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Taking a Minute to Walk in Iran’s Shoes

If one can learn anything from the modern history of Iran, it’s that Iranians have learned to rely on themselves and not on great powers for support and that these great powers will sell — and have in fact sold — them out at a moment’s notice to satisfy their own interests, a matter well ingrained in Iranian consciousness.

Iran has seen its fair share of the damage imperialism has inflicted on the world — joint Russian and British control over Iran during the Qajar era, then the killing of one fifth of the Iranian population between 1917-19 (as documented in Barry Rubin’s The Middle East: A Guide to Politics, Economics, Society and Culture, p. 508) from famine brought on by the confiscating of foodstuff by occupying British forces that had violated Iran’s neutrality in World War I. This was followed in WWII by a coup that ousted Reza Shah, the then-king of Iran, also at a time when Iran had declared neutrality, in a British coup that put his son Mohammad Reza Shah on the throne of the kingdom. We need not mention the joint American-British coup, in which hundreds were killed, that toppled the popular Mosaddegh government because of its nationalization of the Iranian oil industry (which would have damaged American and British interests in Iranian oil).

The only time Iran saw an actual democratic movement succeed in giving power to the people that foreign powers were not able to abort was with the Islamic Revolution of 1979; and, even after that, the Americans, Europeans, and even Arab countries of the Persian Gulf aided Saddam Hussein in a war he instigated against Iran — providing him with arms and chemical weapons, as well as intelligence.

 

A lesson in wariness

Taking these historical events (and many more instances) into account, it is no wonder that Iranians would be very wary of any moves made by the United States and other global powers, namely those with a colonial track record. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA or Iran Nuclear Deal) could have very well marked a paradigm shift in relations with Iran, but instead, the Europeans did not abide by their commitments, and the Americans just up-and-left the agreement as soon as Trump got around to Iran. Not only that but, instead of abiding by their commitments, they’re trying to milk even more out of the deal — promising they’ll abide by their commitments if Iran offers more to an already done deal. What this means is they are being asked to add concessions in their ballistic missile program, much to the benefit of Arab Persian Gulf monarchies that are on a trend of increased militarization.

Credit | Carlos Latuff

Which brings us to the region’s latest round of tensions.

Given the already-stated facts, one has to understand, first and foremost, that Iran is dealing with a number of countries that have a history of falsifying facts, not standing by their agreements, and going into war in order to secure their own economic interests at the expense of other peoples. One must not forget the Indian famine in WWII, caused by food being exported from India to Britain, killing more than 20 million Indians, in reference to which Churchill said: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits.”

Living in such a flammable neighborhood — where the United States and its allies recently occupied its neighbors to the east and west and built military bases — and with such historical baggage, it’s not far-fetched that Iran, being the region’s most stable country, would rather rely on deterrence and defensive capabilities to secure itself than give concessions that could damage its security to powers that can hardly be trusted to keep their own word, as their own history suggests. 

 

A wise decision

Iran made a wise decision in its downing of the RQ-4 drone. Usually, the shooting down of military surveillance drones does not lead to military escalation, though it does lead to an increase in tension. By doing so, Tehran was successful in warning any aggressor — be it the United States or any other country, for that matter — that it is not willing to compromise on matters of security or national pride (though the U.S. claims the drone was flying above international waters — 8000 miles away from U.S. soil — the debris has since been recovered by Iranian authorities in Iranian waters). 

An Iranian general looks at debris from a U.S. military drone shot down by Iran’s air defense system, June 21, 2019. Meghdad Madadi | Tasnim via AP

The wisdom of this decision is that Iran delivered the intended message without causing any escalation — which doubtless would have been the outcome if it had downed a manned military plane that was also in its sites in the vicinity of the drone. It was a message that Trump had clearly received, and for which he expressed appreciation to Iranian authorities (although why he would bother to thank Iran if it was attacking a plane flying over “international waters” as he said is truly baffling).

In addition to that — although it had the legal right to shoot down the drone for flying over its airspace, which extends to 12 nautical miles from its borders — Iran also has the right to demand identification from any aircraft flying close to its territory. For more perspective, U.S. Air Defense Identification Zones extend 200 miles from the U.S. border and, as testified to by a former U.S. Air Force navigator, any unidentified drone flying that close to the U.S. border would most likely be shot down. The shooting down of this unidentified drone, even supposing the U.S.’s version of events were true, is perfectly warranted on Iran’s part, and does not allow the U.S. any measure of retaliation in “self-defense,” because no lives were lost in its downing.

Moreover, Iran clearly showed other countries what it was able to achieve independently through its reliance on its own capabilities. It downed the world’s leading military power’s aircraft for infringing on its airspace, and did so without hesitation because it sees itself as truly “sovereign.” Although the U.S. may threaten Iran with its military might and its presence in the region, Iran’s ballistic missile program has allowed it to turn that very strength into a weakness by having American bases, and 25,000 American troops, within targeting range. 

A war with Iran would devastate the region. A war with Iran, Hezbollah, the Popular Mobilization Forces, and Ansarullah is in the interest of no one, and God only knows what other surprises Iran might have in store for conspiring Arab monarchies. The smart move would be to repair the JCPOA in order to avoid further escalation in the region.

Feature photo | Mourners carry flag-draped caskets in a funeral procession for 150 soldiers whose remains were recently recovered. The soldiers were killed during the war with then-US-backed-Iraq in the 1980s, Tehran, Iran, June 27, 2019. Vahid Salemi | AP

Karim Sharara is a Lebanese PhD student who’s lived in Tehran since 2013 studying political science at the University of Tehran with a focus on Iranian affairs. 

The post Taking a Minute to Walk in Iran’s Shoes appeared first on MintPress News.

Israel Looks to Bolster Diplomatic Cover for New Level of Civilian Bombing in Lebanon

During a conference hosted on Tuesday by the Mossad-linked Shurat HaDin or Israel Law Center (ILC), Israel’s Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan demanded that international laws on warfare be amended because current international law pertaining to warfare “serves terrorists.” 

Erdan claimed that groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah use existing international laws of war “to destabilize the ability of democracies to defend their citizens” and “force [democracies] to fight against terrorists with their hand chained behind their backs.” The ILC’s director, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, seconded Erdan’s claim but argued that changing international law is difficult, thus making it more practical to change how existing laws of war are interpreted, a task she suggested be performed by military prosecutors. 

According to the Jerusalem Post, the laws currently governing international warfare are aimed specifically at reducing the suffering of civilians and, as the Post article suggested, Erdan wanted to change these measures aimed at protecting civilians prior to the “next war” between Israel and Lebanon because in that war “Israel will have no choice but to harm Hezbollah rocket sites and Lebanese infrastructure.”  Erdan’s argument hinges on the commonly repeated accusation by Israeli officials that Hezbollah uses civilians as cover for military operations, but a comprehensive 249-page study by Human Rights Watch found that not to be the case. In fact, the study found that even “a simple movement of vehicles or persons – such as attempting to buy bread or moving about private homes – could be enough to cause a deadly Israeli airstrike that would kill civilians.”

 

Bolstering diplomatic cover for a coming war

As MintPress previously reported, Israel’s government has been preparing for an imminent war with Lebanon and specifically Hezbollah — which is a strong political force in Lebanon, with the coalition of which it is part holding a legislative majority in Lebanon’s parliament — for well over a year. It has warned prominent U.S. Senators no only that it planned for a “bloody” war against Lebanon, but that the Israeli military planned specifically to target Lebanese civilians and civilian infrastructure, including residential areas. 

During a visit to Israel last March, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a close ally of the Trump administration, stated that Israel’s Likud-led government was requesting “ammunition, ammunition, ammunition” from the U.S. government, as well as diplomatic support for when Israel strikes civilian targets — such as “civilian apartment buildings, hospitals, and schools” — because Hezbollah has become “integrated” into these structures.

A school building destroyed by Israeli bombs in the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil, Aug. 27, 2006. Sergey Ponomarev | AP

Prominent Israeli politicians have also made the case for targeting Lebanese civilians in the coming war between Israel and Lebanon. For instance, Naftali Bennett, who until recently was Israel’s minister of education, told Haaretz in 2017 that civilians “must” be targeted the next time Israel and Lebanon go to war:

The Lebanese institutions, its infrastructure, airport, power stations, traffic junctions, Lebanese Army bases –- they should all be legitimate targets if a war breaks out… This will mean sending Lebanon back to the Middle Ages.”

 

Past impunity expands to cover new atrocities

Under existing international law, the bombing of residential buildings, hospitals and schools is a clear war crime, though this hasn’t stopped Israel’s government from bombing these same structures in Gaza with regularity in recent years. In addition, during the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon, Israel’s military killed at least 1,109 civilians, injured over 4,000 and displaced an estimated 1 million according to figures compiled by Human Rights Watch. The staggering civilian death toll sparked condemnation from international human-rights groups.

Thus, Erdan’s recent comments suggest that Israel’s government, in a war against Lebanon it plans to instigate under the guise of “preventative” defense, is planning to commit war crimes on a much larger scale than what was done in 2006 and is thus pushing for international law to be changed to accommodate those plans. However, Israel has long been able to avoid accountability for war crimes, especially following the U.S. adoption of the “Negroponte doctrine” to protect Israel from criticism as well as any punitive action taken by the U.N. Security Council in relation to war crimes committed by Israel.

This makes it more likely that this current push led by Erdan to alter international law is aimed more at global public opinion, by redefining international law so that Israel could avoid being accused of war crimes for such attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure in a future war.

A man repairs a home, in the background buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon, Aug. 27, 2006. Photo | AP

Part of the strategy in targeting Lebanese civilians specifically appears to be Israel’s strong desire to win a “decisive victory” against Hezbollah in this future war, as opposed to the humiliating defeat its military suffered in 2006. It appears that key figures in Israel’s government believe that the grand scale of planned attacks on Lebanese civilians and civilian infrastructure will result in so much destruction and death that it will help to ensure an Israeli victory.

Though it is unlikely Israel’s effort will succeed in changing international law, it may change how its government interprets such laws — as Darshan-Leitner recently suggested — and use such interpretations to secure even more robust diplomatic cover from its more influential allies such as the United States and to more easily avoid the war crime label from international media outlets and foreign governments. Such a move may also prompt the Trump administration in the U.S. to do the same, particularly given the slew of recent pardons given to accused and convicted U.S. war criminals by President Donald Trump.

 

US troops “prepared to die for the Jewish state”

In addition, the U.S. military itself is likely to quickly become embroiled in this coming Israel-Lebanon war, given that head of U.S. Central Command (CentCom), Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, told the Jerusalem Post last year that IDF leadership (as opposed to American military leadership) would “probably” have the last word as to whether U.S. forces would join the IDF during a future war and that U.S. troops were “prepared to die for the Jewish state.” IDF Brigadier General Zvika Haimovitch responded to Clark’s comments by stating: “I am sure once the order comes we will find here U.S. troops on the ground to be part of our deployment and team to defend the state of Israel.”

While much media attention has focused on the possibility of an imminent U.S. war with Iran, it is important to point out — especially in light of Israel’s comments — that Israel has been planning for over a year to go to war with Lebanon. Indeed, last year, Israeli officials told U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Chris Coons (D-DE) that “Southern Lebanon is where the next war is coming.” 

Yet, the push for war with Iran and the planned war against Lebanon may be related, given that Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah stated the following late last month:

Any attack on Iran will not remain confined to Iran’s borders. The entire region will burn, leading to all U.S. forces and interests in the region being annihilated.”

Feature photo | Ali, last name not given, stands amongst torn family photographs damaged by Israeli soldiers at their family home in the southern village of Maroun el-Ras, Lebanon, Aug. 23, 2006. The house which was occupied for several days by Israeli forces was littered with soldiers’ belongings, empty food cans and water bottles. Lefteris Pitarakis | AP

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism

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Venezuelan Government Claims New Coup, Maduro Assassination Plot Foiled

The Venezuelan government has reportedly dismantled a plan to stage a violent putsch in recent days.

Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez revealed on Wednesday that a large scale plan was set to be executed on June 23 or 24. The operation allegedly included the assassination of President Nicolas Maduro, National Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, and other high-ranking officials.

Maduro condemned the latest plot, accusing the opposition of looking to seize power through a “bloodbath.”

“They talked about a killing spree that could last two or three days,” Maduro said during a televised event. “How can a better country emerge from all that death?” he asked.

Venezuelan authorities claim to be in possession of 56 hours of intercepted communications, as well as confessions from several accused plotters who have been arrested. Among those detained are former officers from Venezuela’s special investigative police force, the CICPC, and the dissolved Metropolitan Police, as well as active and retired military officers. Several other alleged conspirators remain at large. Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab likewise announced on Thursday that an investigation has been opened .

Rodriguez explained that the plans had been monitored and infiltrated by Venezuelan intelligence for over 14 months and identified retired Brigadier General Eduardo Jose Baez Torrealba, currently living in the Dominican Republic, as one of the main organizers. He added that Venezuela would formally request his extradition. Baez had been linked to prior coup attempts, including what were alleged to be leaked plans to bomb former President Chávez’s presidential plane and take over Miraflores Palace.

According to recorded conversations among the alleged perpetrators, the putsch involved seizing several arms depots, including one in the Venezuelan Central Bank, as well as storming La Carlota airbase in east Caracas and other military/police facilities, before advancing on Miraflores.

Several intercepted communications divulged during Rodriguez’s press conference show the alleged perpetrators discussing the importance of killing Maduro to quell possible resistance, as well as gain notoriety before an international audience.

“The first goal is to capture [Maduro]. And have the world see it. […] Dead, so that the message is clear, this son of a bitch is done,” ex-airforce General Miguel Carmelo Sisco is seen telling other alleged conspirators in one of the videos.

 
Last August, President Maduro was the victim of a failed assassination attempt involving a drone laden with explosives, which was perpetrated by Venezuelan army defectors based in Colombia.

Parallel plans would involve shutting off access to Caracas and neutralizing possible resistance. One of the videos released by the Venezuelan government showed the alleged perpetrators discussing the placement of snipers to target crowds that might mobilize against the coup. Rodriguez likewise claimed that foreign mercenary groups could be brought in

Another key component of the supposed plot was the release of former General Raul Baduel, currently imprisoned in the Helicoide headquarters of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN), to lead the operations. A former defense minister, Baduel was sentenced to 8 years in prison in 2010 on corruption charges. Having been released on parole in 2015, he was arrested again in 2017 for his alleged involvement in plotting terrorist actions.

Rodriguez also told press that 140,000 gun shells and other material was seized, while pledging that more information would be released as the investigations and prosecutions progress. Some of the published footage additionally shows the alleged conspirators discussing contact with self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaido, despite expressing doubts about his leadership.

Guaido and his supporters staged a failed putsch on April 30. Hardline opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez escaped house arrest, having been convicted for his role in the violent 2014 street protests, to join Guaido and a handful of renegade soldiers outside La Carlota airbase. However, calls for more military personnel to join the coup effort went unheeded, with the putsch fizzling out after a Guaido-led march was stopped from approaching the center of Caracas and Lopez sought refuge in a foreign embassy.

Feature photo | A screenshot from the video which allegedly shows former Venezuelan officials plotting a violent coup against the Maduro government.

Source | Venezuelanalysis.com 

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The Military Industrial Complex Loves Left Wing Hawk Adam Schiff

Neoliberal, fake progressive Rep. Adam Schiff (D-C) showed his true colors yet again last week. He said in response to President Donald Trump’s saber-rattling and threats to attack Iran that,

Iran is a thoroughly malign actor, a cause of deep instability in the region, a profound contributor to the violence and misery in Yemen, and one of the most dangerous regimes in the world. Through the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) and its proxies, it is also a state sponsor of terror. The threat it poses is real.”

That certainly wasn’t the position of the Obama Administration. Schiff instead has decided to jump into the Trump foreign policy with both feet. He’s made similar threatening statements about Venezuela and China, too.

Let’s look at this one issue at a time. First, Schiff is the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. That’s the committee that’s supposed to oversee the CIA and other intelligence services, but which acts more as a clubhouse for CIA cheerleaders.

Schiff has watched Trump tear up the Iran nuclear deal, or JCPOA; he’s watched the U.S. send additional troops to the Middle East to step up pressure on Teheran; he’s watched war-lovers John Bolton, national security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, promise in public to violate international law by attacking Iran. Schiff has also watched a naked U.S. coup attempt in Venezuela.

And what is his response? It’s to tell us, “I’ve read classified documents. If you’ve seen what I’ve seen you would want to attack Iran too. You would want to overthrow Venezuela too. Just take my word for it.” Thanks, but no thanks. I know from first-hand experience how much the CIA lies. I don’t believe a word they say.

Second, Schiff has indeed maintained just as hard a line on Venezuela as he has on Iran. Just two months ago, he called President Nicolas Maduro an “authoritarian” and a “disastrous dictator,” and said he, Schiff, “stands with the opposition in calling for free and fair elections and the restoration of democracy. Maduro must refrain from escalating the situation through violence, which will only further the suffering of the Venezuelan people.”

