Fifty countries on Monday signed the articles of agreement for the new China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the first major global financial instrument independent from the Bretton Woods system.
Seven remaining countries out of the 57 that have applied to be founding members, Denmark, Kuwait, Malaysia, Philippines, Holland, South Africa and Thailand, are awaiting domestic approval.
“This will be a significant event. The constitution will lay a solid foundation for the establishment and operation of the AIIB,” said Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei.
The AIIB will have an authorized capital of $100 billion, divided into shares that have a value of $100,000.
BRICS members China, India and Russia are the three largest shareholders, with a voting share of 26.06 per cent, 7.5 per cent and 5.92 per cent, respectively.
Following the signing of the bank’s charter, the agreement on the $100 billion AIIB will now have to be ratified by the parliaments of the founding members.
Asian countries will contribute up to 75 per cent of the total capital and be allocated a share of the quota based on their economic size.
Chinese Vice Finance Minister Shi Yaobin said China’s initial stake and voting share are “natural results” of current rules, and may be diluted as more members join.
Australia was first to sign the agreement in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday, state media reports said.
The Bank will base its headquarters in Beijing.
The Chinese Finance Ministry said the new lender will start operations by the end of 2015 under two preconditions: At least 10 prospective members ratify the agreement, and the initial subscribed capital is no less than 50 per cent of the authorized capital.
The AIIB will extend China’s financial reach and compete not only with the World Bank, but also with the Asian Development Bank, which is heavily dominated by Japan.
China and other emerging economies, including BRICS, have long protested against their limited voice at other multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank (ADB).
China is grouped in the ‘Category II’ voting bloc at the World Bank while at the Asian Development Bank, China with a 5.5 per cent share is far outdone by America’s 15.7 per cent and Japan’s 15.6 per cent share.
The ADB has estimated that in the next decade Asian countries will need $8 trillion in infrastructure investments to maintain the current economic growth rate.
China scholar Asit Biswas at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore, says Washington’s criticism of the China-led Bank is “childish”.
“Some critics argue that the AIIB will reduce the environmental, social and procurement standards in a race to the bottom. This is a childish criticism, especially because China has invited other governments to help with funding and governance,” he writes.
The US and Japan have not applied for the membership in the AIIB.
However, despite US pressures on its allies not to join the bank, Britain, France, Germany, Italy among others have signed on as founding members of the China-led Bank.
Meanwhile, New Zealand and Australia have already announced that they will invest $87.27 million and $718 million respectively as paid-in capital to the AIIB.
The new lender will finance infrastructure projects like the construction of roads, railways, and airports in the Asia-Pacific Region.
Iran, 49 states sign Asia bank charter
Iran on Monday joined 49 countries in signing up to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), bringing Asia’s largest financial lender a step closer to existence.
Finance and Economy Minister Ali Tayebnia put Iran’s signature to the bank’s articles of association at a ceremony in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, which capped six months of intense negotiations.
In April, China accepted Iran as a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank being seen as a rival to the US-led World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development Bank.
With the signing which amounted to the creation of AIIB’s legal framework, China’s Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said he was confident the bank could start functioning before the end of the year.
Seven more founding members would ink the articles after approval by their respective governments.
The bank will have a capital of $100 billion in the form of shares, each worth $100,000, distributed among the members. Beijing will be by far the largest shareholder at about 30%, followed by India at 8.4% and Russia at 6.5%.
China will also have 26% of the votes which are not enough to give it a veto on decision-making, while smaller members will have larger voice.
Singapore’s Senior Minister for Finance and Transport Josephine Teo said the bank will provide new opportunities for its members’ businesses and promote sustainable growth in Asia.
Seventy-five percent of AIIB’s shares are distributed within the Asian region while the rest is assigned among countries beyond it.
Germany, France and Brazil are among the non-Asian members of the bank despite US efforts to dissuade allies from joining it. Another US ally joining AIIB is Australia but Japan has stayed away from it.
Countries beyond the region can expand their share but the portion cannot be bigger than 30%. Public procurement of the AIIB will be open to all countries around the world.
But the president of the bank will have to be chosen from the Asian region for a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms.
The bank will be headquartered in Beijing and its lean structure will be overseen by an unpaid, non-resident board of directors which, architects say, would save it money and friction in decision-making.
Earlier this month, former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke rebuked US lawmakers for allowing China to found the new bank, which threatens to upend Washington’s domination over the world economic order.
He said lawmakers were to blame because they refused to agree 2010 reforms that would have given greater clout to China and other emerging powers in the International Monetary Fund.
