. Mark my words, if Bashar al-Assad was to say right now that he’d become a slave of the US-‘Israeli’ project, the war against Syria would be over tomorrow.”
Hizbollah Secretary Genral concluded his speech by saying: “I say to you with all confidence, throughout our 34 years, we have witnessed worse circumstances than what we’re dealing with today. And with our loyalty, steadfastness and commitment to the ongoing march on our path of Resistance, we shall overcome this new phase as well. In this battle, we are advancing and achieving victories. The Americans, the Zionists and Al-Saud said they’d gobble up #Syria five years ago, but yet Syria still stands today! This is because of the sacrifices of our martyrs. Indeed, Sayyed Mustafa’s blood and the blood of all our martyrs is the fuel which contributes to driving us to victory in this historic defense of the Ummah. Therefore our decision about continuing this fight is a simple one. I say to all of you who propagandized we’d leave Syria because of Sayyed Mustafa’s martyrdom – The martyrdom of any of our commanders has never made us leave any battle. Quite to the contrary, their martyrdoms will only make us increase our presence in Syria. We will be in Syria in greater numbers and different forms until victory. This is how we honor our martyrs and bring defeat to the US-Zionist-Takfiri-Saudi project. This project will fall; this project will be destroyed. I vow to you once more, Syria will never become the tool of our enemies and they will never get control of our region!”
On June 29, 2009, one day after Honduran military leaders ousted their country’s democratically elected president, President Obama publicly branded the coup illegal and denounced it as “a terrible precedent.” Yet even as he spoke, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was ensuring that U.S. aid continued and that major capitals would recognize the new regime.
Human rights activists have long decried her for abandoning democratic rights and values in Honduras. But many have overlooked her cozy embrace of the morally compromised Latin American leader who happened to be sharing the White House podium when Obama made his remarks: Colombian President Álvaro Uribe.
Obama was hosting Uribe to build political support for the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, which both he and Hillary Clinton had vigorously opposed during the 2008 election campaign. Obama praised Uribe’s “courage” and his “admirabl(e)” progress on human rights and fighting drug cartels since taking office in 2002 — a controversial claim that Clinton’s State Department would certify that September.
A year later, the love affair between the Obama administration and Uribe grew even hotter. After landing in Bogota for an official visit in April 2010, Defense Secretary Robert Gates lauded the “historic” progress that Uribe’s government had made in the war against “narco-traffickers and terrorists.”
“Uribe, in my view, is a great hero and has been an enormously successful president of Colombia,” Gates told reporters.
Human rights campaigners were aghast. In an email to Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff, a senior aide to Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern cited Gates as an example of what not to do during Clinton’s upcoming visit to Colombia that June: “The most important thing the Secretary can do is avoid effusive praise for President Álvaro Uribe, who leaves office in August.”
McGovern’s aide cited several damning facts:
–Contrary to claims from Bogota, reports by the General Accountability Office and the U.S. Agency for International Development showed that U.S. aid and Colombia’s anti-drug programs were failing to meet their goals and in some cases were actually stimulating coca production.
–Military killings of civilians were up — with as many as 1,486 civilians killed “during the first six years of Álvaro Uribe’s presidency,” she noted. (The actual number was likely more than double that.)
–There were also “mounting allegations that the President’s intelligence service, the DAS, was put at the service of paramilitary leaders and narco-traffickers; used to spy on and intimidate Supreme Court justices, opposition politicians, journalists and human rights defenders; and employed in a campaign of sabotage and smears against political opponents” of Uribe.
–Dozens of President Uribe’s political supporters were under investigation for corruption and ties to illegal paramilitary units, she reported. “Many are large landholders with ties to narco-trafficking, the same local leaders who created and fostered the brutal pro-government paramilitary groups that killed tens of thousands of non-combatants in the 1990s and early 2000s. . . Those embroiled . . . include the President’s cousin, Mario Uribe; the brother of his former foreign minister; and individuals whom the President had named to be Colombia’s ambassadors to Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Canada.”
