The head of Russia’s Emergencies Ministry has proposed a new economic model of humanitarian assistance and reparation payments to victims of war zones, recommending that initiators of conflict pay for the destruction and suffering caused by their policies.
“The Russian Federation proposes to build a new economic model of international humanitarian aid,” Vladimir Puchkov told the UN General Assembly in New York. The model is quite simple, according to Puchkov, who said that nations which initiate, incite and sponsor conflicts in other states should be “obliged to bear primary responsibility, including financial” for providing aid to refugees and persons internally displaced as a result.
The need to create a new mechanism arises from the lack of funding for international humanitarian relief budgets. Currently only around 5 percent of the funds required to remedy the widespread destruction and suffering are available, the Russian minister said.
To reduce the financial burden on the international humanitarian aid system, associated with the rise of terrorism and waves of refugees, Puchkov also stressed the need to focus on conflict prevention.
“We believe that settlement and conflict prevention is the best approach to reducing the burden on the international humanitarian system,” the minister said in a report at the 71st session of the UN General Assembly.
In order to improve the quality of international aid the minister also offered to take additional measures and help develop local crises response capabilities in conflict-torn countries.
“Instead of trying to provide for the millions of refugees in Europe, it is necessary to create opportunities for them to stay at home, or at least in the same region,” Puchkov noted.
Among other things, Puchkov urged that the international community intensify efforts to improve the international legal and contractual framework which would allow aid to quickly reach affected areas. Meanwhile developing countries, the minister said, should also recognize their responsibility and not remain “passive recipients.”
Speaking about the Russian contribution to global humanitarian aid missions, Puchkov highlighted that this year Russia participated in over 40 missions across the globe, offering aid to over 10 countries. Besides Syria and Ukraine, some of the recent recipients of Russian aid include countries such as Yemen and Afghanistan, in addition to western states such as Italy and Portugal. Overall, Russia engaged in over 450 missions across the globe over the last quarter of a century.
In addition, over the last three years, Moscow has sent more than $250 million to battle humanitarian crisis in a number of countries, by sending emergency food and medical assistance to populations affected by conflict and natural disasters.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which coordinates international humanitarian relief efforts said that last year more than 76 million people from 31 countries needed assistance. The UN office also noted in 2015 some 51 million people were displaced worldwide, which is the highest number since WWII.
Another symbolic international day for Palestinian rights has degenerated into the usual stale observations and recommendations that do little other than try to impart a semblance of balance between the coloniser and the colonised. Perhaps the UN has preferred to remain loyal to the monstrous history it spawned by approving the Partition Plan on 29 November 1947, rather than address its complicity in the dispossession, ethnic cleansing and displacement of the Palestinians.
Departing from a jeopardising premise, Fiji’s Peter Thomson presided over the 71st session of the UN General Assembly and declared that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is “fundamental to our efforts to realise the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, and to ensure that they are able to enjoy lives of dignity, opportunity, prosperity and equality.” The Palestinian people have endured a history of premeditated killing for decades because the UN upholds obscurity as a priority over the anti-colonial struggle. Peace, therefore, can be eliminated from the convenient rhetoric as it is nothing but a euphemism for oblivion in the context of Israeli colonial violence and international acceptance and complicity.
Not to be outdone, the Head of the EU Delegation to the UN, João Vale de Almeida, presented a summarised version of the perpetual concerns and condemnations, but added a slight variation to the usual rhetoric. The EU, he claimed, is “alarmed by the advancement in the Knesset of the ‘Settlement Regularisation Bill’ which would allow for the ex post ‘legalisation’ of Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank and de facto confiscation of private Palestinian land.” It is mystifying, to say the least, how an international institution that is normally so well-informed can express “alarm” over violations that have occurred blatantly and in a clear, calculated sequence following the original Zionist plan for Greater Israel. There was more likely to be advance knowledge and acquiescence, not alarm, over the proposed legislation.
Almeida made another obfuscating comment regarding Gaza: “Militant activity and the dire situation in Gaza feed general instability and constitute a recipe for renewed conflict.” He provided no context for the Palestinian resistance in Gaza; no mention of how Israel’s Operation Protective Edge destroyed the enclave and displaced Palestinians in a space that is completely besieged. Hamas “and other militant groups” are also urged to stop “the illicit arms build-up.” Presumably the EU, like Israel, wishes there to be a defenceless population that is completely stripped of the right to defend itself against Israel’s state of the art military technology. Almeida’s statement encourages the abuse of Palestinian civilians by Israel whenever it chooses to field test its latest weapons on live targets before marketing them internationally and thus exposing international hypocrisy with regards to alleged support for Palestinian rights.
Perhaps the symbolic commemoration of “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People” should be scrapped, since the UN, the EU and other international institutions are incapable of articulating the trajectory between the initial and the current colonial violence against Palestinians. All of the futile statements which simply rehash decades of other repetitive rhetoric do not help the Palestinians in any way. Sporting a keffiyeh for the macabre day, which is a backdoor commemoration of the UN Partition Plan as well as purported international solidarity, is humiliating, not a show of support. In the absence of a commitment to support Palestine’s anti-colonial struggle, one can conclude that the international agenda for this “day of support” is to devaluate Palestine and downgrade it even further from a symbolic presence to a passive memory.
The United States, the United Kingdom, France and the United Nations have not yet offered humanitarian relief to 90,000 Aleppo citizens, liberated from militants two days ago, the Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman said Wednesday.
“Two days after over 90,000 Aleppo residents were freed from terrorists, no offer of humanitarian assistance came from the office of UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, the British and French Foreign Ministries or the US State Department,” the ministry’s spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said.
Konashenkov reminded about the previous US, UK, UN and French demands to provide humanitarian access to eastern Aleppo when it was held by the militants.