Guaranteed profits—at any price
Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama told beltway bullhorn Chris Matthews that Senator Elizabeth Warren was “wrong” about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the largest trade deal in American history, linking United States and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam in a pervasive and binding treaty. The president was referring to Warren’s claim that the trade treaty will license corporations to sue governments, and her contention that this was, to put it mildly, a bad idea.
Warren isn’t wrong, Obama is. And he knows it. The entire TPP, as understood, is based on a single overarching idea: that regulation must not hinder profiteering. This is a fundamentally anti-democratic concept that—if implemented—would effectively eliminate the power of a demos to make its own law. The final authority on any law’s validity would rest elsewhere, beyond the reach of popular sovereignty. From the TPP point-of-view, democracy is just another barrier to trade, and the corporate forces behind the draft treaty are intent on removing that barrier. Simple as that.
That’s why the entire deal has been negotiated in conclave, deliberately beyond the public purview, since the president and his trade representatives know that exposing the deal to the unforgiving light of popular scrutiny would doom it to failure. That’s why the president, like his mentor President Clinton, has lobbied hard for Trade Promotion Authority, or Fast Track, which reduces the Congressional role in the passage of the bill to a ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’
Cracks have begun to show in the formidable cloak behind which the deal has been structured. A coalition of advocacy groups advanced on the U.S. Trade Representatives office this week. Wikileaks has obtained and released chapters from the draft document. Senator Harry Reid declared his position on Fast Track as “… not only no, but hell no.” Warren has proved to be a persistent thorn in the side of White House efforts to smooth over troubling issues with the deal. But the monied interests that rule the beltway have all pressed for passage. And as a Fast Track draft makes its way through Congress, stakes are high. The TPP is, in the apt estimation of political activist Jim Hightower, a “corporate coup d’état.”
Not for the first time, the president and his Republican enemies are yoked by the bipartisan appeal of privilege against this faltering fence of protest. The marriage of convenience was described in last Friday’s sub-head to a New York Times article on TPP: “G.O.P. Is Allied With President Against His Own Party.”
All The Usual Suspects
Who else supports the TPP? Aside from this odd confection of neoliberals, the corporations that rule the beltway feverishly back the TPP. From the leak of Sony digital data we learn that it and its media peers have enthusiastically pressed for the passage of the deal. Sony is joined by major agricultural beneficiaries (Monsanto), mining companies like Infinito Gold, currently suing Costa Rica to keep an ecology-harming mine pit active, as well as pharmaceutical coalitions negotiating stiff intellectual property rights unpopular even in Congress, and various other technology and consumer goods groups. And don’t forget nicotine kingpins like Philip Morris.
Obama reinforces the corporate line: “We have the opportunity to open even more new markets to goods and services backed by three proud words: Made in America.” Perhaps he isn’t aware that our leading export is the workforce that once took pride in that moniker. We’ve exported five million manufacturing jobs since 1994, largely thanks to NAFTA, the model on which the TPP is built. The TPP will only continue that sad trend. The only jobs not being offshored are the ones that can’t be: bartenders and waitresses and health care assistants. That’s the Obama economy: a surfeit of low-wage service jobs filled by debt-saddled degree holders. As Paul Craig Roberts argued in The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism, between 2007 and 2014, some eight million students would graduate from American universities and likely seek jobs in the United States. A mere one million degree-requiring jobs would await them. The irony of Obama’s statement is that the TPP would actually move to strip the use of labels like, “Buy American,” since they unduly advocate for local goods.
In truth, the authors of the treaty already know all this. The bill concedes as much, with Democrats building in some throwaway provisions of unspecified aid to workers whose jobs have been offshored, and a tax credit to ostensibly help those ex-workers purchase health insurance. Cold comfort for the jobless, as they are exhorted by the gutless paladins of globalization to ‘toughen up’ and deal with the harsh realities of a globalized economy. As neoliberal stooge Thomas Friedman has said, companies in the glorious global marketplace never hire before they ask, “Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer?” Of course, the answer is invariably no, so the job goes to Bangladesh or a robot. No moral equation ever enters the picture. Just market discipline for the vulnerable and ingenious efforts by a captive state to shelter capital from the market dynamics it would force on others.
The Investment Chapter
Despite Obama’s disingenuous clichés about “… fully enforceable protections for workers’ rights, the environment and a free and open Internet,” the trade deal makes it clear that labor law and environmental law are both barriers to profitability. We know this thanks to Wikileaks, which once again proved its inestimable value by acquiring and releasing another chapter from the cloak-and-dagger negotiations. This time it was the investment chapter, in which so much of the treaty’s raison d’etre is expressed.