In conclusion, she maintained, the real heroes were not Uribe but “Colombian prosecutors, investigators, witnesses and non-governmental organizations trying to uncover the truth about these abuses” under conditions of great personal risk.
Falling on Deaf Ears
Her advice fell on deaf ears. Just one week later, Secretary Clinton was in Bogota to affirm the administration’s strong support for a free trade agreement, and underline Washington’s commitment to helping Uribe “consolidate the security gains of recent years” against “the insurgents, the guerillas, the narco-traffickers, who would wish to turn the clock back.”
Echoing her friend Bob Gates, she added, “because of your commitment to building strong democratic institutions here in Colombia and to nurturing the bonds of friendship between our two countries, you leave a legacy of great progress that will be viewed in historic terms.”
Clinton had nothing to say about the quarter million victims of right-wing paramilitary groups, many of them backed by the military, as reported in a November, 2009 cable from the U.S. embassy in Bogota. Nor did she have anything to say about the more than 2,700 union members murdered since 1986 (including hundreds under Uribe), making Colombia by far the world’s most dangerous place for organized labor.
Secretary Clinton may have been influenced by her husband’s warm relationship with Uribe. As President, he had signed and implemented a multi-year aid package called Plan Colombia, which contributed more than $8 billion to Colombia’s counterinsurgency wars, despite Washington’s full knowledge of the military’s “death-squad tactics” and cooperation with drug-running paramilitary groups.
In retirement, former President Clinton deepened his ties to Uribe and Colombia. In 2005, he introduced Uribe to Canadian mining magnate Frank Guistra, who was a leading donor to the Clinton Global Initiative fund; Guistra was interested in acquiring mineral and oil rights in Colombia. In 2005, Clinton also picked up $800,000 from a Colombia-based group for a speaking tour of Latin America to tout the merits of a U.S-Colombia free trade agreement. (Guistra provided the private jet for Clinton’s tour.)
To further promote the trade pact, Bogota provided a $300,000 P.R. contract to Clinton’s pollster Mark Penn. As part of his publicity campaign, Penn arranged for Uribe to hold an award banquet in honor of Clinton in 2007. Clinton reciprocated by featuring Uribe as an honored guest at his Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting a few months later.
When news of Penn’s contract with Bogota got out in 2008, Hillary Clinton had to fire him as her campaign strategist, lest she lose endorsements from labor unions. She insisted that her husband’s relationship with Colombia would not influence her stand on the free trade deal, which she opposed because of “the history of violence against trade unionists in Colombia.”
As we have seen, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton reversed course once in office. Clinton may simply have been following the President’s lead, but critics point to her family’s unsavory financial connections as another explanation for her change of heart. As International Business Times reported last year:
“When workers at the country’s largest independent oil company staged a strike in 2011, the Colombian military rounded them up at gunpoint and threatened violence if they failed to disband, according to human rights organizations. Similar intimidation tactics against the workers, say labor leaders, amounted to an everyday feature of life. . .
“Yet as union leaders and human rights activists conveyed these harrowing reports of violence to then-Secretary of State Clinton in late 2011, urging her to pressure the Colombian government to protect labor organizers, she responded first with silence, these organizers say. The State Department publicly praised Colombia’s progress on human rights, thereby permitting hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to flow to the same Colombian military that labor activists say helped intimidate workers.
“At the same time that Clinton’s State Department was lauding Colombia’s human rights record, her family was forging a financial relationship with Pacific Rubiales, the sprawling Canadian petroleum company at the center of Colombia’s labor strife. The Clintons were also developing commercial ties with the oil giant’s founder, Canadian financier Frank Giustra, who now occupies a seat on the board of the Clinton Foundation, the family’s global philanthropic empire.
“The details of these financial dealings remain murky, but this much is clear: After millions of dollars were pledged by the oil company to the Clinton Foundation — supplemented by millions more from Giustra himself — Secretary Clinton abruptly changed her position on the controversial U.S.-Colombia trade pact.