“Apparently, the [humanitarian] assistance was destined for certain other people living in the eastern parts of Aleppo,” Konashenkov said highlighting the absence of the above-mentioned sides’ interest in providing civilians with humanitarian aid after all the necessary conditions for the aid delivery had been created.
On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that the Syrian government forces had cleared almost half of eastern Aleppo from militant strongholds, liberating tens of thousands local residents.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons refuses to send its experts to Aleppo to check substances used by rebels in attacks. The move was “seemingly done under pressure from our Western colleagues,” Russia’s foreign minister said.
“Russian specialists found that militants in east Aleppo used ammunition with poisonous substances, with the ammo targeting west Aleppo. The collected samples leave no doubt that it’s a toxic agent,” Sergey Lavrov said at a press conference with his Belarusian counterpart in Minsk, as cited by Interfax.
However, when the Russian Ministry of Defense addressed the leadership of the UN watchdog OPCW “with the demand to urgently send its experts to Aleppo to participate in the sample analysis,” the organization “refused to carry out this simple task, citing security issues.”
The underlying reason behind this, Lavrov said, seemed to be “tremendous pressure from our Western colleagues,” because “our and Syrian sides guaranteed security [for the experts].”
Russia is now working on the possibility of delivering the samples for analysis to The Hague, Lavrov added.
“It will make it hard [for them] to back out,” the minister said, as quoted by TASS.
Lavrov’s statement comes a day after the Ministry of Defense spoke about the evidence of chemical attacks by rebels, and stressed that the OPCW was refusing to cooperate.
Ministry spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov said that Russian experts collected bioassays from four Syrians injured in the attacks, and made the shocking discovery earlier this month.
In fact, Russian top brass has been warning since September that the militants might use chemical weapons against civilians in Aleppo, and in October, Syrian state media reported toxic gas having been used against a government-held area in the city.
Fifteen people were injured back then, and a local doctor told RT that the symptoms could be those observed after the use of chlorine gas.
Over the past few years, the Syrian government has often come under fire over claims of its alleged use of chemical weapons to attack the rebel-held areas – from activists and the UN, as well as the US State Department.
Spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Behrouz Kamalvandi
Iran has remained committed to its obligations, including those concerning its heavy water stockpiles, under last year’s landmark nuclear agreement signed between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 group of countries, a senior Iranian nuclear official says.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has fulfilled its obligations on heavy water stockpiles based on the JCPOA (the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), and remains committed to it,” the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Behrouz Kamalvandi, told IRIB on Friday.
Kamalvandi made the comments in reaction to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last week that claimed that Iran’s stocks of heavy water had slightly exceeded the 130-tonne level set out in the JCPOA.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano on Thursday chided Iran for exceeding the agreed limit on its stockpiles and said, “It is important that such situations should be avoided in future in order to maintain international confidence in the implementation.”
Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China – plus Germany signed the JCPOA in July 2015 and started implementing it in January 2016.
Under the JCPOA, Iran undertook to put limitations on its nuclear program in exchange for the removal of nuclear-related sanctions imposed against Tehran.
The deal requires Iran’s storage of uranium enriched to up to 3.67 percent purity to stay below 300 kilograms. Tehran has also agreed to keep its heavy water stockpile below 130 metric tonnes.
“According to the JCPOA, we were required to offer on the international market any excess over 130 tonnes of heavy water and we have so far sold 70 tonnes,” Kamalvandi said.
He added, “Negotiations are under way with interested countries, the Europeans in particular,” to sell the rest.
The nuclear official emphasized that Iran would remain committed to its undertakings under the JCPOA on heavy water restrictions “so long as the JCPOA is in place.”
Last week, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner played down concerns about Iran exceeding the heavy water stockpile limit.
He said it was “important to note that Iran made no effort to hide this” and that he was “not sure whether that constitutes a formal violation.”
The AEOI head Ali Akbar Salehi said in October that the Islamic Republic had sold 32 tonnes of heavy water to the United States and delivered 38 tonnes of the nuclear substance to Russia.
“European firms, including German and French ones, seek to purchase Iran’s heavy water and we have expressed our readiness in this regard,” Salehi added.
Foreword to Donna Laframboise’s new report Peer Review: Why Skepticism is Essential
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has repeatedly and falsely claimed that it depends entirely on peer-reviewed papers. Donna Laframboise used volunteers to check this claim and found that a significant part of the references in the fourth assessment report of the IPCC were to ‘grey literature’ – that is, press releases, ‘reports’ from pressure groups and the like, which are not remotely the normal peer reviewed scientific literature.
Yet even if all the citations used by the IPCC were peer-reviewed, this would not mean they were infallible. Peer review is not, never was, and never can be a general protection against prejudice, error, or misconception about scientific matters. That it seems otherwise to some people is a misapprehension on their part, reflecting widespread myths about the reality of human investigations into the natural world.
It is startling for non-scientists who actually visit the sausage factory of science for the first time. There, peer review proves to be an often biased, prejudicial, and perfunctory process contrary in every respect to popular expectations about science. But scientists know that no increased regulation or standards can ever improve things, because there are no higher authorities to appeal to in a domain of human endeavour where no one knows or ever knew the answers – hence the name ‘peer review’ and not ‘expert correction’.
Donna Laframboise observes that, ‘There is a reason publishing insiders are among peer review’s most derisive critics. They know it’s mostly just a game. Everyone is pretending that all is well despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.’ Most scientists grudgingly tolerate peer review because they cannot think of anything better. Experienced ones do not expect much from it, even if they must play along to succeed given modern customs (until about the mid-20th century it hardly existed).