As Public Citizen points out in its lengthy analysis of the chapter, any domestic policy that infringes on an investor’s “right” to a regulatory framework that conforms to their “expectations,” is grounds for a suit. Namely, the suit may be pressed to “the extent to which the government action interferes with distinct, reasonable investment-backed expectations.”
Here’s what the TPP says about such legislation as it relates to investor expectations:
For greater certainty, whether an investor’s investment-backed expectations are reasonable depends, to the extent relevant, on factors such as whether the government provided the investor with binding written assurances and the nature and extent of governmental regulation or the potential for government regulation in the relevant sector.
Try putting that tax on financial transactions. Forget it. Barrier to a reasonable return. Don’t believe it? Just read the TPP investment protocols that would ban capital controls, which is what a financial tax is considered to be by TPP proponents. Try passing that environmental legislation. Not a chance. Hindrance to maximum shareholder value. Just ask Germany how it felt when a Swiss company sued it for shutting down its nuclear industry after Fukushima. Try enacting that youth safety law banning tobacco advertising. Sorry. Needless barrier to profits. Just ask Australia, which is being sued by Philip Morris for trying to protect kids from tar and nicotine.
Public Citizen has tabulated that, “The TPP would newly empower about 9,000 foreign-owned firms in the United States to launch ISDS cases against the U.S. government, while empowering more than 18,000 additional U.S.-owned firms to launch ISDS cases against other signatory governments.” It found that “foreign investors launched at least 50 ISDS claims each year from 2011 through 2013, and another 42 claims in 2014.” If these numbers seem small, recall that for a crucial piece of labor legislation to be struck down, only one firm need win in arbitration in order to financially hamstring a government and set a precedent that would likely ice the reformist urge of future legislatures.
As noted earlier, the text also appears to suggest to ban the practice of promoting domestic goods over foreign—another hurdle to shareholder value. This would effectively prohibit a country from implementing an import-substitution economy without threat of being sued. Governments would be relieved of tools, like tariffs, historically used to protect fledgling native industries. This is exactly what IMF prescriptions often produce—agricultural reforms, for instance, that wipe out native crop production and substitute for it the production of, say, cheap Arabica coffee beans, for export to the global north. Meanwhile, that producer nation must then accept costly IMF lending regimes to pay to import food it might have grown itself.
Of course, it is rarely mentioned that protectionism is how the United States and Britain both built their industrial economies. Or that removing competitor market protections is how they’ve exploited developing economies ever since. The TPP would effectively lock in globalization. It’s a wedge that forces markets open to foreign trade—the textual equivalent of Commodore Perry sailing his gunships into Tokyo Harbor.
The bill’s backers point to language in which natural resources, human and animal life, and public welfare are all dutifully addressed in the document. The leaked chapter explicitly says that it is not intended to prevent laws relating to these core concerns from being implemented. So then, what’s the problem? The problem is that these tepid inclusions lack the teeth of sanctions or punitive fines. They are mere rhetorical asides designed to help corporate Democrats rationalize their support of the TPP. If lawmakers really cared about the public welfare, they’d move to strip the treaty of its various qualifiers that privilege trade over domestic law. By all means, implement your labor protection, but just ensure “… that such measures are not applied in an arbitrary or unjustifiable manner, or do not constitute a disguised restriction on international trade or investment.”
If lawmakers cared about national sovereignty, they wouldn’t outsource dispute settlement to unelected arbitration panels, more fittingly referred to as, “tribunals.” (Think of scrofulous democracy hunched in the dock, peppered with unanswerable legalese by a corporate lawyer, a surreal twist on the Nuremberg Trials.) Just have a glance at Section B of the investment chapter. Suits will be handled using the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) model, itself predicated on the tribunal precedent. And in the event a government lost a suit or settled one, legal costs would be picked up by taxpayers, having been fleeced by an unelected committee whose laws it has no recourse to challenge.
Perhaps investor protections like ISDS were once intended to encourage cross-border investment by affording companies a modicum of reassurance that their investments would be safeguarded by international trade law. But the ISDS has been used for far more than that. The ISDS tribunals have a lovely track record of success (first implemented in a treaty between Germany and Pakistan in 1959). Here’s Public Citizen:
Under U.S. “free trade” agreements (FTAs) alone, foreign firms have already pocketed more than $440 million in taxpayer money via investor-state cases. This includes cases against natural resource policies, environmental protections, health and safety measures and more. ISDS tribunals have ordered more than $3.6 billion in compensation to investors under all U.S. FTAs and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs). More than $38 billion remains in pending ISDS claims under these pacts, nearly all of which relate to environmental, energy, financial regulation, public health, land use and transportation policies.