“Having opposed the deal as a bad one for labor rights back when she was a presidential candidate in 2008, she now promoted it, calling it ‘strongly in the interests of both Colombia and the United States.’ The change of heart by Clinton and other Democratic leaders enabled congressional passage of a Colombia trade deal that experts say delivered big benefits to foreign investors like Giustra.”
According to a report this May by the AFL-CIO and four Colombian unions, 99 Colombian workers and union activists have been killed since the trade agreement took effect in 2011. Another six were kidnapped and 955 received death threats. Only a small fraction of those crimes were every solved.
Meanwhile, Uribe continues to be a major force in Colombian politics. In April, he mobilized a street protest against efforts by the current government to bring about a lasting peace with the Marxist guerrilla group FARC; a leading newspaper reported that Uribe’s protest was backed by Colombia’s largest paramilitary drug-trafficking organization, Los Urabeños, which managed to shut down much of the north of the country for 72 hours after assassinating a dozen policemen.
Ties to Drug Trade
A connection between Uribe, paramilitary groups, and drug traffickers is all too easy to imagine, despite his denials and Washington’s hero worship. Consider a few family connections, among the many that have been alleged:
–One of Uribe’s brothers was arrested this February for allegedly leading a death squad against suspected leftists that was run from the family cattle ranch. A Colombian legislator cited testimony that Álvaro himself may have “ordered massacres” from the ranch.
—Another brother was arrested (but not convicted) for suspected ties to cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar; his extramarital partner was later arrested on a U.S. warrant for allegedly working with the head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Their daughter was also listed by the U.S. Treasury Department as a major money launderer.
–Uribe’s two sons are under investigation for massive tax evasion and showed up in the recent “Panama papers” leak as shareholders in a British Virgin Islands tax shelter;
–Uribe’s campaign manager and former chief of staff was flagged by DEA in 2001 as Colombia’s largest importer of a key precursor chemical for the production of cocaine.
–Uribe received contributions to his 2002 presidential campaign from the country’s largest and most murderous paramilitary organization, the AUC, which was listed by Washington as an international terrorist organization. By the time of Uribe’s election, according to one expert, “the AUC had become the most powerful network of drug traffickers in the country’s history.”
Uribe arranged a sweetheart deal to allow AUC leaders to escape serious justice with most of their wealth intact, until the nation’s top courts intervened. Uribe’s chief of security from 2002 to 2005 pleaded guilty in 2012 to taking bribes to protect the AUC.
–And as far back as 1991, a confidential U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report called Uribe a “close personal friend” of Pablo Escobar, and said he was “dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín cartel at high government levels.” It also noted that his father had been murdered “for his connection with the narcotic traffickers.”
On the plus side, President George W. Bush awarded Uribe the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service named him a Distinguished Scholar. And Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation named him to its Board of Directors in 2012.
Hillary Clinton clearly sides with the camp of Uribe’s admirers. It’s time to call her out and make her account for that choice — and for a record that calls into question her professed devotion to human freedom, democratic values, and the rights of organized labor.
Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012).
HEBRON – Israeli authorities delivered four demolition notices on Wednesday ordering several Palestinians to remove water tanks being used for irrigation in the northern and eastern areas of the town of Beit Ummar in the southern occupied West Bank district of Hebron, locals said.
The water tanks are used to irrigate lands in the areas of Beir Zaata, al-Furdeis and Thaghret al-Shabak, with an overall area of more than 30 dunams (7.4 acres) dependent on the tanks for irrigation, according to Muhammad Awad, a spokesperson for a local popular committee.
The tanks were set up earlier in 2016 under a UN-funded water development program, Awad said.
After Israeli authorities deliver a demolition order, the owners of the properties have seven days to remove the structures. If not, Israeli forces demolish the structures at the financial expense of the owners of the property.
Awad told Ma’an that the tanks belonged to Wahdi Hamdi Zamel Abu Maria, Jamil Muhammad Amer Abu Maria, Ghassan Muhammad Abed al-Aziz Brighith, and Khalid Youssef Abed al-Majd Brighith.
It remains unclear what legal pretext Israeli authorities used to issue the demolition orders.