Most scientists cringe when they hear other scientists claim that because their work is peer-reviewed, they do not have to respond to criticisms, even those from qualified colleagues, whether peer-reviewed or not. Some surely do make such claims: ‘…many academics insist that the research they present to the world has been fully vetted. Indeed, they often behave as though it meets a standard unrivalled elsewhere’, observes Laframboise.
Furthermore, those same scientists retreat to the truth about the state of human knowledge of Nature when facts go against their claims. She points out that: ‘On the other hand, they take no responsibility when information they’ve produced turns out to be mistaken. In such cases everyone is then reminded that scholarly publishing is vii really just an exchange of ideas.’ Few competent scientists regard current scientific thinking as anything more than provisional. It is always fully open to challenge.
Peer-review is also abused as a form of gatekeeping to defend orthodox ideas from challenge, as Laframboise says: ‘Alternative schools of thought are more likely to encounter scorn than a fair hearing, and the secretive nature of peer review provides ample cover for intolerance and tribalism. . .It places unconventional thinkers at the mercy of their more conventional colleagues. Indeed, this approach seems designed to extinguish – rather than nurture – the bold, original thinking that leads to scientific breakthroughs.’ Many unorthodox ideas prove to be wrong, but they are the lifeblood of scientific advance. They challenge our orthodoxies, either sharpening them or overthrowing them. Thus the notion of challenging the orthodox is accepted in science by necessity, even if grudgingly.
Gatekeeping against the unorthodox is not remotely a new problem. Oracular mediocrities down the centuries have doggedly resisted human advances in knowledge from Galileo to Semmelweis to Einstein, and thousands of other cases that only the most learned science historians will ever know. Spectacular scandals come and go, but science is in the end a long game of the generations, not something played out in news cycles. So why then has the public debate about the perfunctory, crony, gate-keeping aspects of peer review grown in volume in the media now? Partly it is because science has become a ‘bigger’ and more centralized endeavor, with massive budgets invested in conventional wisdom, and more politicians involved in pushing certain conclusions. How else can one comprehend the term ‘orchestrated’ used by one founder of the IPCC to describe how scientific opinion was designed to be treated for the use of policymakers?
It is clear that people who have never studied the history of science, or have never been on the unfashionable side of a scientific debate are in for a shock upon encountering this messy and sordid reality for the first time. Not least in for a shock is the media, which has been busy identifying heartbreaking science scandals in medicine, social science, neuroscience, and economics. But curiously they offer none from the subject of climate, despite it being one of the most policy driven and lavishly funded branches of science today.
Is this because there are few examples of bad practice, irreproducibility, retraction, pal review and gatekeeping in climatology? Far from it. The Climategate emails of 2009 revealed gatekeeping at its most blatant. Who can forget Phil Jones writing to Michael Mann on 8 July 2004 ‘can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!’ Or Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick struggling to publish (leading to a US Congressional hearing, no less) their comprehensive demolition of the statistical errors and data-selection issues in the infamous ‘hockey stick’ paper? Or Richard Tol’s exposure of the practices employed in the Cook et al ‘97% viii consensus’ paper? Again and again, peer-reviewed climate papers have fallen apart under post-publication scrutiny from the likes of McIntyre, Willis Eschenbach, Donna Laframboise, Judith Curry and Nic Lewis. And these do not even touch on the challenge of independently reproducing climate model output without the machinery and resources necessary to do so, as Laframboise rightly observes in the following paper.
Indeed, the field of climate science could supply a rich harvest of examples of this crisis of scientific credibility all on its own. Yet it is the scandal that dare not speak its name. The discussions of the crisis in peer review in Nature, Science, the Economist and elsewhere studiously ignore any examples from climate science. Why is this? It is an article of faith among certain scientists and science journalists that because climate scepticism is also a position supported by those on the right of politics, so nobody in science must give fodder to the sceptics.
This is nothing less than the modern manifestation of gatekeeping continuing its ancient legacy, driven by sheer ignorance and self-delusion, to keep the forces that actually advance science away from the door. Scientific research stretches human faculties to their limits, and it is at such limits where human frailties become most prominent.
Humans are fallible. That is one of the greatest lessons from the history of science. The message to be taken from these heartbreaking scientific scandals and absurdities is not one of chagrin and a temptation to adopt cynicism. The true authors of such scandals are the laymen, academics, journalists, and policymakers who do not give a fair hearing to the many highly trained scientists motivated by alternative views who would put such dubious claims to the test. A pervasive uneducated appeal to science as a monolithic incomprehensible authority, assessed only in terms of moral purity rather than factual accuracy, has made such a fair hearing nearly impossible, and done great harm to science and us all.
Israel has just emerged from its three-week high holidays, a period that in recent years has been marked by extremist religious Jews making provocative visits to Al Aqsa mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem.
Many go to pray, in violation of Israel’s international obligations. Most of them belong to groups that seek to replace the mosque with a Jewish temple. They now enjoy increasing parliamentary support, some of it from within prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party.
A rash of such visits last autumn outraged Palestinians and triggered a wave of so-called lone-wolf attacks on Israelis. The attacks have recently abated.
Taking advantage of the renewed quiet, Israel allowed a record number of ultra-nationalists to visit the mosque, figures released last week showed. Parties of Israeli soldiers are also entering the site.
The police, whose recently appointed commander is himself from the extremist settler community, have recommended that restrictions be ended on visits by Jewish legislators who demand Israel’s sovereignty over the mosque.
For Palestinians, Israel’s treatment of this supremely important Islamic holy site symbolises their powerlessness, oppression and routine humiliation. Conversely, a sense of impunity has left Israel greedy for even more control over the Palestinians.