New Era, New Priorities
Now the ISDS is a chisel being used to destroy the regulatory function of governments. All of this is being negotiated by corporate trade representatives and their government lackeys, which appear to have no qualms about the deleterious effects the TPP will have on the general population. But then the corporations these suits represent have long since discarded any sense of patriotic duty to their native nation-states, and with it any obligation to regulate their activities to protect vulnerable citizenries. That loyalty has been replaced by a pitiless commitment to profits. In America, there may have been a time when “what was good for Ford was good for America,” as memorably put by Henry Ford. But not anymore. Now what’s good for shareholders is good for Ford. This was best articulated a couple of years ago by former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond, who bluntly reminded an interviewer, “I’m not a U.S. company, and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.” Those decisions usually include offshoring, liberalizing the labor market, practicing labor arbitrage, relocating production to “business friendly climates” with lax regulatory structures, the most vulpine forms of tax evasion, and so on—all practices that ultimately harm the American worker.
Apple says it feels no obligation to solve America’s problems nor, one would assume, any gratitude to the U.S. taxpayer for funding essential research that Apple brilliantly combined in the iPod and iPhone. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich finally admits corporations don’t want Americans to make higher wages. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce encourages shipping American jobs abroad. World Bank chiefs point to the economic logic of sending toxic waste to developing nations. Wherever you look, there seems to be little if any concern for citizenry.
The Financial Times refers to ISDS as, “investor protection.” But what it really is, is a profitability guarantee, a legal bulwark against democracy expressed as regulation. Forgive me for thinking that navigating a fluid legislative environment was a standard investment risk. Evidently the champions of free trade can’t be bothered to practice it. Still the White House croons that it has our best interests at heart. If that were true, it would release the full text, launch public charettes to debate its finer points, or perhaps just stage a referendum asking the American people to forfeit their hard-won sovereignty. No such thing will ever happen, of course. As it turns out, democracy is the price of corporate plunder. After all, the greatest risk of all is that the mob might vote the wrong way. And, as the language of the TPP makes explicitly obvious, there are some risks that should be avoided at all costs.
Jason Hirthler can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The world’s largest military alliance seems annoyed about Russia’s “lack of transparency” over military drills at a very “delicate time.” NATO, however, has its own long history of war games all over the globe.
Western politicians have leveled criticism at Russia for planned drills on its own territory, seemingly glossing over the many joint military exercises Western powers, namely the US and NATO forces, have conducted on foreign soil over the years.
This week, US and South Korean forces began their annual joint military drills, which will last until mid-April. The Foal Eagle exercise is conducted near Iksan and Damyan, South Korea.
The drills prompted a stern reaction from North Korea, which slammed the exercises as “a serious provocation” that could plunge the region into “a deadlock and unimaginable holocaust.”
The US joined Greece, Italy, and Israeli forces at Ovda air base in southern Israel for the ‘Blue Flag’ air-training drills in November 2013. The drills were called the “largest international aerial exercise in history,” by Israeli news outlet Haaretz.
According to Israel National News reports the exercises are geared towards “simulating realistic engagements in a variety of scenarios, based on Israel’s experience with air forces of Arab armies in previous engagements.”
Poland and Latvia
NATO’s ‘Steadfast Jazz’ training exercise was held in November 2013, in Latvia and Poland. The drills included air, land, naval, and special forces.
Over 6,000 military personnel from around 20 NATO countries and allies took part in the largest NATO-led drills of their kind since 2006.
In October, NATO also held anti-aircraft drills in Bulgaria, along with the Greek and Norwegian air forces. The exercises were held to test responses in conditions of radio interference, according to the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense.
In May 2013, the US joined 40 other countries in the Persian Gulf for maritime war games. The US Navy said the mass exercises are aimed at “enhancing capability to preserve freedom of navigation in international waterways.”
The drills provoked a sharp response from the Iranian government who voiced concerns at how the maneuvers came in the run-up to the Iranian elections.
In August 2012, US Marines joined Japanese troops for military drills in the western Pacific. The drills were held in part in Guam, a US holding, just as an old territory dispute reemerged between Japan and China over islands in the East China Sea.
“China will not ignore hostile gestures from other nations and give up on its core interests or change its course of development,” the Chinese Communist Party stated in response to the drills, warning the US and Japan not to “underestimate China’s resolve to defend its sovereignty.”