What the esteemed chairman decided to utterly ignore was the fact that Venezuela had free and fair elections that the opposition boycotted in order to try to delegitimize them; Venezuela already is a functioning democracy; and it was actually the Trump Administration and the self-appointed “president,” Juan Guaidó, who resorted to violence by initiating a coup attempt against Maduro that failed. Schiff is either dangerously misinformed here or he’s a tool of Bolton’s foreign policy.

 

Dangerous China

Third, Schiff is as staunchly anti-China as any Republican hawk. In a recent on-the-record talk before the Council on Foreign Relations, he said,

China’s a very dangerous and influential part of that (antidemocratic) trend. It’s certainly true that, you know, Russia has been undermining democracies in Europe and elsewhere. But China has been undermining democracy in a very different way. China’s been undermining democracy in a—in a powerful, technological way, with the promulgation of these so-called safe cities and the safe-city technology where CCTV cameras are ubiquitous. And Chinese citizens now are facially recognized by the software in these cameras. That ties into a database that includes information about their social scores, their credit history, their use of social media. It is big brother come to life. And this is obviously not only a grave threat to the freedom and privacy of the Chinese people and their ability to associate or communicate their freedom, but it also—to the degree that China is now exporting this technology to other authoritarian countries—allows them to perpetuate their autocratic rule. And this, under the masquerade of safety and security.”

The funny thing is that Schiff never bothered to mention that it is actually the UK that is the most surveilled country in the world, with London having more CCTV cameras than any city, anywhere, in any period of human history. He never brought up the fact that China, in its entire history, has never promoted an imperialist foreign policy, like the U.S. and U.K. It doesn’t invade other countries, like the U.S. and U.K. It doesn’t interfere in foreign elections, like the U.S., U.K., Russia, and others. But the position does say a lot about Schiff. It says that he doesn’t care about facts, relying instead on pseudo-patriotic stereotypes. Remember, this guy is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

If there was any doubt at all that Schiff is in the grip of the military-industrial complex, one doesn’t have to rely just on his stated positions on Iran, Venezuela, and China to make the situation any clearer. Just take a look at his donors. The defense contractors love him. Northrop Grumman ($16,217), SAIC ($11,005), Lockheed Martin ($10,298), Boeing ($10,208), Honeywell ($10,025), Raytheon ($7,040), and General Dynamics ($7,038) are all among his major donors.

The sad truth, though, is that we’re stuck with him. Schiff represents Hollywood, California in the House. He usually runs unopposed, and when he does have opposition, he wins with more than 75 percent every time. Another sad truth is that this is the Democratic Party of 2019. Its leadership is neoliberal. It’s interventionist. It ensures that, come election time, none of us has a real choice.

Feature photo | Adam Schiff, D-Calif., responds to reporters as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., calls a meeting with all the House Democrats at the Capitol in Washington, May 22, 2019. J. Scott Applewhite | AP

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

This article was published with special permission from the author.  It first appeared at Consortium News.

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The End of Human Civlisation: War, Empire and Racism in the Anthropocene

INSURGE INTELLIGENCEThe Anthropocene. A proposed new geological epoch which designates a shift to a planetary age dominated by human impacts across the geological processes of the Earth. Geologists dispute the duration, precision, relevance and even accuracy of the concept. But the term has increasingly entered the scientific lexicon as increasing numbers of experts across myriad disciplines recognise that for the first time in history, the future of the entire planet — for generations if not millennia to come — is now being fundamentally determined by the activities of the human species. But the Anthropocene is about far more than just climate change. It is about an entire system of life, whose design is to maximise resource extraction at the expense of expendable ‘Others’. It is bound up, intimately, with a global system of racism emerging from the legacy of centuries of colonialism. And it is inseparable from the ceaseless sequence of industrial wars, culminating in today’s permanent state of the endless ‘war on terror’.

 

Terraforming the Earth beyond recognition

It is the unprecedented impact of anthropogenic climate change that has, perhaps, played the biggest role in efforts to define the Anthropocene as a distinctive new era in Earth’s history. Multiple warnings backed by a global consensus of climate scientists have warned over the last few decades that human activities, through the escalating consumption of fossil fuel resources — the burning of oil, gas and coal — is destabilising the Earth’s natural carbon cycle.

For hundreds of thousands of years, the planet has sustained an equilibrium, a ‘safe operating’ space offering an optimum environment for human and other habitation — in which the quantity of carbon emitted and absorbed by planetary ecosystems remains stable.

But since the Industrial Revolution, as human civilisation has inexorably expanded, consuming greater quantities of fossil fuel energy along the way, associated carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have exponentially increased — overwhelming the planet’s capacity for absorption. The result has been a steady increase in global average temperatures.

Scientists warn that the extra addition of CO2 into the atmosphere, capturing greater heat, is in turn playing escalating havoc with the Earth’s climate, weather and ecological systems. As human civilisation continues its expansion, as it continues to burn up escalating quantities of fossil fuels, the climate science community warns that above a certain level of CO2 and global heating, planetary ecosystems will shift passed a key tipping point into a new, dangerous era — one that is outside the boundaries of the preceding hundreds of thousands of years, outside anything human beings have ever experienced.

If we continue on this pathway of business-as-usual, conservative projections suggest we are heading toward anywhere between a 3 to 6 degrees Celsius global average temperature rise.

Others, such as Schroders, the global investment firm, have suggested we could be heading toward an 8C planet due to the current rate of fossil fuel consumption — the 8C temperature projection was also suggested by a study funded by US Department of Energy’s Climate Change Research Division, which highlighted the potential impact of ‘amplifying feedback loops’ triggered by altering earth system processes that might trigger further greenhouse gas loading.

Between 4–6C, most climate scientists agree that there would be such a degree of chaos that the planet would become largely uninhabitable. The variation is complicated, and depends on a concept called ‘Earth System Sensitivity’ — how sensitive the planet’s ecosystems are to the CO2 change. But even at a conservative estimate of sensitivity, a 3C planet, to which at minimum we are likely heading, should be considered “extremely dangerous”; and a global average temperature rise within the 3–4C threshold would probably create conditions that make the core infrastructures of human civilisation increasingly unviable.

To the extent that governments are taking seriously this threat, they are doing so largely with a view to assess the implications for their own functioning — and with a view to consider how to sustain business-as-usual amidst rising instability. This is the context in which many studies have concluded that our current climate change trajectory will increase the chance of conflict. For the most part, Western national security agencies that have examined the issue agree that while climate change does not automatically produce war, it acts as an ‘amplifier’ which increases the prospect of war, due to its impacts in terms of water scarcity, the degeneration of critical food systems, the failure of conventional energy supplies, and the unpredictable impact of extreme weather events. Such impacts can sometimes devastate infrastructures and lead to the collapse of public services. In those contexts, the proliferating outbreak of wars and conflicts is widely recognised to be a likely symptom of climate change on a business-as-usual pathway.

The problem is that this usually leads to little reflection on the need to change the human system that is producing this trajectory — instead, we are largely told of the need for a greater expansion of security powers to respond to the chaos of a climate-impacted world: the intensification of the same system that produced the problem.

On the polar opposite of the spectrum, we have outright state denialism rooted in the goal of protecting the system of endless fossil fuel exploitation at any conceivable cost. It is telling that the Trump administration, as of March 2019, was considering the creation of a White House panel to dispute the findings of dozens of US military and intelligence assessments on the grave security risks posed by climate change. Which is interesting, given that the Pentagon emits more fossil fuel emissions than as many as 140 different countries.

Sailors conduct flight operations on the USS Carl near North Korea. Photo | U.S. Navy

And yet, the preoccupation with war that emerges from the narrow lens of ‘national security’ through which the human gaze is obsessed primarily with physical threats to the interests of nation-states, is ultimately counterproductive, symptomatic of the fragmentary cognitive framing in which human institutions are currently capable of thinking and acting — it focuses myopically on how to uphold the survival of the business-as-usual operations of the state and the interests lobbying through it, overlooking the global existential character of the crisis as a threat to the whole species.

At the worst end of the scale, war would be the least of our problems: we have the risk of a ‘hothouse’ Earth. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the risk of an uninhabitable planet is not simply a far off possibility that might be triggered at several degrees of temperature rise in a more distant future — it could be triggered imminently; and it is possible that it may already have been triggered at the current level of an approximate 1C temperature rise above the pre-industrial average, which NASA’s former chief climate scientist James Hansen had argued is the safe upper limit, beyond which we move into a dangerous and more unpredictable climate with some consequences that may be irreversible.

But climate change is only one facet of the crisis. Our civilisational model, which has exponentially increasing energy and resource consumption as its driving motor, has seen human activities, exploitation and waste-generation accelerate across the planet. This has driven an escalating biodiversity crisis leading to potentially irreversible changes to soils and oceans, underpinning mass species extinctions.

 

Human civilisation and the war on life

About 15 years ago, the UN’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment provided one of the first and most damning insights into the destruction wrought by humans that defines the Anthropocene. The report pinpointed the mid-twentieth century as a marked tipping point into a new era, where rapidly intensifying industrial agriculture accompanied an escalating collapse of biodiversity.

Consumption of food, water and fuel has not only exponentially increased, it has exponentially encroached on habitats — more in the preceding 50 years alone than throughout all of human history. The extinction rate of species was “up to one thou­sand times higher than the fossil record”, when “every thousand mammal species, less than one went extinct every millen­nium”. The UN assessment projected that the rate is still going up, and will be “ten times higher” in the near future.

A girl searches recyclable materials near endangered Greater Adjutant Storks at a dumping site on the outskirts of Gauhati, India. Anupam Nath | AP

The situation is now far worse than expected. This year, the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services concluded that one million of the planet’s 8 million animal and plant species are at risk of going extinct in the near future, due to the expansion of human societies that has driven climate change, the loss of habitat, overfishing, pollution and invasive species.

Numerous studies have warned that our present trajectory is heading toward the collapse of our current form of civilisation. One model developed with NASA funding indicated that the current endless growth model of human civilisation was likely to lead to diminishing returns and deepening economic stratification, eventually culminating in collapse. All civilisations, the model seemed to show, tend to follow a growth trajectory consisting of an increasing intensification in complexity, whereby greater layers of complexity are continuously innovated to solve problems.

With each new layer, more complex problems are generated, requiring a further even more complex layer of problem-solving to address them, which in turn generates further problems. The cycle, drawing on the work of archaeologist Joseph Tainter who studied dozens of past civilisations, suggests that any civilisation will eventually collapse under the unsustainable weight of its own complexity due to excessive resource consumption and internal maldistribution of wealth — unless consumption and distribution begin to be rectified in time.

This particular model was fairly simple, focusing on a smaller number of variables to explore the general plausibility of the core hypothesis. A few years later, a far more complex scientific model with thousands of data inputs was developed by Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute. with funding from the British Foreign Office. When run forward on a business-as-usual trajectory, the model suggested that human civilisation would probably collapse around 2040 amidst an eruption of converging climate, energy, food and water crises that would devastate major economies amidst an epidemic of food riots. Conventional war might happen — but either way, the planet would likely experience a proliferation of civil unrest within, between and across borders.

This year, a scenario analysis backed by the former head of Australia’s military drew on the peer-reviewed scientific literature to outline a plausible business-as-usual trajectory, based on what we know about how planetary ecosystems can respond to human-induced CO2 emissions. The scenario took seriously the scientific evidence of a potential ‘hothouse’ Earth scenario. It suggested that by 2050, human societies would face “outright chaos” due to escalating climate-impacts on key ecosystems, with two billion people suffering from water scarcity and another billion requiring relocation just to survive. The prospects would severely strain the capacity of human civilisation to function, and increase the chances of its collapse. The authors of this analysis called on the national security sector, the agencies of war, to respond more appropriately to these risks by supporting a comprehensive World War 2 style mobilisation to transition to a post-carbon civilisation.

While perhaps well-intentioned, the report did not recognise that war agencies might be structurally incapable of undertaking such a response precisely due to their embeddedness in the institutions captured by the very same fossil fuel system — and that such a transformation would conceivably imperil their very reason for being.

Another assessment in the form of a scientific briefing commissioned to feed into the UN’s Sustainable Development report found that one of the key drivers behind the growing risk of collapse is the very nature of the endless growth model of capitalism, as currently structured. The more we escalate our consumption of resources, raw materials, minerals and energy, the more we are using up the cheapest and most plentiful resources, and therefore the greater the costs of continued production. Drawing on the pioneering work of environmentalist Professor Charles Hall, the study advocated a focus on the ‘energy return on investment’ (EROI) of national and global energy systems to measure how efficient they really are (EROI measures the quantity of energy used to extract energy). The answer? Efficiency is declining for largely geological reasons. As the costs increase due to the need for greater quantities of energy and more complicated mechanisms of exploitation; the returns to society diminish.

Fire response crews spray water on the burning remnants of BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig. US Coast Guard | AP

As we are using ever increasing quantities of energy and resources just to extract more energy and resources, the surplus we have left to sustain the financing of the public goods and services necessary to maintain a functioning civilisation is declining. This doesn’t mean we are running out of energy — but it means that as the energetic and environmental costs of energy extraction increase, we effectively have less and less spare to invest back into key social goods.

French economists Victor Court and Florian Fizaine showed in a recent global EROI study that we are well passed the maximum levels of efficiency. The amount of energy we can extract from fossil fuels compared to the energy used to extract it was once lucratively high — around 44:1 in the 1960s. Since then it has inexorably declined to just over 30 overall, accompanied by a long-term slow-down in the growth rate of the global economy, a decline in productivity, and an expansion of debt. At this rate of decline, by 2100 we are projected to extract the same value of EROI from fossil fuels as we were in the 1800s. While there might be more actual total energy being produced by end of century, the surplus energy available could be at nineteenth century levels if we continue on a business-as-usual path of fossil fuel-dependence.

This predicament is already driving social unrest, communal polarisation and the resurgence of populism in a situation where neither governments nor wider publics really understand why economies continue to experience chronic dysfunction, instability and tepid growth.

The report to the UN forecasted that this trajectory means that the current economic system, which depends on endless growth to survive, simply cannot be sustained. It therefore portends a future of increasing unrest without a change of course. We will inevitably shift toward a new, different type of economy — if we don’t, then we face a heightened risk of social tensions that could cascade into conflict; and at worse we may well face the danger of collapse.

 

War in the mirror of civilisation

The risk of collapse is inherently entwined with war — industrial civilisation’s growth trajectory has not only enabled the technologies of war, but is in turn enabled by them.

Earlier this year, the main scientific committee established to determine the accuracy and nature of the definition of the Anthropocene signed off on its initial proposal positing 1950 as the starting date for the new geological era.

The sign off is the first stage of a longer scientific process to properly investigate and test what is still, in raw scientific terms, a mere hypothesis. The scientists based their preliminary evaluations on the mid-twentieth century as a major tipping point into a new era of human interference with the Earth’s geology, characterised by industrial expansion, the proliferation of agricultural chemicals, and most significant of all, the invention and deployment of the atomic bomb. The latter’s radioactive debris became embedded in sediments and glacial ice, becoming part of the geologic record. All this demonstrates an unprecedented and unmistakeable human footprint across the planet whose impacts will be seen for decades, centuries and millennia to come.

War, then, is carved into the sinews of the Anthropocene. While the twentieth and twenty-first centuries can be seen as exemplifying the inherently ecocidal dynamic of the exponential growth of human civilisation, they have also exhibited another parallel feature: the systematic proliferation of war, mass violence, and multiple forms of genocide.

These parallel features — ecocide and genocide; the destruction of our environmental life-support systems, and our direct destruction of the lives of members of our own species — do not coincide haphazardly, but are symptoms of the system of human life itself, in its current form.

From 1945 onwards, human civilisation was caught between the clash of two pseudo-scientific industrial ideologies of endless growth: capitalism and communism — the former premised on extreme privatisation and individuation, the latter premised on extreme nationalisation and collectivisation.

Both paradigms saw the Earth as little more than an external repository of resources to be exploited ad infinitum for the endless consumption of a human species, now self-defined by its capacity for technologically-driven industry.

Both promised that their paradigms would herald utopian oases of industrial prosperity for their respective societies.

Waseem Akram takes a break while working at coal depot in Karachi, Pakistan. Shakil Adil | AP

In reality, both not only ‘Otherised’ the Earth itself as merely a resource to be consumed by human beings as a predator species, they simultaneously ‘Otherised’ large sections of working populations in and beyond their own demarcated territories, as little more than instruments by which to endlessly accelerate industrial productivity; and they both went on to mindlessly ‘Otherise’ each other whenever they clashed with each other (and even when they did not).

The result was that in their very different efforts to expand, both systems resulted in the mass deaths of millions of people on a colossal scale.

The Soviet Union and Maoist China deployed brutal collectivisation methods on their path toward accelerating productivity, which produced foreseeable mass deaths. This included the generation of devastating artificial famines. Stalin’s policies eliminated between 20 and 60 million people; Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ caused 27 million people to starve to death.

But liberal Western governments also left a trail of blood of a quite distinct kind, in the first major spate of violence since the dawn of the Anthropocene as so far tentatively defined.