The gaping power imbalance was movingly detailed last month at a special hearing of the UN security council. Hagai El-Ad, head of B’tselem, which monitors the occupation, termed Israel’s abuses as “invisible, bureaucratic, daily violence” against Palestinians exercised from “cradle to grave”.
He appealed to the international community to end its five decades of inaction. “We need your help. … The occupation must end. The UN Security Council must act. And the time is now,” he said.
Israeli politicians were incensed. Mr El-Ad had broken one of Israel’s cardinal rules: you do not wash the country’s dirty linen abroad. Most Israelis consider the occupation and Palestinian suffering as an internal matter, to be decided by them alone.
Mr Netanyahu accused B’tselem’s director of conspiring with outsiders to subject Israel to “international coercion”.
With the US limply defending Mr El-Ad’s freedom of speech, Mr Netanyahu found a proxy to relaunch the attack. David Bitan, chair of his party, demanded that Mr El-Ad be stripped of his citizenship and proposed legislation to ban calls in global forums for sanctions against Israel. Unsurprisingly, Mr El-Ad has faced a flood of death threats.
Meanwhile, another UN forum has been considering Israel’s occupation. Its educational, scientific and cultural body, Unesco, passed a resolution last month condemning Israel’s systematic violations of Palestinian holy sites, especially Al Aqsa.
Again, Israelis were enraged at this brief disturbance of their well-oiled machinery of oppression. The abuses documented by Unesco were overshadowed by Israeli protests that its own narrative was not the focus.
While Israel exercises ever more physical power over Palestinians, its moral credit is running out with foreign audiences, who have come to understand that the occupation is neither benign nor temporary. The rise of social media has accelerated that awakening, which in turn has bolstered grassroots reactions such as the boycott (BDS) movement.
Aware of the dangers, Israel has been aggressively targeting all forms of popular activism. Facebook and YouTube are under relentless pressure to censor sites critical of Israel.
Western governments – which joined the chorus of “Je suis Charlie” after ISIL’s lethal attack on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo magazine last year – have cracked down on the boycott movement. Paradoxically, France has led the way by banning such activism, echoing Israeli claims that it constitutes “incitement”.
And left-wing social movements emerging in Europe face loud accusations that any criticism of Israel is tantamount to an attack on all Jews. Notably, a British parliamentary committee last month characterised as anti-semitic parts of the opposition Labour party under its new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a champion of Palestinian rights.
In these ways, European governments have been trying to hold in check popular anger at a belligerent and unrepentant Israel.
Illustrating that caution, Uneso was forced last week to vote a second time on its resolution, this time removing the word “occupation” and, against normal practice, giving equal status to the occupier’s names for the sites under threat from its occupation.
Even with the resolution neutered, Unesco’s usual consensus could not be reached. The resolution passed by a wafer-thin majority, with European and other governments abstaining.
Israel and its enablers have successfully engineered a hollowing out of official discourse about Israel to blunt even the mildest criticism. Gradually, western powers are adopting Mr Netanyahu’s doubly illogical premises: that criticising the occupation is anti-Israel, and criticising Israel is anti-semitic.
Incrementally, western leaders are conceding that any criticism of Mr Netanyahu’s policies – even as he tries to ensure that the occupation becomes permanent – is off-limits. Mr El-Ad called for courage from the western powers that dominate the security council. But the signs are his words have fallen on deaf ears.
We’ve all heard the buzzword. Whether it’s an anti-bullying program in Finland, an alcohol awareness initiative in Texas, or climate change responses around the globe, we’re continually assured that government policies are ‘evidence-based.’ Science itself guides our footsteps.
There’s just one problem: science is in deep trouble. Last year, Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, admitted that “much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.” In his words, “science has taken a turn toward darkness.”
Medical research, psychology, and economics are all in the grip of a ‘reproducibility crisis.’ A pharmaceutical company attempting to confirm the findings of 53 landmark cancer studies was successful in only six instances, a failure rate of 89%. In 2012, a psychology journal devoted an entire issue to reliability problems in that discipline, with one essay titled “Why science is not necessarily self-correcting.” Likewise, a 2015 report prepared for the Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve concluded that “economics research is usually not replicable.” Its authors were able to verify the findings of only one third of 67 papers published in reputable economics journals. After enlisting the help of the original researchers, the success rate rose to a still dismal 49%.
Government policies can’t be considered evidence-based if the evidence on which they depend hasn’t been independently verified, yet the vast majority of academic research is never put to this test. Instead, something called peer review takes place. When a research paper is submitted, journals invite a couple of people to evaluate it. Known as referees, these individuals recommend that the paper be published, modified, or rejected.
If one gets what one pays for, it’s worth observing that referees typically work for free. They lack both the time and the resources to perform anything other than a cursory overview. Nothing like an audit occurs. No one examines the raw data for accuracy or the computer code for errors. Peer review doesn’t guarantee that proper statistical analyses were employed, or that lab equipment was used properly.
Referees at the most prestigious of journals have given the green light to research that was later found to be wholly fraudulent. Conversely, they’ve scoffed at work that went on to win Nobel Prizes. Richard Smith, a former editor of the British Medical Journal, describes peer review as a roulette wheel, a lottery, and a black box. He points out that an extensive body of research finds scant evidence that this vetting process accomplishes much at all. On the other hand, a mountain of scholarship has identified profound deficiencies.
Peer review’s random and arbitrary nature was demonstrated as early as 1982. Twelve already published papers were assigned fictitious author and institution names before being resubmitted to the same journal 18-32 months later. The duplication was noticed in three instances, but the remaining nine papers underwent review by two referees each. Only one paper was deemed worthy of seeing the light of day the second time it was examined by the same journal that had already published it. Lack of originality wasn’t among the concerns raised by the second wave of referees.