The US joined 16 other nations in May 2012 for military exercises in Jordan near the Syria border. The ‘Eager Lion’ drills included 12,000 soldiers from the participating countries, Turkey, France, and Saudi Arabia among them.
Denying accusations that the violence in Syria had nothing to do with the drills, the US claimed it was “designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships through a joint, entire-government, multinational approach, integrating all instruments of national power to meet current and future complex national security challenges.
In August 2010, the US Navy joined Vietnamese forces for drills in the South China Sea, to the dismay of China. Sovereignty claims in the South China Sea have long been a subject of debate and animosity among Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, and Malaysia, though China’s territorial declarations have been the most aggressive.
Ukraine welcomed a fleet of NATO warships for a two-week period of military drills in July 2010. Operation ‘Sea Breeze-2010′ focused on joint anti-terror exercises, despite Kiev’s decision not to enter the NATO alliance. Some 3,000 international military personnel were said to be a part of the drills.
Ukraine began hosting the Sea Breeze exercises in 1997, as part of its commitment to join the alliance. In 2009, the Ukrainian parliament voted against the drills, curtailing then-President Viktor Yuschenko’s efforts to seek NATO membership.
In May 2009, 15 NATO countries held a series of controversial military exercises in Georgia less than a year after it launched an offense against its breakaway region of South Ossetia. Russia called the maneuvers “dubious provocation” saying it may encourage the country’s regime to carry out new attacks.
As Rest Of The World Considers Cutting Back Aggressive Surveillance, New Zealand Legalizes Massive Spying
The ongoing release of various leaks from Ed Snowden have drawn lots of attention and criticism of the activities of various parties in the intelligence community — especially those who partner closely with the NSA, the so-called “Five Eyes” countries: US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. And while there appears to be real momentum in the US behind limiting this surveillance, apparently New Zealand has decided to go in the other direction, and has passed a very broad new snooping law that will force telcos to basically hand over everything to various intelligence agencies.
The technical Telecommunications Interception Capability and Security Bill will compel telecommunication firms to assist intelligence agencies in intercepting and decrypting phone calls, texts and emails.
Critics say the bill is authoritarian, limits internet freedom and impinges on privacy and civil rights. The Government says it is necessary to replace a decade-old law to keep pace with technology.
We had mentioned this bill back when it was proposed earlier this year (before all the Snowden stuff went down). Given just how much outrage there is around the world about this kind of activity, it’s fairly incredible that the New Zealand government just pushed ahead with it, as if there wasn’t a giant public discussion going on. Oh, and the new legislation also lets New Zealand’s GCSB spy on New Zealanders as well. Until now, its surveillance had been technically limited to foreigners, though they did spy on New Zealanders many times. Rather than push back on the GCSB for this illegal spying, it appears that the New Zealand Parliament just decided to legalize the practice. Shameful stuff.
New Zealand faces allegations of spying on a journalist in Afghanistan with the help of US agencies over his coverage of NZ’s treatment of prisoners. Defense denies the allegations, while the PM says reporters can get caught in surveillance nets.
The New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF) has reportedly put freelance journalist Jon Stephenson under surveillance and collected phone metadata while he was working for US news organization McClatchy in Afghanistan last year, Nicky Hager with the Sunday Star-Times newspaper revealed.
Metadata can reveal information such as the location of the caller and the length of the call.
New Zealand opened a probe into the allegations.
Allegedly NZDF was able to track who Stephenson had called and who the people he talked to subsequently called, which created what is known as a ‘tree’ of the journalist’s associates. The goal was to identify Stephenson’s contacts and sources within the Afghan government and military.
The surveillance was reportedly put in place after the government became unhappy with his reporting about New Zealand’s treatment of Afghan prisoners.
Hager revealed that it was most likely the NZ’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) that monitored Stephenson, as it had posted staff to the US’ main intelligence center north of Kabul at Bagram and was capable of such monitoring.
Stephenson told Sunday Star-Times that there is “a world of difference between investigating a genuine security threat and monitoring a journalist because his reporting is inconvenient or embarrassing to politicians and defense officials.”
NZ Prime Minister John Key denied allegations on Monday stating that his country does not spy on journalists, but said there is a chance reporters could get caught in surveillance nets when the US spies on enemy combatants.
Key said that it is theoretically possible that if a journalist called a member of the Taliban who was being watched by the US, he or she could end up in surveillance records.
NZDF added that there is no evidence that its military or the US had spied on Stephenson.
“We have identified no information at this time that supports [these] claims,” acting Defense Force Chief Maj. Gen. Tim Keating said in a statement.