Israel has come under international condemnation over repeated demolitions of EU-funded structures, with some accusing the Israeli government of demolishing Palestinian structures in retaliation for the EU’s decision in November to enforce labeling laws that would indicate if a product was produced in one of Israel’s 196 illegal settlements.
Since the start of 2016, Israeli forces have demolished 586 Palestinian-owned structures, leaving 800 Palestinians homeless in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to OCHA.
According to the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions, Israeli forces have demolished over 48,000 Palestinian homes and structures since the start of the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967.
The following press release was issued jointly by Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, Adalah, and Physicians for Human Rights Israel regarding the UN Committee Against Torture concluding observations on Israel:
The Committee calls on Israel to end administrative detention, repeal the Unlawful Combatants Law, and prohibit the solitary confinement of children; emphasizes that forced feeding of hunger strikers may be torture or ill-treatment.
The Committee raised concerns about Israel’s extrajudicial executions of Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and in the access-restricted areas of Gaza; and called for the immediate release of the bodies of deceased Palestinians.
On 13 May 2016, the UN Committee Against Torture issued its extensive concluding observations on Israel. Spanning over 50 items, these recommendations follow from the Committee’s 3 and 4 May 2016 review of Israel’s compliance with the UN Convention against Torture (CAT). Israel ratified the CAT in 1991, and as other state parties, is reviewed regularly by the Committee Against Torture.
Adalah, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel submitted a joint NGO report to the Committee, and attended the review session in Geneva. The Committee raised numerous issues highlighted by the human rights organizations in its report in the concluding observations as matters of grave concern. Included among the principal subjects of concern and recommendations are the following:
- Scope of the Convention’s applicability: Despite Israel’s contention otherwise, the Committee reaffirmed that the Convention applies to the Occupied Territories (para. 9)
- Definition and criminalization of torture, removal of necessity defense: The Committee remained “concerned that a specific offence of torture” based on the Convention has not yet been adopted. While the Committee noted that the Justice Ministry is drafting a new bill in this regard, the Committee called on Israel “to speed up the process”. It also urged Israel again “to completely remove necessity as a possible justification for torture.” (para. 12-15) In the partners’ view, Israel is in non-compliance with the Convention 25 years after ratification, as Israeli law contains no crime of torture and includes the “necessity defense”.
- Access to a lawyer and arraignment before a judge: The Committee recommended that Israel “ensure, in law and in practice, that all persons deprived of liberty, irrespective of the charges brought against them, the law applicable to them or wherever they may be located, are afforded all legal safeguards from the very outset of the deprivation of liberty, including the rights to be assisted by a lawyer and to be brought before a judge without delay.” (para. 16, 17)
- Audio-visual documentation of interrogations: The Committee recommended that Israel “ensure the compulsory audio-visual recording” of all suspects’ interrogations … and that “Audio-visual footage should be monitored by an independent body and kept for a period sufficient for it to be used as evidence in courts.” (para. 18, 19)
- Independent medical examinations of persons deprived of liberty: Israel should to guarantee that all physicians and medical staff dealing with imprisoned persons “duly document all signs and allegations of torture or ill-treatment and report them without delay to the appropriate authorities.” Further, it should consider “transferring responsibility for all types of healthcare of persons deprived of liberty to the Ministry of Health in order to ensure that medical staff can operate fully independently from the custodial authorities.” (para. 20, 21)
- Administrative detention and Incarceration of Unlawful Combatants Law: Israel should take urgent measures to “end the practice of administrative detention” and ensure that all persons who are currently held in administrative detention are “afforded all basic legal safeguards; and to “repeal the Incarceration of Unlawful Combatants Law.” (para. 22, 23)
- Solitary confinement: Israel should “(a) ensure that solitary confinement and [isolation] are used only in exceptional cases as a measure of last resort, for as short a time as possible and subject to independent review, in line with international standards; (b) put an immediate end and prohibit the use of solitary confinement … for juveniles and persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities; and (c) … regularly publish comprehensive disaggregated data on the use of solitary confinement and equivalent measures.” (para. 24, 25)