Anyone can start a scholarly journal and define peer review however they wish. No minimum standards apply and no enforcement mechanisms ensure that a journal’s publicly described policies are actually followed. Some editors admit to writing up fake reviews under the cover of anonymity rather than going to the trouble of recruiting bona fide referees. In 2014, a news story reported that 120 papers containing computer-generated gibberish had nevertheless survived the peer review process of reputable publishers.
Politicians and journalists have long found it convenient to regard peer-reviewed research as de facto sound science. If that were the case, Nature would hardly have subtitled a February 2016 article: “Mistakes in peer-reviewed papers are easy to find but hard to fix.” Over a period of 18 months, a team of researchers attempted to correct dozens of substantial errors in nutrition and obesity research. Among these was the claim that the height change in a group of adults averaged nearly three inches (7 cm) over eight weeks. The team reported that editors “seemed unprepared or ill-equipped to investigate, take action or even respond.” In Kafkaesque fashion, after months of effort culminated in acknowledgement of a gaffe, journals then demanded that the team pay $1,700 in one instance and $2,100 in another before a letter calling attention to other people’s mistakes could be published.
Which brings us back to the matter of public policy. We’ve long been assured that reports produced by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are authoritative because they rely entirely on peer-reviewed, scientific literature. A 2010 InterAcademy Council investigation found this claim to be false, but that’s another story. Even if all IPCC source material did meet this threshold, the fact that one out of an estimated 25,000 academic journals conducted an unspecified and unregulated peer review ritual is no warranty that a paper isn’t total nonsense.
If half of the scientific literature “may simply be untrue,” then half of the climate research cited by the IPCC may also be untrue. This appalling unreliability extends to work on dietary cholesterol, domestic violence, air pollution – in short, to all research currently being generated by the academy.
The US National Science Foundation recently reminded us that a scientific finding “cannot be regarded as an empirical fact” unless it has been “independently verified.” Peer review does not perform that function. Until governments begin authenticating research prior to using it as the foundation for new laws and huge expenditures, don’t fall for the claim that policy X is evidence-based.
Empty Declarations of Democracy… Vacant Boasts of humanity
For decades, Israel has held itself out as being the lone “democracy” in the Middle East; a state where the rights of individuals could not and would not be held hostage to the autocratic whims of royalty, but rather a full partner to a free and robust electoral process that guarantees not just meaningful input from the governed but the ability to challenge state policies as the winds of change blow from “the river to the sea.”
Once again, recent events have proven this to be just so much a perverse myth… empty rhetoric… second only to the brazen unfounded Israeli boast of having the “most humane army in the world,” even as the body count of Palestinian children grows in cemeteries and prisons that have become very much its own unique brand of 21st century youth hostel.
Recently, Hagai El-Ad, an Israeli and Jew, who serves as executive director of B’Tselem (The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), spoke before the UN Security Council urging it to take immediate action against Israel’s illegal settlements.
Demagoguery and Inhumanity Exposed
Not quite 1400 words in its entirety, one paragraph in particular of El-Ad’s testimony sums up life for millions of those captured by a democracy that sees day as night… pain as pleasure. Crushing, despite its brevity, the power and pain of these words could easily be part of an opening statement by a war crimes prosecutor at a tribunal called to hold Israel accountable for crimes unseen since the Nuremburg tribunals some 70 years ago.
“What does it mean, in practical terms, to spend 49 years, a lifetime, under military rule? When violence breaks out, or when particular incidents attract global attention, you get a glimpse into certain aspects of life under occupation. But what about the rest of the time? What about the many “ordinary” days of a 17,898-day-long occupation, which is still going strong? Living under military rule mostly means invisible, bureaucratic, daily, violence. It means living under an endless permit regime, which controls Palestinian life from cradle to grave: Israel controls the population registry; Israel controls work permits; Israel controls who can travel abroad – and who cannot; Israel controls who can visit from abroad – and who cannot; in some villages, Israel maintains lists of who can visit the village, or who is allowed to farm which fields. Permits can sometimes be denied; permits must always be renewed. Thus with every breath they take, Palestinians breathe in occupation. Make a wrong move, and you can lose your freedom of movement, your livelihood, or even the opportunity to marry and build a family with your beloved.”
In a free democratic society these comments, while perhaps controversial, would certainly not constitute sedition. In an open, healthy State these words would surely give reason to pause and reflect… but never serve as a rational trip-wire to strip their speaker of his birthright as an unbound citizen empowered to support his government for policies he finds just but condemn it for those that bear the star of tyranny. It is a distinction that Israel has failed to adopt or learn over the course of its 50 year subjugation of millions whose only crime is to be born Palestinian in occupied land with sign-posts everywhere that simply say “ Jews only.”
Beating of Chests
Not long after El-Ad’s powerful speech before a world body entrusted with securing fundamental rights and liberty for all of its citizenry, the hue and cry could be heard among Israeli political elite to silence such subversive talk. Thus, Coalition Chairman MK David Bitan of the Likud Party undertook the first steps of reprisal by announcing he was considering submitting a bill to the Knesset that could remove the citizenship of Israelis who act against their country in international organizations. According to Bitan, “El-Ad’s actions at the Security Council are a blatant violation of the trust citizens must have for their country, so he should go find another country where he could be a citizen.”
Alarming, one might ask; no, not at all… merely another in an endless daily stream of steps by a government second to none when it comes to autocratic, indeed dictatorial, control of every fiber of its citizen’s freedoms, particularly their ability to access and exchange information without fear of retribution.