This is not the first run-in the journalist has had with the NZ’s government. NZDF earlier implied that one of the interviews Stephenson published with Afghanistan’s unit commander about mishandling of prisoners was fabricated.
Stephenson sued for defamation. During this month’s trial, the NZDF confirmed that the interview may have taken place. The trial ended with the hung jury.
Advocate groups were outraged by what has unfolded. The Human Rights Foundation told Sunday Star-Times it was an abuse of fundamental human rights.
“Don’t they understand the vital importance of freedom of the press?” spokesman Tim McBride stated. “Independent journalism is especially important in a controversial war zone where the public has a right to know what really happens and not just get military public relations.”
In the meantime, the NZ government admitted to the existence of a secret order that lists investigative journalists as potential threats to security and puts them alongside other spies and terrorists.
The confidential order, which was leaked to Hager, stated that investigative journalists “may try to acquire classified information, not necessarily to give to a potential enemy, but because its use may bring the government into disrepute.”
The order was first issued a decade ago and reissued in 2005.
The US National Security Agency (NSA) sometime shares information with NZ, as part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, which also includes the UK, Australia and Canada.
The news comes as thousands of people marched to protest a new bill on Sunday that would grant the New Zealand government sweeping spy powers, giving the GCSB free rein to listen in on citizens’ phone conversations.
John Key has been playing down the nationwide protests, arguing that those involved in the mass demonstrations are ill-informed or have a political agenda.
The US involvement with global spying has grabbed the world’s attention after the whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked information the extent of US spy programs.
Sarafand. (Photo: Courtesy of Uri Zackhem, Palestine Remembered)
In the early winter of 1918, the wheat, barley and sesame fields of Sarafand al-Kharab lay fallow. Oranges, figs, almonds and olives had been harvested, the summer honey stored. At night the goats and sheep were brought into the warmth of the adobe brick houses.
On the moonless night of 9th December, as in typical Palestinian villages, smells of the sparse dinner were fading in the air, bellies barely full, the villagers, subsistence farmers and shepherds and their families, slept soundly except perhaps for a restless child here and there, a mother breastfeeding her baby, a few coughs tapping the night’s stillness.
Suddenly the village, roused by angry foreign voices, was cordoned off by lamps held by wrathful soldiers from the nearby army camp.
The next morning, 10th December, officers from the ANZAC Mounted Division questioned the village sheikh and demanded he hand over the murderer of one of their soldiers; a young New Zealand Trooper Leslie Lowry had been sleeping with his kit bag for a pillow woke when he felt the bag was tugged from under his head. He chased the thief who allegedly turned and shot Lowry in the chest. The alarm was raised and Lowry died before the doctor arrived. Confused, and still in the grip of the cordon, the chief and fearful villagers were unable to comply.
That night, hundreds of enraged New Zealander, Australian and Scottish soldiers set upon the village separating the women and children then viciously attacked the men folk with bayonets, clubs, chains and sticks and set alight the village and the nearby Bedouin camp. Situated on a rise overlooking the coastal plain, the flames, vying with screams of rage of agony of horror, were seen from IMD HQ a half mile away.
After an orgy of blood, 137 (or more) innocent village men (innocent fathers, innocent brothers, innocent husbands, innocent uncles, innocent cousins, innocent friends) lay dead among the smoke and glowing ashes or thrown in the village well; the distraught and grief-ravaged women were newly widowed, children fatherless, all homeless….and the soldiers had vanished into the darkness of a military cover-up.
No one from the ANZAC Mounted Division was prosecuted for the atrocity as the soldiers, standing as one, didn’t cooperate with the bland inquiry, denying participation and later some, from the 3rd Light Horse Regiment’s C Squadron, were ordered never to talk about it. (Daley p 277)
Cover-ups are a reprehensible part and parcel of military history and testimonies collected on Australian Military History of the Early 20th Century: Desert Column site are tainted with fundamental lies and racist justifications that have become the prototype for subsequent historical and newspaper accounts of the Sarafand Massacre:
The killer’s footsteps that led to the collective punishment of Sarafand villagers. Despite there being no witnesses to the shooting of Lowry and that no one saw the killer run to Sarafand, all accounts report that the footsteps of the killer were followed and led directly to the village.
In fact, no footsteps could have been followed from the camp as Palestinian terrain is too rocky. This is substantiated by the Uri Zackhem film, “Tracing all that remains of the destroyed village of Sarafand al Kharab, Palestine” made for Palestine Remembered.
Also, Private AS Mulhall, who was on active duty in the camp, stated “There [were] no sand hills within three miles of the spot where Lowry was shot.”