- Hunger strikes/forced feeding: Israel should guarantee that hunger strikers “are never subjected to ill-treatment or punished for engaging in a hunger strike, and are provided with necessary medical care in accordance with their wishes.” Further, that hunger strikers, who are competent to take informed decisions, “are never subjected to feeding or other medical treatment against their will, as these are practices that may amount to torture or ill-treatment.” (para. 26, 27)
- Excessive use of force: The Committee raised concerns at allegations of excessive use of force, including lethal force, by security forces, mostly against Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the access-restricted areas (ARAs) of the Gaza Strip, particularly in the context of demonstrations, in response to attacks or alleged attacks against Israeli civilians or security forces, and to enforce the ARAs of the Gaza Strip. Notably the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that, “some of these responses strongly suggest unlawful killings, including possible extrajudicial executions” (A/HRC/31/40, para. 10). Thus, Israel should ensure that “the rules of engagement or regulations on opening fire are fully consistent with the Convention and other relevant international standards” and that “all instances and allegations of excessive use of force are investigated promptly, effectively and impartially by an independent body, that alleged perpetrators are duly prosecuted and, if found guilty, adequately sanctioned.” (para. 32, 33)
- Return of bodies: While noting Israel’s new agreement to initiate the return of the bodies, the Committee urged Israel “to return the bodies of the Palestinians that have not yet been returned to their relatives as soon as possible so they can be buried in accordance with their traditions and religious customs, and to avoid that similar situations are repeated in the future.” (para. 42, 43)
For more information:
> Concluding Observations of the Committee Against Torture, 13 May 2016, here.
> Joint Press Release, “UN Committee against Torture reviews Israel,” 5 May 2016, here
> Adalah, PHRI and Al Mezan’s joint report to the Committee: Available here
> Israel’s report to the Committee: Available here
Hardline Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman has reportedly accepted an offer by embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be the minister of military affairs.
Israeli sources said Lieberman accepted the post after Netanyahu agreed to his demands during a Wednesday afternoon meeting that lasted less than an hour.
The decision came after Netanyahu summoned current minister of military affairs Moshe Ya’alon and reportedly upbraided him for supporting an analogy between Israel’s situation and Nazi Germany.
Lieberman, who heads the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party and previously served twice as foreign minister, convened a press conference earlier in the day to talk about his demands.
Among his priorities was introducing the death penalty for the Palestinians who are accused of carrying out attacks against Israelis.
“If it is true that we are being offered the defense portfolio, pension reforms and the death penalty bill, that is a respectful offer, it is serious, there is what to talk about,” Lieberman said.
“The offers must be official and on the table, without mediators and with full transparency. The prime minister has my phone number,” he added.
Lieberman has on many occasions drawn headlines by questioning the loyalty of Arab minorities in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian lands to the Tel Aviv regime.
He has also called on the Israeli regime to treat Palestinian resistance movement Hamas the same way as the United States treated “the Japanese in World War II.”
The notorious politician has also openly supported a soldier charged with murder for shooting dead an injured Palestinian.
Netanyahu’s ruling coalition has a shaky majority of one in the 120-member Israeli Knesset, making his administration vulnerable to any falling-out among his political allies.
His offer to far-right Lieberman has been interpreted as an attempt to add Yisrael Beitenu party, which has six Knesset seats, to the ruling coalition.
Ya’alon has been at loggerheads with Netanyahu ever since he said senior military officers should “speak their mind,” in apparent defense of earlier comments by Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Yair Golan.
Golan had stirred an uproar earlier this month by saying he was concerned by some of the extremist voices within the Israeli reigme, likening it to Germany under Nazi rule.
Golan, then the commander of the West Bank military division, purportedly said, “It is unimaginable that in an effort to ensure our soldiers’ safety, we can destroy whole apartment buildings.”
“Killing women, children, uninvolved civilians. Unacceptable. The use of force in civilian areas must always be kept under control, and restricted to the minimum necessary,” he was heard saying.