From 1945 onwards, Western governments under the leadership of the United States — bearing the mantle of leader of the ‘Capitalist Free World’ — pursued a continuous sequence of direct and covert military interventions across the world. Western military interventions generated a continuum of violence in over 70 developing nations across Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East from mid-century until today.

British historian Mark Curtis calculates that the total number of direct and indirect deaths from these interventions is approximately 8.6–13.5 million — a conservative underestimate, he qualifies. The interventions were often aimed at quelling nationalist movements for self-determination. Although publicly justified as defensive actions to repel communist subversion, Curtis’ evaluation of historical archives from the US and British governments revealed that policy planners had deliberately inflated the communist threat to justify a militarism aimed at defending Western business interests and acquiring control of critical resources and raw materials. In the Middle East, the biggest prize was control of strategic fossil fuel reserves, the very lifeblood of economic growth.

Members of 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division sit in a C-17 at Sather Air Base in Baghdad, Iraq. Maya Alleruzzo | AP

Development economist J. W. Smith has offered a higher estimate of the death toll, which he puts somewhere between 12–15 million deaths directly due to Western military interventions, with further “hundreds of millions” dying as an indirect consequence of the destruction and reconfiguration of their economies. Smith traced how Western interventions paved the way for the imposition of new capitalist social relations designed to extinguish domestic resistance and forcibly integrate developing countries into the global capitalist economy.

In the twenty-first century, this war trajectory has escalated, not waned. The driving motor remains the use of force to expand access to resources and labour, in order to lubricate the ever-expanding networks of global capital. It is a process sanitised, though, by various ideologies of humanitarianism, benign developmentalism, and ‘national security’.

The principal interventions of the ‘war on terror’ in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, are resource wars in core ways.

British Foreign Office documents prove clearly that American and British policy-planners saw the invasion and occupation of Iraq as a way to consolidate access to one of the world’s largest oil reserves, while ensuring the continued flow of to global markets with a view to help stabilise the global economy. In Afghanistan, Congressional records have revealed longstanding US-Western efforts to establish a trans-Afghan pipeline route for the transport of oil and gas from Central Asia to Western markets, bypassing US rivals Iran and Russia. In the 1990s, the US and British even funnelled support to the Taliban in a failed bid to establish the ‘security’ needed to pursue the plan.

Consecutively, the Obama and Trump administrations both continued to back the pipeline project which remains under construction.

In the Anthropocene, resource wars are bipartisan.

Both conflicts wrought colossal violence. Although the more widely accepted estimates of deaths in the hundreds of thousands are terrible enough, higher scale estimates could be more accurate, ranging up to a total of around 4 million people killed directly and indirectly across both conflicts since 1990.

Since then, war in the Anthropocene has intensified and proliferated in new and surprising ways as the more vulnerable nodes of human civilisation have begun to experience overlapping levels of failure and collapse due to the slow acceleration of converging climate, energy, food and water crises. The 2011 Arab Spring uprisings spiralled into a protracted, coalescing amalgamation of riots, civil wars and armed conflicts encompassing multiple theatres, Syria, Yemen, Libya and beyond.

The Arab Spring had been triggered by food price shocks which were, in turn, driven by a confluence of economic-energy shocks interacting with a series of climate shocks which had led to droughts and extreme weather crises across the world’s major food basket regions. Many Arab Spring countries from Syria to Egypt to Yemen had slashed subsidies for food and fuel in preceding years, largely due to the collapse of state revenues — many of them had been former major oil exporters, but in the mid-1990s had experienced peaks of their domestic conventional oil resources. As production thus declined, so did export revenues. With subsidies in the years before 2011 disappearing, coupled with global price spikes due to rampant market speculation on commodity prices coupled with global food shortages, prices of staple foods in these largely import-dependent countries rocketed. As the price of bread became unaffordable, people across the region hit the streets.

Protesters take the streets during anti-government protests, in Tebourba, south of the Tunisian capital, Tunis, Jan. 9, 2018. Anis Ben Ali | AP

The Earth system crisis of the Anthropocene played a critical role in prolonging and amplifying this Middle East crisis, which in turn drove migration and asylum seeking from 2011 to 2015 to an unprecedented degree. Some 11.5 percent of the population of Syria alone has been killed in the ensuing conflict. The West, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE have vied for control of Syria for a range of geopolitical reasons, not least of which was its centrality to potential transhipment routes for oil and gas to global markets. Partisans of these different forces tend to absolve their favoured side(s) of complicity, but it is worth noting that prior to the 2011 uprising the State Department was actively negotiating with Syria and EU officials to push forward a pipeline route through the country to transport Iraqi oil to Europe; Russia simultaneously saw Assad’s efforts to capitalise on Syria’s strategic position vis-a-vis the region’s energy corridors as a fundamental threat to Putin’s own gas export plans — the war provided the ideal spoiler, with each side using it to try to further their own interests, the Syrian people be damned.

In the Anthropocene, so-called anti-imperialists have few qualms about fighting resource wars in their own self-interest.

The million plus migrants that turned up on the shores of Europe did so as a direct result of these wars. They were escaping devastating geopolitical conflicts amplified by vested interests, but which had also been created or exacerbated by severe droughts amplified by climate change.

According to the co-author of a key study of the climate-migration connection, Dr Raya Muttarak — a senior lecturer in geography and international development at the University of East Anglia: “The effect of climate on conflict occurrence is particularly relevant for countries in Western Asia in the period 2010–2012, when many were undergoing political transformation during the so-called Arab Spring uprisings.” Muttarak and his team showed that climate change laid the groundwork for the simmering tensions which led to the outbreak of war in Syria and across parts of the region, by generating droughts that led to mass migration.

The mass migration triggered by these processes, in turn, have transformed and radicalised politics across the Western hemisphere. They provided the fodder for extreme nationalist narratives funded by colossal quantities of ‘dark money’ from a cross-section of trans-Atlantic right-wing elites, many of whom hold vested interests in perpetuating deregulation for fossil fuel giants and other giant corporations.

The mass migration thus stoked nativist fears that helped fuel the rise of extreme nationalist movements, which suddenly found renewed constituencies for their views and policies with increasing numbers of ordinary citizens who felt disillusioned with the prevailing order, but had no way of making sense of it. They knew, can feel, that something is deeply wrong, that the old order is collapsing, but their diagnosis is incomplete, narcissistic, fragmented and symptom-oriented. As such, it has led to incomplete, narcissistic, fragmented and symptom-oriented political reactionism.

Protesters block full of immigrant children during a protest outside a U.S. Border Patrol Processing Center in McAllen, Texas. David J. Phillip | AP

The series of victories for the far-right that followed the eruption of Earth system crisis in the Middle East between 2011 and 2015 can thus be seen as a direct consequence of an incoherent cognitive response to the crisis, which reacted purely to its chief symptom: the desperate mass movement of vulnerable peoples.

We thus witnessed a series of seismic shifts in the reconfiguration of Western political systems, a hardening and centralising of power, a self-centring of values, a defensive rejectionism of science, and a polarising of identities, manifesting in a string of extreme nationalist wins. In 2014, far-right parties won just under a quarter of all seats in the European Parliament. In 2015, David Cameron was re-elected as Prime Minister with a parliamentary majority, a victory attributed in part to his promise to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. Unbeknownst to many, the Tories had quietly established wide-ranging links with many of the same far-right parties that were now capturing seats in the EU. The following year in June, the ‘Brexit’ referendum shocked the world with its result: a majority vote to leave the EU. Six months later, billionaire real estate guru Donald Trump became president of the world’s most powerful country. Like the Conservatives in the UK, the Republicans too had forged trans-Atlantic connections with European parties and movements of the extreme-right. Since then, far-right parties have made continued electoral gains across Europe in Italy, Sweden, Germany, France, Poland and Hungary; they are now just short of a third of seats in the European Parliament — and they are rapidly consolidating elsewhere, in the Philippines, Brazil, India, Myanmar and beyond.

The troubles and tribulations of contemporary politics, the increasing polarisation between left and right, the chronic incapacity to engage constructively across ideological divides, have become a pantomime hyperreality obsessing our consciousness through our television screens, desk computers, laptops, smartphones and wearable devices. The missing link is the planetary context — the crises of contemporary politics are, indeed, tidal waves, but they are occurring on the surface of an ocean in turmoil, of which, for all intents and purposes, we remain oblivious.

Political crisis is a symptom of the accelerating Earth system crisis. And as Clausewitz famously said, war is a continuation of politics by other means.

 

Colonisation and globalisation in the Anthropocene

Not everyone agrees, though, that the Anthropocene began in the mid-twentieth century. Some argue that there is a strong geological case for the Anthropocene commencing with the dawn of modern global empire.

British geographers Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin have put forward a much earlier date for this unprecedented era, one that “adheres to the geological criteria for defining an epoch: 1610. This date marks the irreversible exchange of species following the collision of the Old and New worlds”, which coincided with “an associated unusual drop in atmospheric CO2 captured in Antarctic ice cores.”

This alternative dating for the Anthropocene derives from the measurable impact of farming in relation to the colonisation of America by the Spanish, a pivotal event which many historians see as marking the inception of a new, distinctive age of empire that facilitated the birth of global capitalism. The drop in CO2 at the time, visible today in the ice cores, resulted from “vegetation regrowth on abandoned farmlands following the deaths of 50 million indigenous Americans (mostly from smallpox brought by Europeans). The annexing of the Americas by Europe was also an essential precursor to the Industrial Revolution and therefore captures associated later waves of environmental change.”

This alternative dating offers a compelling re-envisioning of the Anthropocene that associates it directly with the violence of empire, with the 1610 date providing the bridge connecting the historical violence of colonial discovery with its ensuing expansionism through biological conquest.

Survivors and supporters look at photos of vitctims of the Bhopal gas disaster in New Delhi, India. Photo | AP

This encompassed the mass ‘free market’ famines in Ireland and India, which saw the deaths of one million and up to 12 million respectively; as well as the trans-Atlantic slave-trade which saw the deaths of as many as 65 million Africans over five centuries — a blood-drenched international regime that was inextricably linked to the formation of a capitalist world system that helped facilitate Britain’s industrial revolution.

By this standard, the Anthropocene — encompassing the period in which the human species most profoundly and near-permanently began transforming the very geology of the Earth — simultaneously represents the rapid expansion of empire, and with it, the systematic construction of new racial categories to legitimise the emerging system of global apartheid that came with it.

In this very period, we saw the dawn of scientific racism, the formal and scientifically-justified concept of multiple races, the grotesque legacy of which we continue to struggle with today. The idea that there are different ‘races’ can be traced back to the political appropriation and distortion of neo-Darwinian theories of evolution to underpin racial hierarchies which positioned white Europeans at the pinnacle of civilised human advancement in this juggernaut of global industrial expansion.

Racism, then, is not discrimination against other ‘races’. It is the very act of creating the notion of a distinctive ‘race’ of people — that is, of possessing common generalised characteristics, an act inseparable from the very dawn of the Anthropocene, which witnessed the emergence of a civilisation defined by its insatiable hunger for resources and labour.

Polarised constructions of the ‘Other’ have played a crucial ideological function throughout the Anthropocene, cleaving human beings from the environments in which they find themselves, and cleaving them apart from each other into exploitative factions of power. And so it is no surprise that the formalisation of racism as a global system appeared to solidify during the industrial revolution, as the human species’ domination of the Earth began to reach exponential acceleration.

In the early nineteenth century, racism manifested largely as a religious ideology linked to interpretations of the Bible, viewing non-European groups as inherently inferior due to their heathen beliefs and ancestry, and frequently targeted Jews. From the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries, racism evolved on the basis of scientifically-justified biological theories which attributed fixed traits, behaviours, characteristics, abilities and disabilities to constructed groups of people based on their supposedly distinctive biological characteristics. Since then, racism has continued to evolve and is largely underpinned by a cultural theory which still projects homogenised constructions of different social groups with common traits and characteristics, but derived instead from their affiliation to a culture, ethnicity, nation, language or faith. Often, racism today borrows from across these subliminal theories — its proponents frequently not even recognising what they are doing.

Israeli police watch as women wait to cross the Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, a checkpoint only Palestinians are required to use. Majdi Mohammed | AP

The late sociologist Stuart Hall famously described “race” as a “floating signifier”. Rather than being a fixed concept, he explained, race has always been a deeply and inherently political construct, projected by powerful dominant groups, justifying unequal power relations with other groups. As such, it is a construct that changes and adapts to historical circumstance. Far from being exclusively biologically determined, Hall showed that the new type of cultural racism moves beyond discrimination related to skin colour. Instead, it focuses on the imagined cultures of people, generalised abstractions about their beliefs and practices, projecting a hierarchy of cultures. Racialised stereotypes can thus cut across colour divides, and ‘non-racial’ categories like faith, culture and civilisation can become racist code for similar discriminatory practices. One result is the projection of an unsurpassable divide between the “West” and “the Rest”, in which “Westerners” are seen as “civilised”, “safe”, “known”, while “migrants”, “Muslims”, “asylum seekers”, “foreigners” and so on are viewed as “uncivilised”, “dangerous”, and “different”.

The deepening and acceleration of identity-politics is a defining feature of the tail-end of the Anthropocene, as the endless growth project of maximum extraction, exploitation and centralisation of resources invents and entrenches multiple divides between human beings on its path of self-legitimisation. And so, too, the devastating impacts of the Earth system crisis remain racialised, with the worst consequences disproportionately affecting the poorer, darker nations around the world.

War is, perhaps, the most visible surface-symptom of the Anthropocene’s defining feature.

In the Anthropocene, we all become Others.

It is not yet too late to begin to actively redefine the meaning of the Anthropocene.

For ultimately, the character of the Anthropocene so far is a reflection of the system of human civilisation within the prevailing paradigm. This is a life-destroying paradigm, a death-machine whose internal logic culminates in its own termination. It is a matrix of interlocking beliefs, values, behaviours and organisational forms which functions as a barrier, not an entry-point, to life, nature and reality.

And in that sense, the end of this paradigm is utterly inevitable. But this does not erase the choice before us — which is to decide whether humanity will perish in the ashes of this paradigm, or plant seeds of a new life-affirming paradigm by building out an emerging system for the flourishing of a new ecological civilisation.

If human civilisation is to survive, it will not be what we see before us — erected on the blood of millions; premised on the exhaustion of planetary resources; crushing the bones of the poor, vulnerable and weak; hell-bent on self-annihilation — that does so. This is a paradigm beguiled by a techno-hyperreality of its own projection; a utopian simulacrum of endless growth, desperately attempting to conceal its own dystopic core from self-awareness.

And so our task is to reflect on what we have truly done to each other, and to the planet; and to recognise that these two phenomena are part of the same self-defeating paradigm: one which perpetually constructs a hyperreality of divisions, borders, and boundaries around projected externalisations of the ‘Other’, seemingly necessitating exploitative, parasitical behaviours. What emerges from this recognition is the relinquishing of the binary delusions that have riven the path of civilisation for hundreds of years, and thereby an embracing of a new vision of what it means to be human — retrieving the essence of our existence as beings who, together, have come from, and will inevitably return to, the Earth itself.

Feature photo | A soldier of the Scots Dragoon Guards sits on a Challenger 2 tank in Basra, southern Iraq, in this undated photo. Dan Chung | AP

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is the founding editor of the 100% reader-funded investigative journalism project INSURGE intelligence. His latest book is Failing States, Collapsing Systems: BioPhysical Triggers of Political Violence (Springer, 2017). He is an 18-year investigative journalist, formerly of The Guardian where he reported on the geopolitics of social, economic and environmental crises. He now reports on ‘global system change’ for VICE’s Motherboard. He has bylines in The Times, Sunday Times, The Independent on Sunday, The Independent, The Scotsman, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, New York Observer, The New Statesman, Prospect, Le Monde diplomatique, among other places. He has twice won the Project Censored Award for his investigative reporting; twice been featured in the Evening Standard’s top 1,000 list of most influential Londoners; and won the Naples Prize, Italy’s most prestigious literary award created by the President of the Republic. Nafeez is also a widely-published and cited interdisciplinary academic applying complex systems analysis to ecological and political violence. He is a Research Fellow at the Schumacher Institute.

This article was originally commissioned by the Spanish magazine Papeles, where a slightly abridged Spanish-language edition is due to be published.

The post The End of Human Civlisation: War, Empire and Racism in the Anthropocene appeared first on MintPress News.

MintPress Reporter Detained Amid Honduran Police Crackdown on Coup Anniversary Protests

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS — Repression against resistance activists in Honduras has become increasingly lethal as the country braces for planned protests ahead of the 10-year anniversary of a U.S.-backed coup. Police and military forces have used live rounds against students, resulting in at least three deaths, as protests heat up ahead of the anniversary on Friday.

For months, Hondurans have taken to the streets to oppose government measures targeting public healthcare and education as part of a wider deal with the International Monetary Fund. The movement, instigated by teachers’ and healthcare workers’ unions, struck a nerve and was quickly joined by other groups. Initially, the primary aim of the protest was for the government to cancel the IMF deal, but as repression increased, so too did calls for the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernández.