Much is known and largely ignored about the thousands of Palestinian civilians that have been targeted and slaughtered by the Israeli military machine in occupied Palestine, whether in Gaza or the West Bank. Indeed, the killing fields of Gaza or execution alleys of back street Jerusalem no longer acquire more than a passing fancy or footnote in the evening news spread across a world now busy with outrages of more recent vintage. After 70 years of slaughter, it’s just so much business as usual.
So, too, we have seemingly become numbed to the reality that thousands of Palestinian political prisoners languish in isolation, many sitting year after year, some for decades, in administrative detention cells of political prisons… uncharged, undefended and untried, tortured in ways that leave the spirits of those still roaming the now empty cellblocks of South Africa’s notorious Robben Island relieved their misery was ended quickly through state sanctioned executions by “suicide.”
The Mighty Censor’s Sword
Closures of Palestinian news rooms and television stations are commonplace… yet no more remarkable than assaults by Israel upon Palestinian journalists that long ago moved into triple digits and show no sign of abating. The Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) has documented a pattern of such attacks by Israel running, for some time now, at almost 400 per year. Although the exact number of Palestinian journalists killed or injured by Israel over just the last decade may never be known, it has been documented that seventeen lost their lives in Gaza, alone, during the months of bombings which it endured in 2014.
Dozens of Palestinian journalists and private bloggers have been arrested by Israel and held for violating vague administrative codes that typically come down to the application of entirely undefined prohibitions such as “incitement.” Dareen Tatour, a 35-year-old poet and Arab-Palestinian citizen of Israel, was arrested and placed under administrative detention on charges of inciting violence via her poetry which she posted on Facebook and which merely praises those who fight against Israeli domination. Also arrested and charged with criminal incitement was 19-year-old Anas Khateeb, on the basis of her Facebook posts which included such alarming statements as “Jerusalem is Arab,” and “Long live the Intifada.”
Recently, Palestinian journalist, Samah Dweik, was released from prison having served almost six months for an alleged incitement charge which resulted from comments about the occupation she posted on her private Facebook account. For most of her sentence, her family was banned from visiting or having any contact with her. She was but one of over 20 Palestinian journalists recently imprisoned by Israel for allegations of incitement, along with hundreds of other Palestinian activists or bloggers who have been targeted for arrest and prosecution for nothing more than postings of political opinions about the Israeli occupation and Palestinian resistance on social media. Dweik’s release came not long after Israel and Facebook entered into an agreement to “work together” to monitor Palestinian posts.
The Sword Cuts Deeper
Increasingly, Palestinians are not the sole victims of an Israeli policy to silence “dissent” or to dramatically curb the nature and extent of information made available to its citizens… Jews and Arabs alike. For example, not long ago, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman confronted the military station director after Army Radio broadcast a documentary on the life of the leading Palestinian national poet, Mahmoud Darwish, saying that material like Darwish’s shouldn’t darken Israeli airwaves.
In what can only be described as a systematic effort to control both journalists and citizens in their ability to read and write, to access and exchange information, and to reach informed opinions essential to a public and democratic dialogue about current and future Israeli policies, its machinery of censorship has become the linchpin of the State’s view of what is appropriate knowledge and speech and what is not.
Thus, of late, Israel has begun to demand of social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter that they have input, if not control, over what posts ultimately find their way into the stream of ideas and debate within the Israeli public at large. According to Quds Press, Facebook and Twitter recently deleted thousands of posts, pages and accounts as a result of demands made by the Israeli Ministry of Justice based upon little more than amorphous claims that the information posed a threat to the safety of Israel.
On an even more ominous note, the Knesset has begun to formulate legislation that would require foreign entities to actively monitor social media sites for information deemed to be offensive to Israel. Under the legislation, content based liability could be found for material published by foreign nationals, addressed to foreign nationals and posted on foreign websites thereby reducing the concept of free speech in Israel to one that is cast by the prevailing political winds of the day and little else.
Recently the chief Israeli censor notified dozens of Israeli bloggers and social media activists that any material they might wish to publish in their personal blogs or social media accounts, when dealing with a wide range of what was described as “security” related subject matters, must be vetted. Although provided a generic and ambiguous catalog of those areas to be submitted for clearance, the targets, themselves, were not permitted to disclose the makeup of the list under penalty of law. If history can be counted upon to be the guidepost of what subject matters must be prescreened before publication, in the past the list has included such security “sensitive” subject matters as:
+ Cooperation agreements with foreign militaries;
+ Letters to the editor on military or security matters;
+ Contacts with foreign countries;
+ Anything connected to the nuclear industry;
+ Information about official delegations abroad;
+ Any material which constitutes a “danger” to people’s lives;
+ Immigration policies from “endangered” nations;
+ Use of foreign sources or material that touch upon any of these areas;
+ Detention of those suspected of security offenses;
+ Any information about military industries;
+ Appointments, resignations, firings, rumors about IDF activities or commanders
Finally, in a readily transparent effort to maintain a democratic illusion of a free and uncensored flow of information in the market place of ideas, pursuant to the censorship regulations there are complete prohibitions against leaving any blank spaces or other potential indicators in one’s writing or posts that might suggest or lead one to conclude that material has been deleted.
For those disturbed over this censorship procedure, it must be remembered that we are, after all, talking about a state that recently placed 101st out of 179 countries in the press Freedom index worldwide. Indeed, this appalling placement for the Middle East’s sole democracy is significantly better than Israel has scored in the Freedom index for quite a number of years.
For those wondering just how widespread, indeed systemic, Israel’s censorship procedures are, it is a country with a military censor procedure that has banned, outright, publication of, soon to be, some 2,000 articles and redacted various information from 15,000 others in recent history. That is thousands of articles professional journalists and editors decided were of public interest but which never saw the light of day. Imagine how many more events of public interest went uninvestigated, or articles which were not written, issues debated, or challenges brought to bear for the Israeli body politic to consider because of self-censorship by journalists or editors too tired or principled to seek pre–approval of their body of work by government censors. Stories simply swallowed up and disappeared by an industry of censorship.