Furthermore, on checking the NASA, Phases of the Moon, 1901- 2000, the night of 9 December, 1918 fell in the new moon to the beginning of the first quarter Dec 3-Dec 11, which means that it was a moonless night. In rural areas and in a world sans electricity, a moonless night is literally pitch black to the point one cannot see a foot ahead.
Nevertheless, the Deputy Assistant Provost Marshal who was called to the camp that night ordered a plaster impression of a fantasy footprint, “Later in the afternoon I sent Lieutenant Fyfe to obtain footprint impressions made of plaster of Paris, which he has done. The specimens taken are those of the man’s left foot.”(Did the killer hop away?)
The Discrepant Number of Sarafand Victims
The casualty figures of the Sarafand massacre range from 5 to 137 but, as there was a cover-up, the number of dead will likely be higher.
Typically a cover-up provides the minimum number of victims: Deputy Assistant Provost Marshal reported he saw only 5 dead and 5 wounded and “saw no soldier committing an offence to warrant his arrest”; Briscoe Moore offered “38 natives”; Terry Kinlock stated “30 and 40 Arab men had been beaten to death or badly injured.”
However, Tasmanian Ted O’Brien confessed to 120 dead and ex-NSW Mounted policeman, AS Mulhall testified, “I counted 137 dead within the village. It was a most gruesome sight the manner in which their heads were bashed and battered.”
The severe dressing down of the division by Commander-in-chief, General Allenby, provides insight into the gravity and extent of the atrocity:
Allenby’s biographer, Lawrence James, writes that a ‘furious’ Allenby said the men were ‘murderers and cowards and by killing the Bedouin had taken away the good name of Anzac- in fact it was a worse atrocity than any the Turks had committed.‘ (Daley p265)
Allenby then immediately removed the division to Rafah and withdrew recommendations for all gallantry awards.
The Cover up
The cover-up was intensified over the decades with a flurry of denials and cross accusations by the different ANZAC Division units. The Australians denied participation putting the blame squarely on the New Zealanders and British artillerymen from the Ayrshire Battery while the New Zealanders parried with counter accusations.
In accounts, the number participating in the mass murder varies from 50 to 200.
Regardless, on 16 December, the entire division was paraded before General Allenby who addressed the members as “cowards and murderers” concluding with, “Officers, Non Commissioned Officers, and men of the Anzac Mounted Division I was proud of you once. I am proud of you no longer!”
The participation of all three national groups is confirmed by the compensation payments. In late 1920-1 the British War Office pressured Australia and NZ to pay compensation as the British government had rebuilt the village at a cost of 2060.11.3 pounds. Australia contributed 515 pound and NZ, 858 pounds.
TV NZ’s ‘Sunday: Day of Shame’ documentary reveals that the cover-up extended to the family of murdered Leslie Lowry. His nephew, Noel Woods, believed his uncle was ‘mown down in a hail of Turkish bullets’ and was deeply shocked by news of the massacre.
Blaming the Victims
HS Gullett, the official war correspondent in Palestine, puts the ‘unfortunate incident’ that demanded ‘instant justice’ in the context of the exasperation of the AIF heroes with the unpunished thefts by ‘these debased people’ – ‘The natives of Surafend were notorious for their petty thieving’ coupled with the murder of a comrade ‘at the hands of a race they despised’. Regarding the Bedouin, Ted O’Brien remarked, “wicked… You’d shoot them on sight.”
Gullett’s overt racist superiority, like that of the majority of WW I Australian soldiers hailing from the land of White Australia, dismisses outright the plight of Palestinians struggling to survive the dire economic impact on their land and livelihoods of the mounted armies of the Imperial and Ottoman forces. The Turks had demolished orchards and all the cavalries ‘drank out wells and grazed their horses on standing crops’. Palestinians were driven to steal because foodstuffs, livestock and even unwilling Palestinian staff were requisitioned by the British military and consequently there was a shortage of basic food and commodities and awful disruptions to daily life.
Gullett makes a reference to instances of theft by the Anzacs, ‘if the Arabs missed a sheep from their flocks, they were emphatic that a soldier in a big hat had been seen prowling in the neighbourhood.’ Stealing sheep may have been a lark for the soldiers, but it was devastating for impoverished Palestinian farmers.
The Arabs were also accused of desecrating and stealing from the dead, yet Ted O’ Brien ‘talks in detail how he and his mates stole coins from the dead. They also used the Turkish dead for target practice” (Daley p275). The Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) regularly conducted punitive patrols against villages and troops were known to leave behind booby traps of bully beef tins when they moved bivouac.