This is a picture from the funeral today for 17-year-old Elbin, the student activists shot dead by police in Honduras. A young man carrying his casket wears a shirt that says “Fuera JOH” – the acronym for the president Juan Orlando Hernandez. It tells him to leave office pic.twitter.com/J2u6VBGhzh

— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) June 22, 2019


Hernández’s policies as president have thrown fuel on the fire initiated by the first post-coup governments. Neoliberal economic reforms have devastated the public sector with mass-layoffs and budget cuts and caused poverty rates to skyrocket, while violence against women and sexual minorities has also increased. Hernández has only exacerbated these problems and dealt with frustration over them with increased militarization.

Hernández — commonly known by his acronym JOH — ran for reelection in 2017 in violation of the Honduran constitution, which forbids anyone who has served as president to hold the post again. Meanwhile, the election itself was marred by massive fraud on multiple levels. The United States recognized his then-contested presidency despite the recent revelation that Hernández and some of his closest advisors have been under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration for participating “in large-scale drug trafficking and money laundering activities relating to the importation of cocaine into the United States” since 2013. President Hernández’s brother is currently in prison in the United States for charges also related to drug trafficking.

Today, the capital city of Tegucigalpa is filled with anti-Hernández graffiti, and the streets are periodically flooded with protesters calling for him to leave office. On the ground, activists tell MintPress News that things may be coming to a head.

In a testament to the government’s unease, I was detained at the airport upon landing in Tegucigalpa on Wednesday to cover this story.

I was just let out of detainment at the airport in the capital of Honduras. They didn't explain why the detained me, just asked a bunch of questions.

Stay tuned to @MintPressNews as we approach the 10yr anniversary of the US-backed coup in this country. Much more to come pic.twitter.com/vuIanSQzXc

— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) June 26, 2019

Travelers seeking to attend a conference of resistance leaders have had difficulty entering the country, and I would appear to be among them — as is Adrienne Pine, professor of anthropology at American University, and a handful of Telesur journalists.

The conference is being held by the Liberty and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), the political party led by the ousted former president, Manuel Zelaya. On Wednesday, one LIBRE official bemoaned to MintPress that there has not been a single hospital or high school built in the country since the coup.

LIBRE members of congress have been using firecrackers and horns to disrupt the body. Currently, all legislation is at an impasse. The body has responded by refusing to pay LIBRE congress members’ salaries.

 

Lethal Repression

Police have been relying on heavy-handed tactics to repress protests for over a month, including the use of live rounds and tear gas. In the past week, the situation has only worsened. 

In response to the unrest, President Hernández’s political party paid protesters to come to the capital to “march for peace” in the country. Articles and videos posted to social media show the cash being distributed to protesters.

At the peace march, one student was violently beaten by a pro-Hernández crowd. Hernández also ordered 25,000 troops into the streets to quell what many say is now an uprising.

Los que salieron a pedir paz, el día de hoy golpearon a un estudiante de periodismo por suponerlo de lanzar una bomba lacrimógena. pic.twitter.com/faiHX1u0in

— MarioGuevara (@guevaramariotv) June 23, 2019

In the course of three days, three people were shot dead by police, including one Eblin Noel Corea Maradiaga, who would have turned 18 years old on July 10.

Police have also cracked down on students from the Honduran Technical Institute and raided the National Autonomous University of Honduras, claiming students had kidnapped a police officer and were in possession of “bazookas.” Police provided no evidence to back their claims and neither weapons or the kidnapped officer were recovered in the raid, which was illegal under Honduran law. Four students were shot during the raid; however, they appear to be recovering.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras said it had “deep dismay over the consequences of the operation of the military forces.”

Meanwhile, a young man with protective status as a human-rights defender was brutally beaten by police and was left with a severely broken arm, according to x-rays.

Resistance leaders from the education and healthcare sectors put out a joint statement condemning the attack on the Autonomous University and announcing plans for further actions on Thursday and Friday.

This morning in Honduras: a right-wing newspaper laments the loss of 10 million lempiras ($400,000) in property destruction in the 51 days of protest against president Juan Orlando Hernandez pic.twitter.com/izMg1jIGbZ

— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) June 27, 2019

Gerardo Torres, Secretary for International Affairs of the LIBRE Party, tells MintPress News that they are undeterred by the repression: 

We see once again an increase of the violence from the Honduran state. We have seen this before. They increase the use of guns, repression, torture, death squads. Normally they point their guns at the youngest people in the protest and they go to the most poor neighborhoods, and they kill people to try to deter the participation, but we’re beyond being deterred.

They only have two options: first, it’s not the most likely, but they understand we won’t stop and try to find a negotiation or buy people with extortion. The other way is they increase the repression even more. 

The problem with that is that we have shown to the world their real character as human-rights abusers. And they don’t want that. So we put them in a tight position. They don’t want to do either: they don’t want to negotiate and they don’t want to crack down more.”

MintPress News will continue its coverage of the coup anniversary in Honduras in the coming weeks with articles, protest footage and interviews with resistance leaders and analysts on the ground.

Feature photo | Police stand behind their shields as they march lockstep towards protesters calling for the ousting of U.S.-backed President Juan Orlando Hernandez, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, May 31, 2019. Elmer Martinez | AP

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

The post MintPress Reporter Detained Amid Honduran Police Crackdown on Coup Anniversary Protests appeared first on MintPress News.

Palestine and Kenya: Our Historic Fight against Injustice Is One and the Same

In 1948, my grandfather, along with thousands of Badrasawis, was expelled by Israeli military forces from our ancestral village of Beit Daras in Palestine. 

Like hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from over 500 other villages, my grandfather assumed he would be back home in a few weeks. “Why bother to haul the good blankets on the back of a donkey, exposing them to the dust of the journey, when we know that we will return to Beit Daras in a week or so?” he asked my bewildered grandmother, Zeinab. 

Beit Daras was located 32 kilometers north-east of the Gaza Strip, perched between a large hill and a small river that seemed never to run dry. A massacre took place as people fled the village. Houses were blown up, and wells and granaries sabotaged.

A peaceful village, that had existed for millennia, was completely destroyed with the intention of erasing it from existence. In its place now stands the Israeli towns of Giv’ati, Azrikam, and Emunim. The life of those Israeli towns is based on the death of our village. 

Seventy years later, we have still not returned. Not just the Badrasawis, but millions of Palestinians, who are scattered in refugee camps all across the Middle East and a growing diaspora globally. Our good blankets have been lost forever, replaced with endless exile and dispossession.

The occupation of Palestine is not a “conflict” – as the Israelis like to present it. Israel is a colonial power that is ethnically cleansing an entire indigenous population in order to legitimize and grow its colony. 

And like all people, we Palestinians have the right to resist colonial domination and occupation. This is an inalienable right enshrined in international law. 

It is this right that justified Africa’s anti-colonial struggles and wars of liberation in the 1950s and 1960s, the American Revolution and the Cuban Revolution. This right also legitimates Palestinian resistance – whether that resistance is through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, prosecution of Israeli war criminals at the International Criminal Court, or through armed struggle.

Dedan Kimathi is celebrated as a hero to Kenyans because of his resistance to – not because of his subservience to – colonialism and occupation. The Mau Mau rebellion is a source of inspiration – not just for Kenyans – but for all of humanity. 

Leader of the Mau Mau uprising and anti-colonialist hero Dedan Kimathi was labeled a terrorist by Europe and the United States

Israel will claim its occupation of Palestine is self-defense; that its demolition of Palestinian homes, detention without trial policies, construction of illegal settlements, theft of Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, are necessary for ‘security’. Israeli security and peace cannot be built on injustice and occupation – at the expense of Palestinian security, justice, dignity and peace. The life of one group should not be based on the death of the other. 

Israeli military strikes on Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip are always portrayed as a “response” to Palestinian fire. But Palestinian fire is never contextualized. It is never “in return” for the cruel, years-long Israeli siege that has systematically destroyed Gaza’s economy and subjected an entire generation of Palestinian children to malnutrition-related deficiencies. 

It is never “in return” for decades of devastating military occupation of Palestinian land and life. Fire from Gaza is never “in return” for the continued dispossession of historic Palestine which made most of the population in Gaza refugees in the first place.

The Palestinian liberation struggle is simply dismissed as “terrorism”. The word “terrorism” is readily applied to Palestinian individuals or groups who use homemade bombs, but never to a nuclear-armed Israeli state that has used white phosphorous, DIME bombs, and other internationally-prohibited weapons against Palestinian civilians. 

What is happening in occupied Palestine is incremental genocide – not self-defense. Israel is asking the Palestinian people to let their freedom die so that the Israeli people can live. 

A Palestinian medic helps a priest that was teargassed by Israeli police in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June. 25, 2019. Nasser Nasser | AP

Submit or fight. These were the two choices facing Kenyans during your anti-colonial struggle. Like you, we Palestinians have also chosen to fight for our dignity – for ourselves and our children. We will not let our dream of freedom die.

For me, Beit Daras is not just a piece of earth but a perpetual fight for justice that shall never cease, because the Badrasawis belong to Beit Daras and nowhere else.

Israel can no longer rationalize its oppression of Palestinians by blaming Palestinians who exercise their natural and internationally recognized right to resist occupation and colonialism.

We will continue to resist Israeli colonialism, armed with our rights and international law.

Editor’s note | Palestinian author and journalist, Dr. Ramzy Baroud arrived to Kenya for a 10-day speaking and media tour starting June 23. Exploring the subjects of intersectionality, solidarity and popular resistance, Baroud is set to speak at various universities and appear on Kenyan television and radio stations. 

Feature photo | Palestinians hurl stones at Israeli troops while others burn tires to cover themselves from Israeli snipers near the fence of the Gaza border with Israel, Oct. 26, 2018. Adel Hana | AP

Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a widely published and translated author, an internationally syndicated columnist and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter (2015), and was a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB. Visit his website at  www.ramzybaroud.net.

A version of this article first appeared in The Star

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Morsi Died, or Was Murdered, While Reciting a Patriotic Poem in a Cage

Former President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, had finished his 15-minute discourse in a courtroom, while being locked inside a sound-proofed cage. He read a poem about his love for Egypt, and then collapsed, and died.

His demise sent shock-waves all over Egypt, the region and the Muslim world.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to accept the official story, claiming that the former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi “did not die, he was murdered”.

More came from different corners of the world. According to Reuters:

A British member of Parliament, Crispin Blunt, who had led a delegation of UK lawmakers and lawyers last year in putting out a report on Mursi’s detention, slammed the conditions of Mursi’s incarceration.

We want to understand whether there was any change in his conditions since we reported in March 2018, and if he continued to be held in the conditions we found, then I’m afraid the Egyptian government are likely to be responsible for his premature death,” he said in remarks to the BBC.”

Human rights organizations, heads of state, as well as the common citizens of Egypt, were outraged by the demise of Mohamed Morsi (also spelt as Mursi), a former Egyptian leader who governed the nation after winning the first democratic elections in the modern history of the country in 2012, just a year after the brutal pro-Western dictator, Hosni Mubarak, was deposed in 2011.

Mr. Morsi was overthrown in 2013, in a violent military coup just one year after he was sworn into the highest office.

Let’s be clear: Mohamed Morsi was not a ‘good president’. In fact, he was not supposed to be a president at all: the original candidate from his party was disqualified from the elections on a technicality, and Mr. Morsi was asked to take his place. And he won, by a small margin.

He made some serious errors, politically, economically and socially.

He flooded tunnels between Gaza and Sinai.

And under his leadership, more than 40 people died during the violence in Port Said. 

When he felt threatened, he used to give orders to fire poisonous gasses at the protesters.

But he was not a murderer. And in ‘modern’ Egypt, that was quite an achievement.

He tried to improve the dire situation in his country, but he kept failing. 

On the other hand, he separated his government from the gangrenous military embrace. The western-sponsored Egyptian military has been managing to infiltrate everything (under Mubarak’s rule as well as now), fully controlling all aspects of the Egyptian state.

After the coup in Alexandria – they wanted Morsi back. Credit | Andre Vltchek

Mr. Morsi tried to please everyone in the terribly divided Egyptian society. But in the end, nobody was satisfied.

Hard-liners in his Muslim Brotherhood hated him for not being radical enough. The anti-religious Left despised him for not pushing harder for social reforms, and for a secular state. He was both obeying the US and the IMF, while at the same time alienating them. 

In the end, he appeared like an uncertain, confused and weak man.

In 2012 and 2013, my friends, my left-wing comrades, were battling police in front of the Presidential Palace in Cairo. I was there, with them, filming, face covered with water-soaked rags in order to at least somehow protect myself from the highly poisonous teargas.

In those days, no one seemed to like Morsi.

The rallying cry during the anti-Morsi protests was:

We sing to those who deserve to die;

Morsi-Morsi-Morsi!”

Protesters could not have known that 7 years later, their prophecy would come through.

After the military overthrew the democratically elected government (on 3 July 2013), massacres began. Officially hundreds, but most likely thousands of people lost their lives. Tens of thousands were arrested, disappeared, tortured, raped, and exiled.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood were liquidated (soon after the coup it became a banned organization), but also various left-wing organizations and individuals, as well as all those people who were against the corrupt right-wing military and its dictatorship.

Several of my friends had to leave the country. Others are still in prison. Or in hiding.

Former dictator, Western puppet and assassin Hosni Mubarak, is now a free man again. He is 91 years old. 

67-year-old Mohamed Morsi is dead.

During the Morsi era, as well as during and after the 2013 coup, I was working in Egypt, making a documentary film for the Venezuelan television channel Telesur (“Egipto – El Fin de Una Revolucion” – “Egypt, End of the Revolution”). 

First, I investigated and wrote about the crimes committed during the reign of President Morsi in the city of Port Said: “Notes from a Besieged City”.

And then, I was right there, in the middle of the battles, when the Egyptian military overthrew Morsi’s government and began liquidating both the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Egyptian left wing. I described the events in my essays “Egypt End of Hope” and “Egypt in the Eye of the Storm”. Many more essays from Egypt were then compiled in my book “Exposing Lies of The Empire”.

Once, while filming after the coup, I found myself facing 5 talks, all pointing their cannons at me. How I survived, I am not sure. Others did not. By the time I finished collecting footage for my film, my body was covered by scars and bruises.

From among those individuals who used to work with me on the film, and from those who used to protest against then-President Morsi, there is hardly anyone now who would support the current rule of the pro-Western military junta.

Rallies in 2012 and 2013 were all about improving Egypt; about forcing Morsi to deliver what millions of mostly young Egyptians hoped would be a just, secular and socialist society. Morsi was expected to deliver, or to resign, giving way to a better, more ‘progressive’ leader. 

What came instead was a coup, a return of the fascist clique of Mubarak, supported by the US, Europe and Israel.

Looking back, I believe that Mohamed Morsi was a decent human being, but at the same time a bad, untalented, naive and confused ruler. That was still much, much better than what was before and after him.

In her opinion piece for the New York Times, the Egyptian author Mona Eltahawy wrote about the demise of Mohamad Morsi:

…He always looked like a man caught up in something much bigger than him. That he died in an Egyptian courtroom inside a soundproof cage designed to silence him, almost exactly six years to the day he took office and almost completely forgotten by all but his family and human rights activists, is a reminder of the bathos that surrounded him.” 

Then, Ms. Eltahawy put his death into the context of present-day Egypt:

Decimated as it is, however, the Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely to be able to pull off mass protests in Egypt, where protests became all but impossible under a draconian law passed soon after Mr. el-Sisi came to power. This, too, is what Mr. el-Sisi has achieved: From July 2013, when Mr. Morsi was overthrown, and January 2016, when the Egyptian parliament reconvened, between 16,000 and 41,000 people, most supporters of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, were reportedly arrested or detained (Some were liberal or secular activists). Since then, a spike in death sentences and executions, extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and a determined effort to wipe out any form of dissent have all but crushed the Brotherhood, as well as most other forms of opposition. Muslim Brotherhood supporters are insisting that Mr. Morsi be eulogized as a martyr at the same time that many state-owned media are reporting on his death without even mentioning that he was once president.”

Frankly speaking, the era of Morsi feels like the only period in modern Egyptian history, when ‘everything was possible’, and when one was at least allowed to dream and to fight for a much better future. Yes, of course, the fight was taking place through teargas, and people got injured, some even killed. But they dared, they were not broken and humiliated like now.

Post-coup battles. Credit | Andre Vltchek

The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ was manipulated, and most likely ‘created’ by the West. But in 2011 to 2013, there was also a parallel, independent, left-wing upsurge of anti-establishment, anti-capitalist and anti-military movements. There was a struggle, and Egypt could have gone in any direction.

I will never forget that year; “the year of Morsi”. We were risking our lives, often suffering direct physical assaults. Different political factions were at each other throats. Steam was out. Passions were boiling. Nothing was certain, everything possible.

That year, while making my film, I was with a group of socialist doctors; true Marxists. They did not doubt that Egypt could go socialist if they fought harder. I also worked with Wassim Wagdy, one of the leaders of the Revolutionary Socialist Organization

And then, everything collapsed, literally overnight. 3 July 2013. 