Human Rights… Israel Wrongs
Although not yet law, in what can only be described as an all-out onslaught against core democratic rights and values, over the last several days consideration of a bill has begun in the Knesset that would empower the Defense Minister to detain a citizen without trial; to deny one the right to pursue or obtain employment in a field of interest; to limit access to various public places; and “to impose any other order or restriction necessitated by considerations of national security or public safety”.
Earlier in January 2011, the Knesset endorsed a right-wing proposal to investigate some of Israel’s best-known human rights organizations for “delegitimizing” its military. Among others was B’Tselem. The proposed investigations would entail inquiries into the funding of several human rights groups that have a history of criticizing Israeli policies. At the time, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel described the proposal as a “severe blow” to Israeli democracy and critics labeled the policy as “McCarthyist“.
Recently a variation on that bill became law in Israel compelling non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive more than half of their funding from foreign state entities to declare so publicly. Ultimately, the legislative criteria were tailored specifically to silence criticism of government policies by some 27 NGO’s… 25 of which, including B’Tselem, are considered to be left-wing… while the other two are non-affiliated. As intended, the bill will have absolutely no impact upon right-wing and pro-settlement NGOs which are funded almost entirely by private donations from powerful Zionists and Zionist entities from outside of Israel.
One can only imagine that upon returning home to the firestorm awaiting him, following his speech before the UN, Hagai El-Ad surely felt what it must have been like to be an activist leftist Jew in the United States during the dark days of McCarthy.
On the other hand, perhaps El-Ad should consider himself very fortunate indeed. On his twitter account, Arab-Palestinian MK Ahmad Tibi mocked MK David Bitan’s call for El-Ad’s de-citizenship saying: “Why stop at removing citizenship? Why not destroy the home of the B’Tselem director-general? Why not bar his entire family from entering the country, remove his land, submit them to administrative detention, and put checkpoints and closures in his neighborhood?”
A United Nations expert said on Friday that Israel is attacking human rights organizations and trying to delegitimize their work and that he will launch an investigation into the problem.
Michael Lynk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, presented his first report to the UN General Assembly calling Israel to end the nearly 50 years of occupation, which he said “is entrenched, is dripping in human rights violations.”
“The fact that the Israeli government threatened to revoke the citizenship of the executive director of B’Tselem is a particularly worrying path for Israel to wind up taking,” Lynk said, referring to the rights groups’ appearance before the Security Council earlier this month.
He praised the recent intervention at the Security Council by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, which urged the UN to end the Israeli occupation in Israel and said he was especially troubled by the Israeli government’s reaction.
In a statement, Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon called Lynk’s comments offensive and said it “shows the immense damage done by Israeli organizations that defame us in front of the international community.”
Most of the international community has labeled the Israeli occupation as illegal because the territories in which half a million Israelis live in over 230 settlements, were captured by Israel in a war in 1967 and are hence subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbid construction on occupied lands.
Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations has criticized UN’s failure to properly organize humanitarian evacuations of the wounded from terrorist-held areas of Aleppo. The UN envoy to Syria defended the team, pinning the blame on the warring parties.
“We regret to note that the United Nations has not properly worked out an operation to evacuate the sick and the wounded,” Vitaly Churkin noted at the UN Security Council session, according to RIA.
The ambassador added that the UN work with various opposition groups in Aleppo and the local council was “left to take care of itself.” He stressed that the UN personnel did not “exert the necessary pressure” on “sponsors” of illegal armed groups to convince them to cooperate with the aid workers on the ground.
Besides criticizing the UN team, the Russian envoy also accused entities that have influence over fighters in besieged neighborhoods of Aleppo of not applying enough pressure on the militants to make the most of the Russian-Syrian humanitarian pause.
“External patrons of entrenched groups in eastern Aleppo could not or did not want positively influence the fighters and convince them to stop the shooting, to release civilians or leave the city themselves,” Churkin said.
The ambassador noted that militants in Aleppo continue to get supplies and arms, including portable surface-to-air shoulder launchers (MANPADs) and missiles.
The humanitarian pause was introduced in Aleppo on October 20, as Syrian and Russian jets halted all strikes in the vicinity of the city. While only an estimated ten percent of the city’s populace live in terrorist-held Eastern Aleppo, Moscow is doing everything possible to secure the evacuation of civilians.
Those civilians who want to leave jihadist-held areas may use six humanitarian corridors. Fighters can also leave the city with their weapons by using two other corridors established by the Russians and the Syrians. However, terrorists have refused to leave and instead resorted to shelling the civilian escape routes.
Russian and Syrian planes have stayed out of the city for eight consecutive days. In that time, only a few dozen civilians managed to escape the terrorist-held areas. Meanwhile, the Russian reconciliation centers continued to pour aid into Aleppo.
During the Security Council session, the UN official in charge of humanitarian aid defended the world organization’s actions in Syria, laying blame at both the rebels, Damascus, and Moscow for not allowing the UN humanitarian assistance to take place.
“The United Nations were ready to launch our operations on Sunday, 23 October. However, objections by two non-State armed opposition groups, namely Ahrar as-Sham and Nureddin Zenki, scuppered these plans. The United Nations made every effort to get assurances from all parties, only for the parties to then fail to agree on each other’s conditions about how evacuations should proceed,” said Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stepen O’Brien.
In the meantime, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent teams working in Aleppo have complained that delivering the humanitarian aid and treating the wounded has been a challenge, as the ICRC failed to “secure the security guarantees of some armed groups.”