Sarafand al Kharab suffered a second calamity on April 20, 1948 when Israeli Givati Forces demolished the village and ethnically cleansed its Palestinian inhabitants.
The Sarafand Massacre wasn’t a one-off aberration, for the Anzacs were notorious for inflicting harassment and collective punishment on Egyptian and Palestinian civilians. In her searingly honest book, ‘Australians and Egypt, 1914-1919’, Dr. Suzanne Brugger chronicles 4 incidents at Azizia, Bedrashein, Abu Akdar and Saft El-Malouk in which the AIF in 1919 were involved in destroying Egyptian villages by fire and the incurring of casualties through excessive force.
A letter in the Egyptian Gazette in 1918 complained, ‘Insobriety and misconduct by the troops threatened to undermine the prestige of the white races and of the Allied forces and dominant British regime in particular.’ (Brugger p61)
Misconduct ranged from misdemeanors to brutal violence: “Men of the Eight Brigade on a route march near Tel el Kebir sniped at passing “gypos’ until their targets fled over the skyline, Egyptian conductors were thrown from moving trains, and Egyptian stationmasters and minor officials were assaulted. The British soldiers are a sedate lot in comparison with ours, boasted a Victorian private, “they don’t knock the baskets of oranges off the heads of the natives, or pull boys off donkeys..” (Gammage p138) other misconduct included- leaving without paying at brothels, not paying fares on trams, looting and burning trading booths,‘drunkedness, harassment of women, riotous behavior and brothel-trawling’, foul language, cruel and crude jokes, ‘crumbling discipline’.
The accumulative offences were so grave that Brugger declares ‘the actions of the Australian troops in the past 5 years [1914-19] had contributed in part to this raising of the temper of the populace’ for emerging nationalism and the 1919 rebellion.(p9)
Ted O’Brien described the Sarafand Massacre as ‘ungodly’ and avowed “war is a shocking thing…It’s shocking just what men’ll do”. Perhaps PTSD arises not just from the horror of war and its stressful proximity to death, but also from the horror at the potential for inhuman barbarity.
Sometimes, a cover-up wreaks greater violence than the original crime. The glorification and sanitization of war is a form of cover-up that leads to further wars as WWI combatant and poet, Siegfried Sassoon warned;
At the Cenotaph
I saw the Prince of Darkness, with his Staff,
Standing bare-headed by the Cenotaph:
Unostentatious and respectful, there
He stood, and offered up the following prayer.
“Make them forget, O Lord, what this Memorial
Means; their discredited ideas revive;
Breed new belief that War is purgatorial
Proof of the pride and power of being alive;
Men’s biologic urge to readjust
The Map of Europe, Lord of Hosts, increase;
Lift up their hearts in large destructive lust;
And crown their heads with blind vindictive Peace.”
The Prince of Darkness to the Cenotaph
Bowed. As he walked away I heard him laugh.
– Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001.
– Daley, Paul, Beersheba: A journey through Australia’s forgotten war, Australian Military History of the Early 20th Century: Desert Column site.
– Tracing all That remains of the destroyed village of Sarafand al Kharab, Palestine, Youtube.
– NASA, Phases of the Moon, 1901- 2000
– Gammage, Bill; The Broken Years
– Brugger, Suzanne; Australians and Egypt, 1914-1919
On 28 August 2012 the New Zealand-based Scoop Independent News published the following Apology For Fake Press Release Published In Error:
“Earlier today Scoop received a fake press release purporting to be from a number of groups and people regarding a boycott of certain goods from the Middle East. The hoax press release was completely untrue, the events did not take place, and the statements attributed to the people named were never made by them. It was published in error in the politics wire and removed immediately the fake was spotted. Those named in the deleted press release had no knowledge or involvement in the fake press release and we apologise for any offence or embarrassment The mistake is regretted and Scoop apologises for the error.”
The fake press release was entitled New Zealanders for Boycotting Arab and Iranian Goods and identified itself further as News Release No. NR – 5,671 For Immediate distribution. The article libelled Scoop Independent News, Scoop’s journalist/activist, Julie Webb-Pullman as well as Leslie Bravery, compiler of the daily newsletter, In Occupied Palestine. Also defamed were Global Peace and Justice Auckland and the Palestine Human Rights Campaign.
The badly written, semi-literate so-called press release mentioned other organisations which do not exist. The Zionist fantasy claimed that there is an organisation called New Zealanders for Boycotting Arab and Iranian Goods (NEZBAIG), which was also a lie.
We, the defamed people and organisations named above appeal to all who value truth and justice to publicise the truth and expose the lies.