When did I realize that everything was over? It happened in Heliopolis – in an affluent suburb of Cairo – in a park. Hundreds of rich families went to celebrate the coup, wearing T-shirts depicting el-Sisi and his cronies. It looked like some historic photos from 9-11-1973 – from the days when the coup perpetrated by General Pinochet against President Allende in Chile. It was different, of course it was, but it looked the same. US-sponsored coups always look the same. And so do the faces of the elites that support them!

I read about the demise of Morsi onboard MEA, from Istanbul to Beirut. I felt immense sadness. I did not know why precisely. Certainly, it was not for Mr. Morsi’s reign. But most likely it was for that time, for that hope that was now totally choked and abandoned. For the days when ‘everything was possible’; when people were ready and willing to fight for their country.

Egypt is a ‘failed’ state now. Scared, frustrated, poor and totally corrupt. A state that is devouring its own people.

When I go to one of the countless slums of Cairo, these days, people look at me with open hate. They see me as a foreigner, as someone who helped to throw them back to hopelessness and misery. Of course, they don’t know that several years ago I fought for them, at least as a filmmaker, side-by-side with their nation’s socialist vanguard.

I also feel sadness for Morsi the man, if not Morsi the president. I somehow sense that the patriotic poem that he read before collapsing and dying, came straight from his heart.

In one single year when he governed, he did his best. His best was not good enough. He failed.

But he did not deserve to die like this, muzzled and humiliated, in a cage!

He deserved better. And his country, Egypt, deserves much, much better, damn it! 

Feature photo | Former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, wearing a red jumpsuit that designates he has been sentenced to death, raises his hands inside a defendants cage in a makeshift courtroom at the national police academy, in an eastern suburb of Cairo, Egypt, June 18, 2016. Amr Nabil | AP

This article was published with special permission from the author.  It fist appeared at New Eastern Outlook.

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Four of his latest books are China and Ecological Civilization with John B. Cobb, Jr., Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism, a revolutionary novel “Aurora” and a bestselling work of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”. View his other books here. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo and his film/dialogue with Noam Chomsky “On Western Terrorism”. Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter. His Patreon

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MintCast Interviews Yasha Levine, Author of Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet

MintCast hosts Whitney Webb and Alan MacLeod recently interviewed investigative journalist Yasha Levine about his most recent book Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet and his most recent articles on the xenophobia that lies beneath Russiagate and how this new anti-Russia fervor has impacted the Russian-American immigrant community at the national level.

In discussing his exhaustively researched book Surveillance Valley, Levine details how the growing nexus between Silicon Valley monopolies like Google and Facebook and the U.S. government as well as today’s scandals over internet surveillance and warrantless spying are actually the logical consequence of the Internet’s origins as a U.S. military project aimed at predicting future insurgent behavior by means of covert spying.

Also, discussed is Levine’s controversial but invaluable work on the hidden face of the Tor Project, which is included in Surveillance Valley. Levine summarizes his research on the Tor Project, noting that — far from being the browser that is the ultimate tool against government surveillance — it has long been funded and continues to receive most of its funding from the U.S. government. In addition, leaders and top advocates of the Tor Project have been caught colluding with the U.S. government, particularly the government agencies funding the project, on more than one occasion, greatly undermining its carefully crafted public image as an anti-government surveillance-busting tool.

Lastly, Levine describes his most recent work on the Russiagate scandal, highlighting the often overlooked impact of the media-driven hysteria on Russian-Americans and Russian immigrants to the United States. As Levine notes, much of this rhetoric in recent years has implied that ethnic Russians have undesirable “genetic” traits or are all secretly connected to Russia’s current leader, Vladimir Putin, who is often portrayed by some mainstream media outlets as a supervillain. As a result, Levin argues that many Russian-Americans have become alienated from the Democratic Party and have either embraced Trump or complete disillusionment with both parties.

Follow Yasha Levine on Twitter and check out his latest work on his website.

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Trying to Hold Its Own, Yemeni Island of Socotra Figures in Both Saudi and Emirati Plans

SOCOTRA, YEMEN — A.S. al-Socotri remembers fondly the strange beauty of the quiet island of Socotra with its amazing dreamlike vegetation, with no boats in the sea, no lights, no planes in the sky. “Now,” al-Socotri, a resident of the island, tells MintPress, “a never-before-seen military build-up has changed the reality on this quiet Island.”

Al-Socotri recounted to MintPress memories of his island home and the rich mythology that surrounds it. The Yemeni Island is no longer insulated from the devastating four-year long war that has ravaged the Yemeni mainland. As al-Socotri puts it, 

Today the Yemeni flags that could once be seen flying over Socotra’s vibrant mountains tops, streets, and the formal institutions have been replaced with the flag of the United Arab Emirates [UAE].” 

Since 2018, the UAE has successfully tightened its grip on Socotra, which is located in a remote part of the Arabian Sea. The Gulf monarchy has been busy building military bases, installing communications networks, and carrying out other development projects, along with its purchase of thousands of hectares of private land from local residents. The expansion has been supervised by two UAE emirs (princes), Abu Mubarak Khalfan bin Mubarak Al Mazroui and Mahmoud Fath Ali Al Khaja.

Just as it did in the Yemeni mainland’s southern districts, the UAE managed to secure Socotra by winning the support of local residents, likely a welcome reprieve from Saudi Arabia’s habit of trying to bomb Yemeni residents into submission. UAE officials have offered Socotri islanders healthcare, work permits in Abu Dhabi, organized cultural events and group weddings, and have even granted UAE nationality to tribal chiefs and important social figures on the Island.

A pro-UAE protest is held on the Yemeni Island of Socatra. Photo | Saad Ahmed Kaddoumi

One high-ranking UAE official recently told a gathering of dignitaries on the island that Socotra will be part of the UAE. He said — perched in front of large images of his country’s leaders, including Mohammed bin Zayed — that “citizenship will be granted to all of the island’s sons and this is a foregone conclusion.”

 

Socotra’s strategic location

Considering its strategic location in the Arabian Sea, Socotra could help the UAE expand its global trade routes to states such as India, with which it has growing ties, and to the Horn of Africa, in which it seeks greater military and economic hegemony. Aside from its strategic value, the island has become a source of contention between the UAE and its Saudi allies, who have their own ambitions for Socotra.

On May 8, 2018, demonstrators marched through the streets of Socotra’s capital Hadibu, rejecting what they describe as UAE’s occupation. Following the protests, Saudi Arabia negotiated a deal for a partial UAE withdrawal from the island. Hours later, Saudi soldiers were de facto replacing the Emiratis and announcing their own development plan for the island. For Saudi Arabia, Socotra would serve as a unique tourist destination and help bolster investment into the Kingdom’s economy.

Tall mountains frame a village on Socotra Island. Rod Waddington | Flickr

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been competing to impose sovereignty over Socotra by carrying out rival humanitarian relief activities. The Saudis are rebuilding a number of facilities destroyed by Tropical Cyclone Mekunu in 2018, a project already undertaken by the UAE on other parts of the island.

 

Another Abu Dhabi?

“I’ve armed myself since the last aggression. I am ready to defend my identity against the UAE mercenaries,” al-Socotri told MintPress. Socotra’s 60,000 inhabitants have lived in relative harmony with each other and with nature for thousands of years, but last week clashes broke out between local residents who call themselves the “Security Belt in the Port of Socotra” and UAE military forces. The island is now part of the ongoing struggle between local residents who back Saudi Arabia and those prefer the UAE.

The UAE’s military and political presence on the island — along with that of its biggest partner in the Yemen war, Saudi Arabia — exposes Socotra’s unique natural environment to unpredictable geopolitical interferences such as those that have already occurred in Mahra, Yemen’s remote easternmost governorate.

Like many paramilitary forces born from the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen, the Security Belt in the Port of Socotra was formed from members of specific tribes, not on the basis of one national army for the country as a whole — exacerbating tribal differences and reviving the desire for revenge among tribes and new ambitions for autonomy.

In Mahra, the Saudi-led Coalition established highly trained and equipped Salafist paramilitary forces, dubbed the “Mahri Elite Force.” The group is modeled around other Coalition-backed mercenary militants operating in Yemen, including the Hadhrami Elite militants in the Hadhramaut province, the Shabwani Elite militants in Shabwa, and the Pioneer Security Belt militant (al-Hizam) brigades in Aden. These paramilitary forces operate outside of local authorities and are comprised of local tribes that have close ties to Saudi Arabia.

Socotra is home to 700 rare endemic species of frankincense, aloe, and pink desert roses; soaring mountains; and waters packed with bright coral. Now, according to local residents, foreign occupation and escalating clashes are rapidly affecting the archipelago’s delicate ecosystem.

A grove of frankincense trees dot a hillside on Socotra Island. Rod Waddington | Flickr

Local activists told MintPress that the UAE has transformed the island into a military outpost-cum-holiday resort. Socotra’s UNESCO-protected plants and animals, they say, are being transformed into another Abu Dhabi. Even the dragon’s blood tree — a unique tree with crimson resin and a dense crown of leaves, a beloved symbol of the island — is now threatened.

 

The lure of “better lives”

“When I tell relatives and friends that we should take to the streets to reject the Emiratis and preserve our Yemeni identity, they ask me why? … Our lives could be better with the Emiratis,” al-Socotri huffs. His words echo those of the many patriots who reject their island’s occupation, whatever the temptations.

There is not much in the way of a unified domestic opposition to the UAE’s occupation. What remains has by and large been led by the Islah Party, former ally of the UAE that has organized protests against Socotra’s occupation. The UAE usually responds to the protests by partially withdrawing from portions of the island — a tactic that has been effective in soothing the wrath of the protesters — and then successfully consolidating its links with leaders of the island.

In the wake of last week’s clashes, “a minister of state” in Socotra’s Coalition-formed local government, Maj. Gen. Abdul Ghani Jamil, called the UAE presence on the island an “integrated occupation.” The UAE has denied accusations that it is seeking control of the island. In May, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash dismissed the Emirati escalation in Socotra as “fake news.”

Jamil went on to say, in a leaflet he published on Facebook, that “there is no justification whatsoever for the presence of the Emirates on the island of Socotra,” asking “What do you want from Socotra, where there is no Houthi, there is no ISIS or any subversive elements at all?”  The ousted former Yemeni president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is fiercely loyal to the Saudi-led Coalition, went so far as to call the UAE an occupying force. The UAE is part of the Saudi-led Coalition that launched a military campaign against Yemen four years ago to shore up “Hadi’s presidency.”

The UAE once used the Hadi government as justification to expand its influence in Yemen’s South, but now, Yemeni officials loyal to Saudi-led Coalition including the “Minister of Internal Affairs, a minister of state, and Hadi himself, are calling the UAE an occupying force. The UAE has responded by sending hundreds of troops to Socotra in recent weeks, largely from Aden where its militias have significant control.

Yemen’s mainland residents see the presence of UAE troops on Socotra, 220 miles away from mainland Yemen, as malign and colonial.

Feature photo | An unidentified local girl shown on Yemen’s Socotra island in front of the iconic Dragon’s Blood tree. Oleg Znamenskiy | Shutterstock

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

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Divine Missions of Destruction: Why a US War with Iran is Virtually Inevitable

The 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal between the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council + Germany (P5+1) and Iran was supposed to usher in a new beginning. It was supposed to bring stability to the Middle East and lead to the resolution of multiple conflicts, and for a short period of time, it seemed that it might. 

Yet it was obvious from the start that it was not just Republicans who rejected Obama’s foreign policy pièce de résistance. Democratic Party support for the agreement was lukewarm at best, and the 2016 elections swiftly reversed course as far as the Iran deal was concerned. 

Donald Trump has always opposed the deal and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, by no means sought peace with Israel’s greatest adversary. In 2008, Clinton told ABC’s Good Morning America audience, “I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran… In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.”

The same cadre of neoconservative figures that convinced Americans that war with Iraq was a necessary step in guarding against an imminent threat is in ascendency once again, and this time they have bipartisan support. 

The United States has Iran surrounded by over 80 military bases. It has increased its presence significantly near the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow passage of water that hugs Iran’s vulnerable western coast.

All the chips are in place, the box of matches lies open awaiting a single errant spark to set it ablaze. Whether that spark is introduced intentionally or accidentally is irrelevant to its ability to give the Washington hawks what they’ve been impatiently pining for.

Irish columnist Danielle Ryan lays it out rather succinctly in an editorial for Russian broadcaster RT:

There are men in Washington intent on going to war with Iran — and very few people doubt this fact. Why then, does the media keep warning us that conflict could break out ‘accidentally’? The U.S. does not go to war by mistake.”

 

A stock U.S. pretext for war?

Last week, President Trump predictably pinned the blame for an attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman squarely on Iran. Former CIA head turned U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — a man openly operating on an apocalyptic, end-times vision — has been busy globetrotting in an attempt to convince wary world leaders that Iran is indeed a threat and that the utter lack of diplomatic capital that U.S. officials now command should be overlooked when it comes to Iran. 

Pompeo called the Gulf of Oman tanker attacks an “unacceptable escalation of tension.” So-called proof of Iran’s guilt came in the form of a grainy video that presented more questions than it provided answers.

Al Jazeera, the official media channel of the Qatari government, presented conflicting reports.  Eyewitnesses aboard the Japanese tanker that was attacked contradict the U.S. version of events:

As calls grew for an international inquiry, the owner of the Kokuka Courageous cast doubt on the U.S. narrative, saying the vessel’s crew saw a ‘flying object’ before it was rocked by a second blast. 

‘I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship,’ Yutaka Katada said on Friday. 

Analysts reacted to the U.S. allegations with skepticism. Even those who found the claims credible said Washington may have forced Iran’s hand with its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign of punishing financial sanctions.”

 

A familiar drumbeat

Despite skepticism over U.S claims regarding the attack, wide swaths of the U.S. media have already composed a narrative that seeks to absolve the United States of its role in heightening tensions that could lead to war with Iran. Using terms like “drifting” to describe a deliberate escalation, the current media narrative in the United States is presenting the issue as though if conflict were to begin, it would simply be the unfortunate consequence of a mistake.

In a perverse sense, they are not wrong. It is no secret that the CIA, among other subversive elements in the U.S. government, will do just about anything to justify a war it wants. Pompeo himself said of his time at the CIA, “we lied, we cheated, we stole,” and Pompeo and his war-cabinet cohort, National Security Advisor John Bolton, are the fiercest hawks to prowl the halls of the White House since the Bush administration. Both are itching to start a war with Iran, but they are not the only ones.

American war-making enjoys bipartisan support and the current frenzy to go to war with Iran is no exception. Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) — the stalwart California Democrat who has largely led the political crusade to undermine the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency — has by and large fallen in behind the same administration he considers to be led by a Russian Manchurian candidate. 

The evidence of Iran’s attack on the ships is strong.

We should be leading an international effort to protect the seas and reduce the risk of conflict.

Instead, Trump policies have left us isolated, and the region unstable.

The maximum pressure campaign has failed.

Maximally. pic.twitter.com/uJcuvaUM3P

— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) June 16, 2019

Justifiably skeptical on almost every claim the Trump administration makes, Schiff has no problem believing Trump on Iran. His problem with Trump seems to lie in the fact that he is too incompetent to sell the war to the rest of the world.

 

A very bleak future?

For its part, Iran sees few options out of this conflict save to confront the United States and its proxies directly. History is witness to this approach during the horrifying Iraq-Iran War of 1980-88. 

By some estimates, the human casualties of the Iraq-Iran War numbered close to a million, while material damages were closer to a trillion dollars. By 1982, Iran had regained the territory it lost to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the war. However, Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini saw the only path to peace in toppling Saddam’s unpredictable regime. Khomeini refused the reparations and ceasefire agreements backed by the same Western powers that backed Saddam in his war against Iran.

This level of intransigence rooted in decades of betrayal and mistrust remains entrenched in both American and Iranian leadership and offers little hope for the future. Elements on both sides of the conflict see themselves as instruments of a Divine mission. Sadly for the planet, neither side is willing to adopt those Divine traditions that place humility above war. 

A  U.S. war with Iran will be devastating for humanity. It will wreak havoc upon the environment, and it already has. Burning tankers and spilling flames on our seas and oceans are the complete opposite of what is needed by humanity to stem the insuperable tide of global warming.

Both sides have placed too much stake in dominating the region, essentially sucking the oxygen out of any compromise, yet compromise is the only hope to prevent yet another futile and destructive conflict. 

Feature photo | A demonstrator burns a representation of the U.S. flag during the annual Quds, or Jerusalem Day rally in Tehran, Iran, May 31, 2019. Vahid Salemi | AP

Ali A. Taj is Editor in Chief of Let us build Pakistan (LUBP), an alternative news and political platform that campaigns for the rights of all Pakistanis. Visit LUBP on Twitter and Facebook.

The post Divine Missions of Destruction: Why a US War with Iran is Virtually Inevitable appeared first on MintPress News.