He was apparently referring to the Israeli practice of demolishing the houses of Palestinians suspected of involvement in attacks against Israelis. The destruction of the houses just displaces the families, including women and children, who live there and who have no links to the alleged attacks.
Following Golan’s remarks, Netanyahu’s office issued a statement, saying he “remains firm in his conviction that the comparison that was made to Nazi Germany was inappropriate and damaged Israel in the international arena.”
Netanyahu summoned Ya’alon late on Sunday, reportedly to reprimand him for his remarks in defense of Golan.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces have reportedly adopted a “shoot-to-kill” policy during clashes with Palestinians.
More than 200 Palestinians have been killed since last October, during heightened tensions over Israel’s move to deny Palestinians entry into the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Dozens died by a single shot to the head or chest, a clear indication of the shoot-to-kill policy.
The official brutalities against Palestinians, including the demolitions, have also emboldened extremist Israeli settlers to conduct attacks of their own against Palestinian families. One arson attack by Israeli extremists against a Palestinian house in August 2015 led to the killing of the entire family living there, including an 18-month-old boy.
In another testimony to the Israeli policy of allowing killings, a court ruled on Tuesday to have the chief arsonist in the August 2015 attack released.
JERUSALEM – At least 28 Palestinian women have been detained by Israel since October over alleged “incitement” on social media, with six of them still in prison, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Center for Studies (PPCS) said in a statement released on Wednesday.
PPCS spokesman Riyad al-Ashqar said that most of the women had been released hours or days after they were first detained, but that eight had been held in administrative detention — internment without trial or charges.
Al-Ashqar identified the six women still held over alleged social media incitement as Suad Abed al-Karim Irzeiqat, 28, from the city of Hebron; Dunia Ali Musleh, 19, from the town of Bethlehem; Sanaa Nayif Abbad from the town of Dura; Hanin Abd al-Qader Amr, 39, from the city of Tulkarem; Majd Yousif Atwan, 23, from the village of al-Khader; and Samah Dweik, 25, from occupied East Jerusalem.
Dweik, a journalist working for Shabakat al-Quds (The Jerusalem Network), was detained on April 10 in her home in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al-Amud after writing a Facebook status and sharing an image in support of Palestinians recently killed by Israeli forces.
Meanwhile, Atwan was sentenced by an Israeli court earlier this month to 45 days in prison and a 3,000 shekel ($794) fine over charges of incitement on her Facebook account.
In recent months, Israel has detained scores of Palestinians for social media activity, alleging that a wave of unrest that swept the occupied Palestinian territory last October was encouraged largely by “incitement.”
Palestinians have instead pointed chiefly to the frustration and despair brought on by Israel’s nearly 50-year military occupation of the Palestinian territory and the absence of a political horizon.
Al-Ashqar claimed that Israel was detaining Palestinian women under different pretexts to discourage and prevent them from taking part in resistance against the Israeli occupation, as well as to exert pressure on relatives also detained by Israeli forces.
More than 200 Palestinians and almost 30 Israelis have been killed since October, although the number of Palestinian and Israeli deaths saw a dramatic drop over the last two months, with Israeli leadership suggesting its severe security measures were responsible for the emerging trend.
However, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found in a poll last month that support for stabbing attacks had seen a decline in the West Bank in recent months — “due, it seems, to a rising perception in its inefficacy.”
According to prisoners’ organization Addameer, 7,000 Palestinians are detained in Israeli custody.
US Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland has wrapped up her visit to Moscow. According to officials, Nuland came to the Russian capital to discuss the situation in east Ukraine. Adding his two cents about the real purpose of the visit, analyst Gevorg Mirzayan suggested that the secretary may have lost her bearings.
On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov explained the official reason for Nuland’s visit, saying that the two sides discussed the situation in the war-torn eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass, with the US sharing ‘first-hand information’ and looking “to establish a sort of working exchange mechanism” outside the Normandy format, which doesn’t include Washington.