Back at the UNSC, O’Brien painted a clear picture for the members of the UN Security Council of human suffering in Eastern Aleppo where terrorists use civilians as human shields.
In a graphic yet poetic account, O’Brien said that civilians – mostly children and elderly – are stuck in basements where “the stench of urine and the vomit caused by unrelieved fear never leaving your nostrils” is omnipresent.
“Or scrabbling with your bare hands in the street above to reach under concrete rubble, lethal steel reinforcing bars jutting at you as you hysterically try to reach your young child screaming unseen in the dust and dirt below your feet, you choking to catch your breath in the toxic dust and the smell of gas ever-ready to ignite and explode over you.”
“These are constant, harrowing reports and images of people detained, tortured, forcibly displaced, maimed and executed,” O’Brien added.
While mentioning the destructive role of terrorist on the ground, the UN envoy to Syria went out of his way to blame Damascus and Moscow for their air raids.
“Aleppo has essentially become a kill zone. Since my last report to this Council less than a month ago, 400 more people have been killed and nearly 2,000 injured in eastern Aleppo. So many of them – too many of them – were children,” O’Brien said.
“Never has the phrase by poet Robert Burns, of ‘Man’s inhumanity to man’ been as apt. It can be stopped but you the Security Council have to choose to make it stop,” the envoy added.
Taking the mic at the UNSC meeting, Churkin criticized O’Brien’s report, which he said lacked factual information and failed to stress the cessation of Syrian and Russian air raids on the city. He asked O’Brian not to recite poetry but base his reports on concrete facts.
“If we wanted to hear a sermon, we would go to church. If we wanted to hear poetry, we would go to a theater,” Churkin said.
Security Council members wanted to hear “objective analysis” of the situation on the ground from O’Brien, the Russian ambassador stressed.
“You clearly did not achieve this,” Churkin said, reminding O’Brien that no strikes have been conducted over Aleppo since October 18. Calling O’Brian’s statement “provocative and unacceptable,” Churkin pointed that in the past eight days Syrian and Russian planes had not flown over Aleppo, staying at least 10 km away from the city.
“This moratorium on the flight lasted eight days [now]. Mr. O ‘Brian, you did not mention a single word about it. You have built your speech so to paint a picture that aerial bombardment did not stop for one day and that it is happening now, as we speak,” said Churkin.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power also criticized the Russian humanitarian corridors in Aleppo.
“Russia made an announcement about 6 humanitarian corridors and urged to take these corridors, including people with arms. But those families were terrified about entrusting their fates to the people who have been bombing their neighborhoods,” she said.
Churkin replied that Power resorted to her usual tactics – “distorting the Russian stance to the point of absurdity.”
“It is terrifying to live here [in Aleppo]. And the US is asking: ‘What can we do?’ We told you what to do – to have both Russian and American military work together on Castello road [in Aleppo]. You said no!” Churkin said.
Power and the US delegation, along with the UK, French, and Ukrainian delegations, later staged a walkout as Churkin passed the floor to the Syrian representative.
The UN is not free in its opinion; it is playing a part in the game on the side of the US, says Willy Wimmer, former State Secretary of the German Christian Democratic Party.
Some 80 aid and humanitarian organizations, including Human Rights Watch, claim Russia – the only country operating militarily in Syria legally – is no longer “fit” to hold its position in the body.
The move, prompted by Russia’s anti-terror actions in Syria – actions that have attracted the ire of some Western countries – appear to be yet another effort on the part of particular countries to denigrate Russia.
Russia’s presidential spokesman says the condemnation should be directed at extremists in Syria instead.
Meanwhile, German foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is calling for another humanitarian pause in Aleppo like the one that took place last week.
RT sat down with German politician Willy Wimmer for his views on the issue.
RT: Do you think another humanitarian pause will produce any progress, given that there’s no pressure on the Western-backed rebels to stop their shelling of civilian areas?
Willy Wimmer: I think it is vital and necessary to look for relief for the humanitarian problems we have in Syria. And I think we should stop the killing as soon as possible. That is one thing we have to take into consideration. On the other side, we should never forget who started the civil war in Syria and when these human rights organizations blame one country in particular, we should never forget that the US, Great Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and Qatar created a civil war in Syria. I won’t mention Israel because of the situation in the neighborhood.
When we complain about the human suffering in Syria, we have to take into consideration who started everything. And the interesting thing is that everything the West is doing in Syria is against international law; they have no support of the UN Charter, even what the German militaries are doing there is against our Constitution. The only power which is in accordance with international law in Syria is the Russian Federation and because the actual president who had been elected freely, as for the support, it is in accordance with the international law. We have to take this into consideration when it comes to accusations from Human Rights Watch and others.
RT: There are calls to exclude Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. This would undermine one of the founding principles of the United Nations, wouldn’t it? What do you make of such rhetoric?
WW: It is a signal that the UN is on one side. It is not free in its opinion and we see it already for decades that the UN is playing a part in the game on the side of the US. And therefore, we don’t take it serious what the UN representatives tell us.
RT: Last year, Saudi Arabia was elected chair of a key panel on the Human Rights Council. Yet its human rights record has been repeatedly criticized. There have been calls for Saudi Arabia to be suspended from UN Human Rights Council, but do you think this will ever happen?
WW: Never, because of the close relationship between Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US. And therefore, I think they can do what they do without being punished for that (…) I think we have to realize who organized the civil war in Syria, and who is in accordance with international law. When they had a truce between the United States and the Russian Federation three weeks ago, what happened? The Americans killed 100 Syrian soldiers and Russian soldiers as well. There is a development in Washington to make use of the situation where there is no newly elected American president, and this is a complex and extremely dangerous situation for the rest of the world.