From Tel Aviv to Tallahassee

Please take your seat, sir, said the steward to the Governor. “We will be landing at Ben Gurion Airport shortly.” Snapping his seat-belt firmly into place, the edgy Governor fingered his rosary beads as he wondered, to himself, whether Israeli Jews would have big noses like those of Miami. Do they tan well? Would he understand what they say, given their heavy, Eastern European accents? What was the exchange rate for his pocketful of “Benjamins”? Looking around the first class section, the Governor eyed a man with a long, thick, black beard seated one aisle away. For a moment, he thought about getting up to ask him for the missing answers… but he stopped. The guy was too tall and fit with no hook nose… and where was his black beanie? Goyim, he thought to himself, using a term he had picked up in a Boca campaign stop. He looked away uncertain of what awaited.

No… I’ve not lost my mind. And for those of you who I have offended by this frenzy of odious, dark canards… good! It was intended to cause reaction. It’s a parody. It’s called protected speech. It’s the First Amendment. It allows me to say what I want… to affront who I please, to stand on any street corner shouting out to passersby they should boycott that damn lunch counter that won’t serve people of color or that country that will not allow Palestinians to breathe. And to do so without any imposition of government will upon my voice… be it through a penalty on my purse or the loss of my personal liberty.

Political correctness is America’s newest form of intolerance, and it is especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance. It presents itself as fairness, yet attempts to restrict and control people’s language with strict codes and rigid rules. I’m not sure that’s the way to fight discrimination. I’m not sure silencing people or forcing them to alter their speech is the best method for solving problems that go much deeper than speech.”

-George Carlin, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?

On May 29th, Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, flew to Israel with his cabinet for a closed, political moot court session. Barring journalists, and thus, ultimately, the public who elected him and paid for his trip, the governor performed a symbolic signing of a bill that places the interests of Tel Aviv clearly ahead of the constitutional rights of Tallahassee.

Surrounded by Israeli dignitaries, accompanied by AIPAC checkbooks, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, the DeSantis journey was nothing short of a full on fidelity cheer for Israel. A staunch supporter of the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, earlier this year attending a meeting of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, the governor urged sanctions against Airbnb unless it reversed its decision barring lodging listings in the occupied West Bank of Palestine. While still in Congress, he supported several Florida anti-BDS laws prohibiting public entities from contracting with any company or non-profit group engaged in an Israeli boycott. He also embraced legislation that prohibits state pension funds from investing in companies which participate in “politically motivated” challenges to Israel.

DeSantis has an opportune history of vilifying those who confront Israeli apartheid. Indeed, like his predecessor, former Gov. Rick Scott, who took three Florida funded trips to Israel, he is an astute politician who knows just what it takes to get elected. Describing BDS as “nothing more than a cloak for anti-Semitism”, he has boasted that, “as long as I’m Governor, BDS will be DOA.” Yet, the bill DeSantis lobbied for, and signed but two days after his empty performance in Israel, is much more insidious than the mere imposition of civil penalties upon activists who advocate a non-violent boycott.

In relevant part, HB 741 states that, “A public K-20 educational institution must treat discrimination by students or employees or resulting from institutional policies motivated by anti-Semitic intent in an identical manner to discrimination motivated by race.”

With sweeping unconstitutional reach, this legislation conflates mere criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. It lays bare the authoritarian groundwork for criminal prosecution for those in public schools and universities with the temerity to challenge Israel through words… and nothing more. Using provocative tripwires of Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories that target Jews as examples of prohibited academic speech, the statute remains at odds with the First Amendment nonetheless. Moreover, to the extent HB 741 equates a challenge to Israel with bias motivated by racial animus, it is an interesting legislative recast in the light of the personal history of DeSantis… indeed, of Florida as a whole.

To be sure, in his campaign for governor, DeSantis drew support from various self-professed neo-Nazis. He spoke at a conference chaired by a man who believes that African Americans should thank white people for freeing slaves. His campaign used ads with jungle music and the call of monkeys in their background. He, himself, urged voters “not to monkey up” by voting for his African American opponent. The divide between one who has never hesitated to use vile, painful speech to promote his voice and his proud, eager squeeze of a censorship whip has rarely been so vivid. Not one to walk alone, from coast to coast the governor’s duplicity drives statehouse halls as legislators speak in selective tones promoting constitutional protections such as the right to bear arms while suppressing others that extol fundamental rights of speech, association and peaceful boycott.

 

Florida Violence

DeSantis is a true son of Florida. While it has long prided itself on the mirage of cultural, religious and political diversity, it has an insidious history of ignoring, if not accepting, the very brand of political and social disenfranchisement and violence that is synonymous with Israel. Thus, in the shadow of the Civil War, Florida enacted laws called Black Codes that, by design, were intended to disenfranchise its black citizens. Can Nation State be far off?

Twenty years later, the white-Democrat controlled legislature passed a poll tax which finished the job. Losing what little remaining political power they had, African American voters were essentially stripped of all legal and political rights. No longer able to vote, they were excluded from sitting as jurors and barred from running for elective office. Before the turn of the century, there was no black political influence anywhere in Florida. Not long thereafter, Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward suggested that African Americans find a location outside the state for them to live. To be named deal of the century?

In the mid-1920’s, the Ku Klux Klan moved the political assault upon African American communities throughout Florida to one of sheer terror and outright violence. With power bases in major cities such as Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami, the Klan soon became the very public face of the hatred that had long found comfort through the state’s legislative batter. So brazen was the Klan’s thumb-print on the life and death of black Floridians that it held publicized group initiations at the Miami Country club. During this time, Klan-like violence flourished throughout rural Florida . . . with mob attacks on African Americans so frequent that local newspapers rarely covered it and law enforcement typically looked away. In1920, a white mob broke into a jail in Macclenny and lynched four black men accused of raping a white woman. In Ocoee, the same year, a white mob destroyed its black community… causing as many as 30 deaths and destroying 25 homes, two churches, and a Masonic Lodge. This devastation was later mirrored in the Rosewood massacre, a racially charged slaughter that resulted in the deaths of upwards of 150 black residents in rural Levy County and which left the town of Rosewood completely destroyed. To be rebuilt with white “settlers”?

Decades have passed since the Klan and mob rule shaped Florida with a public iron fist. Yet, in the years since, a walk down its streets from the Panhandle to Miami Beach remains very much a tempt of fate for persons of color. Once adorned with sheets of hate, the attacks are now most often carried out by those who wear the badge of law enforcement.

It would be far too easy to simply cluster police violence in Florida with that endemic across the country. However, that toll bears a dramatic face in Florida, a state driven by a transparent legislative show of support for the agenda of a far off country that flaunts international law while it shows palpable indifference to the constitutional rights and physical safety of its own citizenry.

As of five years ago, the African American population in Florida was outnumbered 3 to 1 by their white counterparts. An investigation, by the Tampa Bay Times, found that during the six year period preceding it, Florida police shot 827 people… 343 of them were black. More than half were fatal… the majority of them black.

Paring off cases involving crimes of “violence” or where there was actual evidence that those shot had threatened police with weapons, the Times investigation found there were 147 cases that presented no apparent grounds for the use of deadly force by police… 97 of them involved black Floridians. Of those who were unarmed, African Americans outnumbered whites two to one. They were twice as likely to be shot after being pulled over for a traffic violation, or by reaching for something harmless such as a license or gearshift. They were also three times as likely to be shot while being chased by police on foot, while suspected of a minor crime such as smoking pot, or while not committing any offense at all. The report found African American victims were four times more likely to be shot in the back.

These statistics give no one with knowledge of the recent history of Florida reason to pause. They reflect but one short period of unbroken police violence directed at the African American community throughout the state.

In 1967, Martin Chambers, 19, was shot dead by police in Tampa. Fleeing with two other young black men from the scene of a robbery of a photo supply store, he was shot in the back by an officer who later said he feared that Chambers would escape. In noting that lawbreakers accept the risk that “officers might have to use force to do their jobs”, the State Attorney ruled the shooting justified because the victim was a “felon fleeing apprehension.” Within hours, rioting broke out which lasted three days… destroying a large swath of the African American community.

Rodney Mitchell, 23, was stopped in Sarasota for not wearing a seat belt. Police shot him as he reached to put the car in park… claiming they feared he had a gun.

After being stopped by police for riding his bicycle on the wrong side of the road in West Palm Beach, 22 year old Dontrell Stephens was shot in the back and paralyzed when an officer said he saw Stephens flash a dark object at him with his left hand. The object was a cell phone.

17-year-old Jeremy Hutton, with Down syndrome, who took his mom’s minivan for a joyride, was shot three times during a low-speed car chase.

Alens Charles, 21, fell asleep in his car, unarmed, and in his own driveway. He woke up to investigating officers who shot him when he sat up.

Gregory Frazier, 55, was using a small pocket knife to eat near his home in Pompano Beach when police responded to a phone call of an argument between him and his daughter. Knowing he had a knife, officers told Frazier to get down on the ground. Not long after saying “leave me alone”, he was shot dead.

Corey Jones was shot and killed by a plainclothes officer while he stood waiting by his disabled car in Palm Beach Gardens. 31 years of age, Jones was struck by three of six shots fired by the officer who falsely claimed that he had identified himself and shot in self defense.

Latasha Walton, 32 years old, was shot and killed by a Florida Highway patrol officer after being pulled over for allegedly driving erratically. Officers claim a trooper opened fire as she attempted to flee the scene.

Charles Kinsey, a mental health therapist, was shot by police in North Miami while he sat on the ground with his hands in the air… seated next to his autistic 23 year old patient who had wandered away from his group home. Unarmed, Kinsey asked the police not to shoot him while trying to convince his patient who was playing with his toy truck to obey officers. After being shot, he was handcuffed and left bleeding on the ground for 20 minutes with no medical aid.

Recently, Dyma Loving, a 26-year-old mother-of-three, called police after getting into an argument with a white neighbor who threatened her and a friend with a rifle. Responding officers pushed Loving against a metal fence and put her in a headlock before forcing her to the ground.

Several days later, police slammed a 15 year old boy’s head into the pavement during a “trespassing” incident in which he had been seen merely reaching down to pick something up off the ground outside of a McDonald’s in Tamarac, Florida.

These are but a few of the faces of African American women and men, of all ages and backgrounds that have long been victimized by police violence throughout Florida. The fortunate ones have been injured or left crippled but lived to tell their story. Countless others have been buried leaving family to wonder why, seeking not just answers… but justice. For them, it never came.

Just what is there about Florida that lingers-on for its African American community forced to relive the horrors of Macclenny, Ocoee and Rosewood far removed in time and place… but not outcome? It’s far too easy and academic to simply write it off to the residual effects of “badges and incidents of slavery”. Can it be the North Miami Police Department using images of black men for target practice which reinforces it daily? Or the once Biscayne police chief who told his officers “… if they have burglaries that are open cases that are not solved yet, if you see anybody black walking through our streets and they have somewhat of a record, arrest them so we can pin them for all the burglaries.” Or the scathing indictment by the Department of Justice of the Miami Police Department in 2013concluding it’s officer’s shot and killed way too many people of color yet doing nothing of consequence about it.

 

Israeli Slaughter

Meanwhile, as DeSantis posed in Jerusalem, life and death for Palestinians went on very much as it has these past ten, thirty, fifty, seventy plus years… an unbroken march of death and destruction fed by excuse… fueled by hate. According to B’Tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) over the last decade, approximately three-thousand five hundred Palestinians have lost their lives to the Israeli armed forces or paramilitary settler violence. Among those killed have been seven-hundred eighty two minors and three-hundred thirty eight women. According to a data base maintained by Israel-Palestine Timeline, since 2000, approximately 10,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel… including 2,172 children. Another 100,000 have been injured.

Over the last year, much of the world has watched fixated on the Great Return March in which Israeli snipers have murdered more than 300 Palestinian demonstrators on the eastern edge of Gaza. Another 30,000 have been injured by gunshots or teargas. Nearly 60 of those killed and 7,000 of those injured have been children. Hundreds, including children, have had their limbs amputated as a result of being shot with ammunition designed to tear apart limbs. Apparently the Florida State Legislature has slept through the carnage. Perhaps a match between some recent numbers and names and backdrop might awaken Tallahassee politicians who fear words but seem perfectly comfortable with violence.

On January 11, 2019 Abdul-Rauf Ismael Salha, 14 was shot in the head with live fire by an Israeli sniper while demonstrating during the Great Return March in Northern Gaza. He died three days later.

On May 31, 2019 Israeli soldiers shot and killed Abdullah Luay Gheith, 16, from Hebron, as he and several other young men tried to enter Jerusalem by climbing over a border fence from just outside Bethlehem to attend Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque. He died instantly after being shot in the heart. Mo’men Abu Tbeish, 21, was also shot and seriously injured in the same incident.

On May 5, 2019, Maria Ahmad Ramadan al-Ghazali, 4 months, was killed along with her father, Ahmad Ramadan al-Ghazali, 31, and Eman Abdullah Asraf, 30, when their high-rise apartment in a Beit Lahiya building was hit by Israeli missiles.

On May 4, 2019, Seba Abu Arar, 14 months, and her pregnant aunt,Falastin Abu Arar, 37, were killed by a rocket that struck close to their apartment building. The infant died instantly when, while sitting on her aunt’s lap, was hit by shrapnel which entered their apartment. Her aunt succumbed later to her wounds.

On April 18, 2019 Fatima Suleiman, 42, a school teacher, was killed after the car she was driving was rammed by a large truck driven by a settler near her home in Teqoua’. Thrown from her car, the truck struck and killed her before fleeing the scene.

On March 6, 2019 Malak Rajabi, 18 months, and her brother, Wa’el, age 4, died in a fire in Hebron when Palestinian rescue crews were blocked, by the Israeli military, from reaching their home before they were burned alive inside.

On December 15, 2018, Sumayya Mahmoud Nasser, 68, died in Jerusalem when she suffered a heart attack while praying at the al-Aqsa Mosque. Israeli forces outside the mosque prevented an ambulance with life saving equipment from reaching her.

On October 13, 2018 Aisha Rabi, 48, mother of eight, was on her way home with her husband, to Bidya in the northern West Bank, when her family’s car was struck, near the Za’tara roadblock, by a hail of large rocks thrown by a group of young settlers just south of Nablus. One of the rocks smashed the windshield and struck her in the cheek and ear. She bled for about two minutes and died.

On August 9, 2108, Israeli air force dropped a guided bomb on a home in the al-Ja’frawi neighborhood which lies on the southeastern outskirts of the Gazan town of Deir al-Balah. The bomb, which failed to detonate, went through the roof of a house rented by Muhammad and Inas Abu Khamash and into their living room… killing Inas, 22, an education student who was nine months pregnant, and Bayan, the couple’s 22-month-old daughter.

On August 27, 2017, eight year old Aseel Tareq Abu ‘Oun was run over and killed by a settler as she left a supermarket near her home in Foroush Beit Dajan village in Nablus.

On August 11, 2017, Amir and Hamza Abu Sbeih, Anas Haymouni and Youssef Roman, each six years old, were severely injured when a settler mounted a curb in East Jerusalem and crashed his vehicle into them.

On May 20, 2017, Fatima Jibril ‘Ayed Taqatqa, 15, died two months after she had been shot in the head by an Israeli soldier at the Etzion junction, south of Bethlehem. Soldiers claimed she had tried to ram them with her car. Evidence showed she was an inexperienced driver with no driver’s license who panicked upon seeing soldiers and was shot after her car came to a complete halt.

On July 1, 2016, Sara Daoud Ata Tarayra, a 27 year old pregnant woman living in Hebron, was shot dead at the entrance of the Ibrahimi Mosque in the city. Ordered to accompany a female soldier to a room to be searched, after being sprayed with pepper spray and fleeing, she was shot and killed by other soldiers. Palestinian medics were prevented from treating her as she lay bleeding on the ground.

On July 1, 2016, Muhammad Mustafa Habash, 63, from Nablus, died after suffering from severe tear gas inhalation after being fired upon by Israeli troops. He was one of 40 who suffered from excessive tear gas as they attempted to cross the Qalandiya checkpoint from Ramallah, in the central occupied West Bank, to attend prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

On April 28, 2016, Maram Saleh Abu Ismael, 24, from Beit Surik, five-months pregnant and a mother of two young daughters, and her 16 year old brother, Ibrahim Taha, were shot dead by Israeli soldiers at the Qalandia terminal north of occupied Jerusalem. On her way for a visit to Jerusalem for the first time in her life, the two were apparently approaching soldiers in a drive through lane not intended for pedestrians. Told to stop in Hebrew, a language which neither understood, they continued on until shot dead in a hail of 20 rounds fired from a distance. Both lay bleeding on the ground while soldiers prevented Palestinian medics from treating them.

On August 1, 2014, the extended family of Salem Al Mahmoum was wiped out by indiscriminate Israeli tank and artillery shelling, on a street in Rafah, after fleeing a house that had been attacked just moments before by an Israeli war plane.