In his own commentary on the visit, Expert Magazine columnist Gevorg Mirzayan clarified, saying that Nuland’s main official goal “is to spur the negotiating process on the Donbass and, in particular, on the holding of local elections in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, one of the most important measures of the Minsk peace agreements.”
“At first glance, of course, it seems like Nuland came to the wrong city,” the analyst noted. “After all, it’s not Moscow that’s sabotaging the holding of elections in the Donbass, but Kiev. One of the key challenges for Ukrainian authorities is not to recognize the situation in the Donbass as a civil war. This is why Kiev comes out against the fulfillment of the political articles of the Minsk agreement, and its most important aspect: direct negotiations between Ukrainian authorities and the leaders of the breakaway republics.”
For now, Mirzayan writes, Kiev’s argument that the DPR and LPR leaders Alexander Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky are not democratically elected, and therefore politically illegitimate, carries some weight. “However, after elections take place, Kiev will have to carry deal with the legitimate representatives of the Donbass,” and this is something Ukrainian authorities are desperately looking to avoid.
Speaking to Expert, former Ukrainian lawmaker Oleg Tsaryev emphasized that once elections are held, if the conflict between Kiev and the Donbass continues, “it will fall under the definition of a civil war, and Kiev’s actions will be treated as a war crime.” Therefore, he said, “if the Americans really wanted to ensure the implementation of the agreements, Victoria Nuland would be sitting in Kiev, and speaking in an unyielding tone to its lawmakers, faction heads and oligarchs. Washington has many tools at its disposal: the threat of prohibiting elites from entering the EU, the threat of halting foreign bank lending, the confiscation of property and the seizure of accounts abroad.”
Therefore, Mirzayan notes, “it’s entirely possible that Nuland came to Moscow to offer to exert such pressure on Kiev in exchange for some concessions from the Russian side – on Ukraine, Syria or some other issue. The US is attempting to convince the Kremlin that it must ensure Kiev’s complaisance; after all, the lifting of anti-Russian sanctions depends on the implementation of the Minsk agreements.”
“However, it’s also possible that Nuland will leave Moscow empty-handed, or with a minimum compensation. Because in reality, all she is offering is to ensure a vote in Ukraine’s parliament, while the parties have to not only negotiate on the adoption of the law, but also its contents.”The current bill submitted to the Ukrainian parliament is out of sync with the Minsk agreements, according to the analyst. “But Ukrainian authorities and their Western partners could make it so that further discussions were held about its passing, rather than further changes to the bill. And then, if Kiev gave way and accepted the current version of the bill, it would be perceived as a maximum concession, and the Kremlin would have a difficult time requesting corrections.”
The same thing might happen with the electoral law, the analyst warns. “Those familiar with the document say that it has rather sensible requirements.”
“There are four main positions in this law,” Opposition Bloc lawmaker Yuriy Boyko told Expert. “The election must be in accordance with Ukrainian legislation, Ukrainian media must be given access, electoral commissions must be formed and the elections must take place with the oversight of international observers.”
However, Mirzayan notes, “the real question is how these requirements would be implemented.” For their part, the analyst suggests, Ukrainian officials and analysts have openly said that the law would be deliberately designed to include a whole a series of nuances making it unacceptable to representatives from the breakaway regions.
This, according to Ukrainian political analyst Mikhail Pogrebinsky, “would enable Ukraine, at the Normandy format level, with the participation and support of the United States, to say that we are fulfilling our part of the agreement, but the Donbass is not, and therefore no elections will ever be held.”
For its part, Mirzayan notes, Moscow “does not find this scenario to be acceptable. If the Minsk agreement cannot be implemented in full, the Kremlin may find it advantageous to simply freeze the situation until a new, more pragmatic government emerges in Kiev. Right now, time is on Russia’s side, and the attitudes of the European and even American elites toward Ukraine are changing, and becoming more inclined to seek compromise with Russia.”