The 16 extended family members killed in that attack were:

  1. Aziza Mahmoud Salaman Al Mahmoum (50), Salem’s wife;
  2. Wafa’ Salem Suleiman Al Mahmoum (25, Aziza and Salem’s daughter;
  3. Hani Salem Suleiman Al Mahmoum (23), Aziza and Salem’s son;
  4. Yahia Salem Suleiman Al Mahmoum (13).Aziza and Salem’s son
  5. Asma Salem Suleiman Mahmoum (16), Aziza and Salem’s daughter;
  6. Iqzaya Hammad Salman Al Mahmoum (36), wife of Mustafa Nasser Al Mahmoum;
  7. Bisan Mustafa Nasser Al Mahmoum (9), Mustafa and Iqzaya’s daughter;
  8. Hiba Mustafa Nasser Al Mahmoum (7), Mustafa and Iqzaya’s daughter;
  9. Dou’a Mustafa Nasser Al Mahmoum (4), Mustafa and Iqzaya’s daughter;
  10. Ubada Mustafa Nasser Al Mahmoum (2), Mustafa and Iqzaya’s son;
  11. ‘Itaf Hammad Suleiman Al Mahmoum (30), Iqzaya’s sister;
  12. Ibtisam Hammad Suleiman Al Mahmoun (18),  Iqzaya’s sister;
  13. Anas Ibrahim Hamdan bin Hamad (4);
  14. Mohammed Anas Mohammed Arafat (4 months);
  15. Usama Hussein Hassan Abu Sneima (30); and
  16. Su’ad Jum’a Hamad Al Tarabin (31)

On July 30, 2014, Israeli tanks fired two artillery shells at the house of Mohammed A’ta Al Khalili located in Al Sanafour area in At-Tuffah neighborhood, east of Gaza City. One shell landed on a group of family members awaiting evacuation, killing eight, including two women and three children. The eight were:

  1. Ashraf Mahmoud Al Khalili (33)
  2. Nedaa Ziyad Al Khalili (27). Ashraf’s wife
  3. Deema Ashraf Al Khalili (5). Ashraf’s daughter
  4. Ziyad Ashraf Al Khalili (2). Ashraf’s son.
  5. Mahmoud Ashraf Al Kahlili (7). Ashraf’s son.
  6. Ahmed Mahmoud Al Khalili (28). Ashraf’s brother
  7. Aya Mohammed Al Khalili (23). Ahmed’s wife who was three months pregnant
  8. Lama Ahmed Al Khalili, 4. Ahmed’s daughter

 

Israeli Demolitions

On June 11, 2018, Israeli forces demolished a house, a multi-story residential building and 2 commercial facilities in the villages of sour Baher and al-Mukaber Mount, south of occupied East Jerusalem. The next day, their bulldozers razed a residential building, 7 stores and a gas station in the vicinity of the Qalendia checkpoint north of occupied East Jerusalem. Elsewhere, they seized a large plot of Palestinian land to build a new “settlement” street Northeast of Nablus. That same day, they destroyed another multi-story residential building under construction and back-filled a well in Khelet al-Surbat in southern Hebron. Southeast of Nablus, the Israeli military moved boundaries to seize Palestinian agricultural land in the village of ‘Asirah al-Qibliyah.

There was nothing remarkable about these two days. In all respects they were typical ones in the life of occupied Palestine. A small seize in a timeless grab, the destruction of these homes, residential buildings and shops, along with the confiscation of Palestinian land for Israeli military purpose or settler convenience, was a continuum of a boundless land snatch that started long before the occupation. One year later the targets may have changed… the theft has not.

On June 10, 2019, as part of “settlement” expansion, a Palestinian woman… unable to pay the demolition costs of her home… was forced, pursuant to an Israeli municipality order, to demolish it in Sur Baher village, south of occupied East Jerusalem, rendering her and her six children homeless. That same day Israeli forces compelled a Palestinian civilian to self-demolish his residential building, under-construction, in Sho’fat refugee camp, north of occupied East Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, other Israeli forces demolished a residential house, an under-construction building and a commercial facility in Surbaher village and al-Mukaber Mount area, south of occupied East Jerusalem. Accompanied by dozens of soldiers and police officers, streets surrounding the demolition sites were closed before the properties were raided and leveled. Later that day, a military order was issued to confiscate a sizeable plot of land to construct a new street for the Alon Moreh settlement northeast of Nablus.

On Wednesday, June 12, 2019, Israeli troops moved into Um al-Khair village, southeast of Yatta, south of Hebron, and demolished a Palestinian house that was home to ten persons, including 7 children. Meanwhile, other Israeli forces and a bulldozer moved into Kherbit Khashem al-Daraj, east of Yatta, south of Hebron, where they uprooted barbed wire and demolished a Palestinian barn. That same day, Israeli military moved into Kherbit Ras al-Ahmar, in the northern Jordan Valley, where they uprooted tents and demolished houses and barns belonging to 4 families. Later, they destroyed a residence and 4 barracks for grazing sheep and horses in Beer ‘Onah village, north of occupied East Jerusalem.

On June 11, 2019, Israeli forces and 2 bulldozers moved into Kherbet Abu Kbaish, east of Tamoun village, southeast of Tubas. Uprooting some 550 forest and 240 olive trees and destroying two wells in one location… and an additional 310 forest trees and an agricultural well in another, they declared the now leveled woodlands to be a “nature reserve.”. The trees and wells had been donated by the Brazilian Consulate. Later that day, military forces and 3 diggers moved into Khelat al-Sharbati area near Jawhar Mount neighborhood, in the southern area of Hebron, where they demolished an under-construction multi-unit building and a well.

Elsewhere, the military issued 3 orders: one to change borders and seize agricultural lands belonging to Palestinian civilians in ‘Asirah al-Qabaliyah village, southeast of Nablus… another to confiscate agricultural lands belonging in Burin village, also in southeast of Nablus… and a third to change borders and seize around nearby land to expand a military camp assigned security for a nearby settlement. Not long thereafter, Israeli forces demolished a residence, 4 barracks used to raise livestock and horses, and four agricultural facilities in Ber ‘Ounah. Eyewitnesses reported that Israeli forces randomly fired rubber bullets during the demolition process.

By no means a rarity, increasingly, demolition orders, have become the rai·son d’ê·tre for the Judaization of Jerusalem as Israel seeks to transform its physical and demographic landscape and character at the expense of its Muslim and Christian ones. Just several days ago, Israeli occupation forces issued demolition orders for all Palestinian homes in Jerusalem’s Wadi Yasul neighbourhood which will render some 550 Palestinians homeless.

 

Settler Attacks

Never ones to leave the theft and destruction of Palestinian land and homes to military forces, alone, illegal “settlers” were active during the same period… typically under the watchful eyes and protection of Israeli troops. For example, on June 5, 2019, settlers from “Ahiya” settlement, which sits on the southern side of Jaloud village, southeast of Nablus, attacked the village outskirts. They threw stones at the village secondary school breaking several windows and set fire to olive fields destroying over 1000 olive trees planted some 65 years ago. The following day settlers seized agricultural lands in the al-Makhrour area in Beit Jala, where they planted various crops before enclosing it with barbed wire and placing mobile homes on what was Palestinian land. On June 8, 2019, settlers attacked a Palestinian land trust in the Al-Khader village, in southern Bethlehem, where they placed water pipes and planted hundreds of olive, apricot, and peach trees throughout it.

Not long thereafter, settlers from the nearby Yitzhar settlement vandalized Palestinian homes in Einabous village, south of Nablus, as well as a local mosque, and clinic. They also slashed the tires of Palestinian vehicles and spray-painted the Star of David on the mosque, clinic, and homes, along with racist slogans spray-painted in Hebrew.

These are but a few of the thousands of instances of theft, violence and outright murder perpetrated by the Israeli military and deadly settler movement against Palestinian civilians for as far back as one can see. Yet, in the run-up to his fawning recital in Israel, even a casual glance of recent events in Palestine should have given DeSantis reason to pause. Predictably… he did not.

In the days before the DeSantis arrival, Israeli forces conducted at least 90 military incursions into Palestinian communities throughout the occupied West Bank… including 7 in Jerusalem and its suburbs. During those raids, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian child and wounded 17 civilians . . . including 6 children. Ten of them, including 2 children, were wounded during their participation in the weekly protest, at Kafr Qaddoum, against Israeli land confiscations and the closure of the village’s southern road by Israeli forces. Six, including 4 children, were wounded while protesting a military incursion into Nablus to secure the entry of hundreds of settlers into the eastern area of the city to perform rituals in Joseph’s Tomb. During this same period, Israeli forces arrested at least 82 Palestinians…including children. Among them were 45 civilians and 3 women in Jerusalem and its suburbs.

In early May of this year, Israeli bombings in Gaza took the lives of at least 12 civilians… including two women, one of them pregnant, and a number of toddlers. Another 100 were injured. This past Friday, the 61st Friday of the Great Return March, Israeli snipers wounded 92 Palestinian civilians… 28 of them children and four paramedics, one a female, in the eastern Gaza Strip. One of the wounded was a child who was hit with a live bullet to the chest sustaining serious wound. In addition, dozens of civilians suffered tear gas inhalation and seizures due to canisters fired by Israeli forces.

Against this light, Governor DeSantis flew to Israel to show support for a country which cripples and murders with impunity, while ignoring the precise violence perpetrated daily against citizens of his own state. Against this light, the State of Florida seeks not to end violence which targets generations of African American citizens but, rather, to silence protected speech that seeks little more than to express solidarity and support with others who know all too well that same deadly aim some 6,500 miles away.

 

The Law

It would be far too easy to confront the conspicuous marrow of the latest legislative attacks on BDS by reliance on constitutional purpose and precedent alone. That pure non-violent speech, association and boycott carry and further the stamp of First Amendment approval is, by now, beyond peradventure.

Long ago, in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. the United States Supreme Court unanimously recognized that economic boycotts constitute a form of constitutionally protected expression no different than traditional means of communication such as speaking or writing and that those who exercise that right may not be penalized for such conduct.

In Claiborne, a local branch of the NAACP launched a boycott, in 1966, of white merchant’s to obtain a long list of demands for equality and racial justice from civic and business leaders. Though the boycott was largely limited to speeches encouraging others to support their cause through nonviolent picketing, some acts and threats of violence did result. Several years later, the merchants sued the NAACP seeking damages for the boycott alleging it caused malicious interference with business interests, for antitrust violations and for violation of a state boycott statute.

Rejecting First Amendment claims, the lower Mississippi state court found for the merchants and ordered the NAACP to pay $3.5 million in damages. It also issued a permanent injunction prohibiting protesters from posting “store watchers” at the premises of the boycotted businesses; persuading others to withhold patronage from the boycotted businesses; “using demeaning or obscene language to or about any person” for continuing to patronize the boycotted merchants; “picketing or patrolling” the premises of the boycotted businesses; and “using violence against any person or inflicting damage to any real or personal property.” On appeal, the judgment was largely upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state court finding that the boycott was a form of political speech entitled to protection under the First Amendment. In doing so, it noted that “…the boycott clearly involved constitutionally protected activity” through which the NAACP “… sought to bring about political, social, and economic change.”

The high court found that while the boycott may have adversely impacted local businesses, it was part of broader peaceful political activity on an issue of public significance: “Through speech, assembly, and petition… rather than through riot or revolution… petitioners sought to change a social order that had consistently treated them as second-class citizens.”

Moreover, it reasoned that, without proof of an organization’s unlawful goals, an individual cannot be held liable for exercising their First Amendment right to assemble with other people… even if some of the others committed violent acts. Under those circumstances, the Supreme Court noted that when acts of violence are committed in conjunction with lawful expression, regulations must be sufficiently precise to impose damages only upon those who are guilty of wrongful conduct.

There should be no doubt about the continuing vitality, indeed, controlling application of Claiborne to the latest spate of legislative efforts to silence BDS. In a series of recent cases that have considered the state’s power to prohibit political boycotts, district courts have fallen clearly on the side of those who engage in BDS, and related speech activity, as a fundamental constitutional right.

For example, in Amawi v. Pflugerville Indep. Sch. Dist, Texas sought to require an oath from public employees that they would not support BDS as a condition of their employment. The lead plaintiff, Bahia Amawia, a U.S. citizen and speech pathologist, is a Palestinian, with family in Palestine, who participates in the BDS movement because she “advocate[s] for Palestinian human rights and justice [and to that end] support[s] peaceful efforts to impose economic pressure on Israel, with the goal of making Israel recognize Palestinians’ dignity and human rights.” For almost a decade, she contracted with a local school district in Texas to provide speech therapy and childhood evaluations. When she refused to certify that she did not, and will not in the future, boycott Israel, she was fired and sued.

Rejecting the state’s power to prohibit the boycott of Israel as a condition of public employment, the court scoffed at the Texas argument that BDS was merely an effort to “…refuse to buy things.” In siding with the broadest reach of First Amendment protection the court reminded Texas of the now almost four decade old teach of Claiborne “… that boycotts are “deeply embedded in the American political process”—so embedded not because “refusing to buy things” is of paramount importance, but because in boycotts, the “elements of speech, assembly, association, and petition… “are inseparable” and are magnified by the “banding together” of individuals “to make their voices heard.” With quick dispatch, the court ruled the Texas statute unconstitutional.

Likewise, in Koontz v. Watsonthe court rejected an attempt by the Kansas legislature to impose a fidelity clause upon state contractors which prohibited them from engaging in a boycott of Israel. In Koontz, the plaintiff, a Mormon, became motivated to boycott Israel by a documentary she saw, in 2016, about conditions in Palestine. The following year, she began to boycott Israeli businesses not long before the Mennonite Church USA passed a resolution that called on its members to boycott products associated with the occupation. As a result, Ms. Koontz decided she would not purchase any products or services from Israeli companies or from any company which operates in Israeli-occupied Palestine.

Because of her refusal to sign the required certification, Ms. Koontz, a curriculum coach at a public school, was denied an opportunity to participate as a teacher trainer in a statewide program under a contract that would have enhanced her career and increased her income.

In revisiting Claiborne, the court noted that Ms. Koontz, and other members of the Mennonite Church, have “banded together” to express their dissatisfaction with Israel and to influence its governmental action which, they see, as one riddled with injustice and violence.

Drawing no distinction between the unconstitutional anti-boycott efforts of Mississippi, some fifty years earlier, and that of Kansas, today, the court reasoned Ms. Koontz “and others participating in this boycott of Israel seek to amplify their voices to influence change… as did the boycotters in Claiborne.” Finding the law violated Ms. Koontz’ First Amendment rights, the court granted a preliminary injunction enjoining the state from enforcing the law.

A similar conclusion was recently reached in the matter of Jordahl v. Brnovich. In 2016, Arizona enacted legislation “… aimed at divesting state funding from companies that engage in a boycott of Israel.” In relevant part Arizona Revised Statute § 35-393.01 states :

“A public entity may not enter into a contract with a company to acquire or dispose of services, supplies, information technology or construction unless the contract includes a written certification that the company is not currently engaged in, and agrees for the duration of the contract to not engage in, a boycott of Israel.”

Mikkel Jordahl is an attorney who, on a personal level, participates in a boycott of consumer goods and services offered by businesses which support the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Jordahl was moved by the Peace Not Walls campaign, promoted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which calls on “… individuals to invest in Palestinian products to build their economy and to utilize selective purchasing to avoid buying products made in illegal Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land.” Mr. Jordahl is a non-Jewish member of Jewish Voice for Peace and supports its endorsement of BDS campaigns. As head of his own law firm, he wanted it to join the boycott of all businesses operating in settlements in occupied Palestinian.

For more than a decade, Mr. Jordahl’s firm contracted with an Arizona county jail for legal services to incarcerated individuals. Following passage of Arizona’s anti-BDS law, the County asked him to execute a written certification, on the Firm’s behalf, that it “is not currently engaged in a boycott of Israel,”, that “no wholly owned subsidiaries, majority-owned subsidiaries, parent companies, or affiliates” of the Firm are “engaged in a boycott of Israel,” and that neither the Firm nor any of the above-mentioned associated entities would “engage in a boycott of Israel” for the duration of the contract agreement.” He refused. As a result, the county stopped paying for his firm’s legal services although Mr. Jordahl continued its work, free of charge, at significant personal expense.

The Arizona court had little difficulty in siding with Mr. Jordahl and his firm. Beginning with the settled proposition that citizens do not forfeit their First Amendment rights by accepting public employment, the court found no difference of constitutional consequence between Claiborne and its progeny and the Arizona law at hand.

From there it was a quick judicial walk to the conclusion that Arizona’s anti-BDS law impermissibly “burdens the protected expression of companies wishing to engage in such a boycott. The type of collective action targeted by the Act specifically implicates the rights of assembly and association that Americans and Arizonans use “to bring about political, social, and economic change.”

In light of these cases, it is wishful sophistry to see the Supreme Court do a 180 degree turn if, and when, an anti-BDS case reaches its historic bench and to find that such legislation passes constitutional muster. Yet, Florida and its toadying Governor, desperate for political pomp, have gone one step further in it’s most recent law that not only impermissibly prohibits boycotts, but seeks to criminalize mere words, themselves. Under their broken view of the First Amendment, one can silence public discussion and debate over the policies and practices of Israel by simply reducing it to little more than a trendy puerile talisman of anti-Semitism. It will not work.