Furthermore, “the situation in Ukraine itself is also changing, and not just economically but politically as well. President Petro Poroshenko recently succeeded in consolidating his power, and now controls the cabinet of ministers, the parliament, the prosecutor general and the security forces. The Americans either could not or did not want to interfere, and in the short term this is his victory.””However, in the medium term, such a concentration can be problematic.” After all, “Poroshenko no longer has a lightning rod in the form of [former Prime Minister] Yatsenyuk, who could be blamed for all the country’s economic problems and dismissed. Poroshenko has become personally responsible for everything that happens in the country, while his opponents, removed from power and its privileges, have received a carte blanche to make a name for themselves by criticizing the government and the president.”
“And this is not even mentioning the fact that the population is very tired of the revolutionary enthusiasm of the authorities and the parliament. The majority of Ukrainians have not forgotten about Crimea. However, if they begin to perceive the Donbass as a real civil war, new authorities will be fully capable of resolving the conflict in the spirit of Minsk-2. This is the same thing that Russia seeks, and is something it can achieve without making significant concessions to Victoria Nuland.”
Naturally, Mirzayan emphasizes, “the Kremlin will also have to work very hard to ensure that the conflict remains frozen. The authorities in Donbass have long and persistently sought to hold local elections,” warning that if Brussels and Washington could not force Kiev to fulfill their obligations under the Minsk agreements, they would hold elections independently.
“And while formally such elections would not contradict the Minsk agreements (they simply wouldn’t be recognized), they would create a negative sentiment around the Russian position. This is exactly what Kiev wants, and what Moscow wants to avoid on the eve of a serious dialogue with the EU about the future of the anti-Russian sanctions,” the analyst concludes.
JERUSALEM – Israeli forces demolished a Palestinian family’s home in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shufat early on Wednesday morning, marking the second time the al-Hawarin family saw their home destroyed in 15 years.
“The occupation is stealing our dreams, depriving us of living safely in our own homes,” Nadia al-Hawarin told Ma’an as she looked at the ruins of her home.
Al-Hawarin added that Israeli forces had demolished the family’s former home in the neighborhood of Beit Hanina in 2001, under the pretext that it was built without a license from the Israeli municipality.
“Today, they demolished our house in Shufat for the sake of a road serving settlers,” she said. “The occupation demolished our home to serve the settlers, paying no attention to the fact that eight family members will become homeless.”
Al-Hawarin said that Israeli forces demolished a house belonging to al-Rishiq family in the same area in January, displacing dozens in order to build a road to benefit Israeli settlers in the area.
Al-Hawarin’s husband, Rajih al-Hawarin, said in a filmed interview with Ma’an that a large number of Israeli troops stormed the house at dawn and started to tear down the building.
He said that the house had been built in 2001 following the demolition of the family’s Beit Hanina home.
Before he started to build in Shufat, Rajih al-Hawarin said he had applied for a construction license and obtained initial approval.
“Then I was taken by surprise in 2002, when the application was suspended under the pretext that the area had been rezoned to build a new road connecting the illegal Ramat Shlomo and Pisgat Zeev settlements,” he added.
Rajih al-Hawarin added that the Jerusalem municipality handed him a first demolition order in 2012, and that he had submitted several appeals, to no avail.
East Jerusalem was seized by Israel along with the West Bank in 1967 during the Six-Day War, and since then, the Israeli government has undertaken a policy of “Judaization” across the city, constructing Jewish settlements and demolishing Palestinian homes.
There are upwards of 500,000 Israeli settlers living in illegal settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in contravention to international law.
A study by the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department reported more than 3,000 Palestinian structures demolished in East Jerusalem since 1967.
According to rights group Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Israeli government issues building permits in line with discriminatory state policy enacted to increase the Jewish population, while neglecting local Palestinians.
Only 14 percent of East Jerusalem land is zoned for Palestinian residential construction, while one-third of Palestinian land has been confiscated since 1967 to build illegal Jewish-only settlements, ACRI documented.
In January, Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein approved recommendations for the “enforcement of regulations” in occupied East Jerusalem, in what Israeli daily Haaretz reported would likely prioritize the demolitions of Palestinian homes.
The daily reported that the new recommendations could expedite the demolition of around some 50,000 houses in Palestinian communities in Israel and Jerusalem.