If there is any remarkable feature of the American experience, it is the First Amendment. By its very language, it is imposing. It is meant to be. “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech or of the press…” While this unqualified phrasing was not intended to safeguard all expression, First Amendment protection of speech and press is the exalted cornerstone of our Republic.

Nowhere is that more compelling than it is with regard to political speech. As noted by the Supreme Court… “Speech concerning public affairs is more than self-expression; it is the essence of self-government.” To be sure, the Court has often “… reaffirmed that speech on public issues occupies the highest rung of the [hierarchy] of First Amendment values and is entitled to special protection.”

The constitution permits but minimal interference with political speech. And when it takes the form of a “prior restraint” suppressing it before the fact, it is presumptively unconstitutional whether the ban arises from a court order or by legislative act. The right of speech stretches from the speaker’s voice to the listener’s ear … free from government. Ultimately, it is only through a robust exchange of ideas and opinion that informed decisions can be drawn on essential issues of public concern.

Ripped from the historical presence of Palestine, Israel has received hundreds of billions of dollars from the United States since its founding. In the decades since, it has provided Israel an endless supply of high grade weaponry, technical assistance and blanket support in the UN. It has shaped much of its own foreign policy in the Middle East, Gulf and parts of North Africa in reliance upon what is described, by some, as a bilateral relationship that furthers the interest of both. Over these years, the United States has inflicted millions of casualties in the region and suffered tens of thousands of its own. While some choose to describe the relationship between the United States and Israel as one of architect and proxy, with vigorous disagreement over which is which, there can be no reasonable quarrel over the fact that they have been inexorably intertwined with one another on issues of public interest and policy for more than seventy years. Given this history, to suggest that discourse and debate about that relationship, indeed, about Israel itself, does not constitute protected speech about pressing public issues is sheer folly.

That is not to suggest that all comment and speech about Israel, its leadership, its people, its property must be constitutionally countenanced under all circumstances at all times. Indeed, it is well settled that, under limited circumstances, speech can cross the line from protected observation and comment to illegal conduct.

Thus, in the landmark case of Brandenburg v. Ohio the Supreme Court noted that speech “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and “likely to incite or produce such action” may be punishable via criminal law. However it went on to note that speech may encourage or even advocate lawless action, yet be unlikely to incite such action, leaving it fully protected under the First Amendment.

Cut to its essential chase, Brandenburg and its progeny reaffirm a call for calculation and consideration of words and context not whitewash of thoughts. Florida would silence that calculus by legislative fiat. It would convert any challenge to Israel, any dare to its policies, any opposition to its practices to prohibited, perhaps even criminal speech. It does not pass constitutional muster.

 

Close

Whether by ignorance or political convenience, the fundamental disconnect between the secular evil that is Zionism and the age-old faith that is Judaism seems to narrow day by day across certain political divides. BDS is a movement of non violence and humanity… it singles out no one faith, race, or sexual identity for either scorn or praise. Yet, with unsurprising ease and clear purpose, it has been reworked, by some, to turn aside its well defined goal and, by now, settled history and practice. Short on cover, excuse and allies, desperate Zionists have never hesitated to exploit painful historical events to further their faithless geopolitical blueprint. And while many wince at the claim of an age-old international Jewish conspiracy, Zionists welcome the screed as so much supporting fodder for their all too convenient baseless charge that Jews are under attack, everywhere. Make no mistake about it, Israeli hate and violence is under attack… as well it should be. But to cast its long, supremacist and deadly shadow as vulnerable victim to ”anti-Semitism” by critical speech . . . and speech alone… is little more than cheap obfuscation and empty rewrite.

While HB 741 may please Florida’s political benefactors, ultimately it will fail as but another petty pander to those who find comfort in lofty self-praise but flee the search for truth. That search will not permit the future of Palestinians to remain highjacked through the fabrication of a shallow Zionist chronicle.

When the history of our time is written, anti-BDS legislation will be dispatched as little more than opportune political chant. As for BDS, itself, it will have proven to have played a defining role as a loud and powerful megaphone that confronted the longest and most insidious system of apartheid of our day… bar none.

Feature photo | Gov. Ron DeSantis visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photo | Governor’s Press Office

Stanley L Cohen is a US-based attorney and human rights activist who has done extensive work in the Middle East and Africa.

This article was published with special permission from the author.  It first appeared at CounterPunch.

The post From Tel Aviv to Tallahassee appeared first on MintPress News.

The Day After: What Happens If Israel Annexes the West Bank?

Calls for the annexation of the Occupied West Bank are gaining momentum in both Tel Aviv and Washington. But Israel and its American allies should be careful what they wish for. Annexing the Occupied Palestinian Territories will only reinforce the current rethink of the Palestinian strategy, as opposed to solving Israel’s self-induced problems. 

Encouraged by the Donald Trump administration’s decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israeli government officials feel that the time for annexing the entirety of the West Bank is now. 

In fact, “there is no better time than now” was the exact phrase used by former Israeli Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, as she promoted annexation at a recent New York conference. 

Certainly, it is election season in Israel again, as Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, failed to form a government following the last elections in April. So much saber-rattling happens during such political campaigns, as candidates talk tough in the name of ‘security’, fighting terrorism, and so on. 

But Shaked’s comments cannot be dismissed as fleeting election kerfuffle. They represent so much more if understood within the larger political context.  

Indeed, since Trump’s advent to the White House, Israel has never – and I mean, never – had it so easy. It is as if the rightwing government’s most radical agenda became a wish list for Israel’s allies in Washington. This list includes the US recognition of Israel’s illegal annexation of Occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem, of the Occupied Syrian Golan Heights, and the dismissal of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return altogether.

But that is not all. Statements made by influential US officials indicate an initial interest in the outright annexation of the Occupied West Bank or, at least, large parts of it. The latest of such calls were made by US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. 

“Israel has the right to retain some  … of the West Bank,” Friedman said in an interview, cited in the New York Times on June 8. 

Pompeo and Friedman next to the dedication plaque at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, March 21, 2019. Jim Young | AP

Friedman is deeply involved in the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’, a political gambit championed mostly by Trump’s top advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The apparent idea behind this ‘deal’ is to dismiss the core demands of the Palestinians while reassuring Israel regarding its quest for a demographic majority and ‘security’ concerns. 

Other US officials behind Washington’s efforts on behalf of Israel include US Special Envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, and former US Ambassador to the UN, Nicki Haley. In a recent interview with the Israeli rightwing newspaper, Israel Hayom, Haley said that the Israeli government “should not be worried” regarding the yet-to-be fully revealed details of the ‘Deal of the Century.’ 

Knowing Haley’s love-affair with – and brazen defense of – Israel at the United Nations, it should not be too difficult to fathom the subtle and obvious meaning of her words. 

This is why Shaked’s call for the annexation of the West Bank cannot be dismissed as typical election season talk.

But can Israel annex the West Bank? 

 

More than a pipedream?

Practically speaking, yes, it can. True, it would be a flagrant violation of international law, but such a notion has never irked Israel, nor stopped it from annexing Palestinian or Arab territories. For example, it occupied East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in 1980 and 1981 respectively. 

Moreover, the political mood in Israel is increasingly receptive to such a step. A poll conducted by the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, last March revealed that 42% of Israelis back West Bank annexation. This number is expected to rise in the following months as Israel continues to move to the right. 

Credit | Haaretz

It is also important to note that several steps have already been taken in that direction, including the Israeli Knesset’s (parliament) decision to apply the same civil laws to illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank as to those living in Israel. 

But that is where Israel faces its greatest dilemma. 

According to a joint poll conducted by Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in August 2018, over 50% of Palestinians realize that a so-called two-state solution is no longer tenable. Moreover, a growing number of Palestinians also believe that co-existence in a single state, where Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs (Muslims and Christians, alike) live side by side, is the only possible formula for a better future. 

The dichotomy for Israeli officials, who are keen on maintaining Jewish demographic majority and the marginalization of Palestinian rights, is that they no longer have good options.

First, they understand that the indefinite occupation of Palestinian territories cannot be sustained. Ongoing Palestinian resistance at home, and the rise of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement abroad is challenging Israel’s very political legitimacy across the world. 

Second, they must also be aware of the fact that, from an Israeli Jewish leaders’ point of view, annexing the West Bank, along with millions of Palestinians, will multiply the very ‘demographic threat’ that they have been dreading for many years.

Third, the ethnic cleansing of whole Palestinian communities – the so-called ‘transfer’ option – as Israel has done upon its founding in 1948, and again, in 1967, is no longer possible. Neither will Arab countries open their borders for Israel’s convenient genocides, nor will Palestinians leave, however high the price. The fact that Gazans remained put, despite years of siege and brutal wars, is a case in point. 

Political grandstanding aside, Israeli leaders understand that they are no longer in the driver’s seat and, despite their military and political advantage over Palestinians, it is becoming clear that firepower and Washington’s blind support are no longer enough to determine the future of the Palestinian people. 

It is also clear that the Palestinian people are not, and never were, passive actors in their own fate. If Israel maintains its 52-year old Occupation, Palestinians will continue to resist. That resistance will not be weakened, or quelled, by any decision to annex the West Bank, in part or in full, the same way that Palestinian resistance in Jerusalem did not cease since its illegal annexation by Tel Aviv four decades ago. 

Finally, the illegal annexation of the West Bank can only contribute to the irreversible awareness among Palestinians that their fight for freedom, human rights, justice and equality can be better served through a civil rights struggle within the borders of one single democratic state. 

In her blind arrogance, Shaked and her rightwing ilk are only accelerating the demise of Israel as an ethnic, racist state, while opening up the stage for better possibilities than perpetual violence and apartheid.

Feature photo | US National Security Advisor John Bolton (L) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) guided by Israeli army Major General Nadav Padan (L) at the Qasr al-Yahud baptism site at the Jordan Valley near the Palestinian city of Jericho, West Bank, June 23, 2019. Abir Sultan | EPA via AP

Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a widely published and translated author, an internationally syndicated columnist and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter (2015), and was a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB. Visit his website at  www.ramzybaroud.net.

The post The Day After: What Happens If Israel Annexes the West Bank? appeared first on MintPress News.

Why the State Department Let a Terrorist Cult Gather on its Doorstep

Watching the Trump administration’s push for war with Iran, news consumers may find it hard to be surprised by the lengths the U.S. government is willing to go to in order to instigate war — or regime change at the very least — against the Islamic Republic. U.S. citizens have been treated to lengthy lectures by the mainstream media, which laments the loss of an unmanned drone and a targeted Japanese oil tanker whose owner disputes Washington’s version of events.

Yet, it isn’t the Trump administration that solidified the U.S.’s relationship with its strangest bedfellow in the battle against the Iranian government. That distinction goes to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton declassified the Mojahedin-e Khalq (People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK) as a terrorist organization in 2012. The Guardian described the move as a result of a “multimillion-dollar campaign.”

The campaign to bury the MEK’s bloody history of bombings and assassinations that killed American businessmen, Iranian politicians and thousands of civilians, and to portray it as a loyal U.S. ally against the Islamic government in Tehran, has seen large sums of money directed at three principal targets: members of Congress, Washington lobby groups and influential former officials.”

The outlet continued:

Three top Washington lobby firms — DLA Piper; Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; and DiGenova & Toensing — have been paid a total of nearly $1.5 million over the past year to press the U.S. administration and legislators to support the delisting of the MEK and protection for its members in camps in Iraq.

Two other lobby groups were hired for much smaller amounts. The firms employed former members of Congress to press their ex-colleagues on Capitol Hill to back the unbanning of the MEK.”

Today, years after the group was removed from Washington’s terror list, it enjoys even more access to the halls of power, despite its dismal levels of approval in Iran, the country it claims to represent.

“The MEK has incredible influence in the White House and on the Hill. I frequently see them lobbying members of Congress and attending hearings with matching yellow jackets that say ‘Iranians support regime change,’ Lily Tajaddini, Iran Coordinator at CodePink, told MintPress News.

The group claims to want democracy, but it is abundantly clear that their ideal leader for the future of Iran is Maryam Rajavi, the woman who leads their cult. The contradiction was laid bare last week at a protest held by the group in Washington with chants of “Democracy and freedom, with Maryam Rajavi.”

A recent investigation by The Intercept revealed that the White House used an article by one Heshmat Alavi to justify its illegal withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or Iran Nuclear Deal). The only problem is that Alavi “is a persona run by a team of people from the political wing of the MEK. This is not and has never been a real person {emphasis added),” according to one former member of the cult, whose story was corroborated by other former members.

As LobeLog reported:

This new scandal…involves a wide political and media class that has become so besotted with an unrealistic anti-Iran agenda that it has left the door open to an unchecked, unverified flow of MEK propaganda throughout American politics and the media. Thanks to these regime-change advocates, a foreign group funded by a foreign government has easily manufactured a false narrative aimed at sending American soldiers to die in a war with Iran that is against U.S. national interests.”

That foreign government is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Even the U.S. government’s own Voice of America outlet reports:

Observers have long been puzzled about how the group [MEK] managed to shell out $25,000 speaker fees to the likes of [former Speaker of the House Newt] Gingrich, [former Governor of New Mexico and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill] Richardson, [former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard] Dean, former New York Mayor [and President Trump’s lawyer] Rudy Giuliani and others, given its small basis of support within the Iranian diaspora. It’s entirely possible that the Saudis have funded the MEK for years.”

And there is a consensus that Saudi Arabia is financing the group across the axis, with Russia’s SputnikNews reporting:

A former MEK member who oversaw the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of materials explained how the group has stayed financially afloat.

Massoud Khodabandeh explained that three tons of solid gold, a minimum of four suitcases of customized Rolex watches, and fabric that had been used to cover the Muslim holy site of Kaaba in Mecca were among the commodities shipped from Saudi Arabia to MEK operatives in Baghdad as part of the scheme.”

As MintPress News previously reported:

Testimony from a former high-ranking official from the Iranian militant opposition group…has confirmed that the group had been covertly financed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. For decades, the Gulf Kingdom…contributed hundreds of millions of dollars in gold and other valuables.”

 

Several fronts and bigtime backers

The MEK operates through several fronts, including the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC), inter alia.

The former is a “little-known advocacy group determined to install itself as the new government of Iran,” which “continues to build a powerful influence network in Washington and beyond,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). The latter is a U.S.-based lobbying group.

NCRI has “been hosting opulent events at the National Press Club and elsewhere, publicizing itself through national and international media, and meeting with dozens of current and former government officials, all with the end goal of toppling the current Iranian government and rising to power in its place,” the watchdog reports. CRP adds:

“The [C]ouncil of [R]esistance either submitted or was quoted in 51 media pieces between December 2018 and May 2019, according to FARA [law requiring registration of foreign lobbyists] filings.”

Meanwhile, some of the biggest names in American politics openly back the group. The ultra-hawkish Sen. Tom Cotton, who has advocated for a pre-emptive strike on Iran, has spoken at their events. National Security Advisor John Bolton promised the group at its 2017 conference in Albania that “before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran.” Richardson, Gingrich and Guiliani also gave speeches there.

Watch White House National Security Advisor @AmbJohnBolton promise to MEK terror cultists in 2017 that "before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran" after saying the US stated policy should be regime change.

It didn't work out that way. pic.twitter.com/YESfX5Ep3o

— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) January 9, 2019

Among other prominent supporters of the group: former Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ); retired General and former Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army Jack Keane; Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH); Sen. John Boozman (R-AR); Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC); Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO); Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA); Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA); and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, among many, many more.

 

Chaos at the State Department

On Friday, some 500 MEK members demonstrated in front of the State Department building in Washington, equipped with stages, two large-screen TVs, and three confetti cannons. In between speeches, demonstrators chanted “Change, change, change / Regime change in Iran!”

They also chanted their support for MEK leader Maryam Rajavi — who is banned from entering the United Kingdom, yet bills herself as a progressive reformer despite her group’s terrorist past. “Rajavi yes / Mullahs no / They are terrorists, they must go!” MEK members chanted.

According to organizers, the MEK members flew in from “40 different states.”

One speaker opened the rally by proclaiming:

In one voice, we declare that the only solution is for the Iranian people to overthrow this regime and create a democratic nation. Our rally is timely, our message is clear. Thousands of Iranians are here to say it loud: ‘We call on the United States to support the Iranian uprisings for regime change.’”

He went on to call for more sanctions and for the designation of Iranian intelligence agencies as terrorist groups. The speaker continued:

With this comes the recognition of an alternative to the Iranian regime. Misses Maryam Rajavi and the NCRI have demonstrated leadership, a significant network, and the organizational capabilities to free Iran. And we support Misses Rajavi and her 10-point plan for a free, democratic, and non-nuclear Iran.

Let’s make sure that we are heard and on social media with the following hashtags: #MarchForRegimeChangeByIranians, #IStandWithMaryamRajavi, and #FreeIran.”

Schedule for the “Iran Rally In Solidarity with Iranian People’s Uprisings for Regime Change.”

Some people who spoke were not included on the list of speakers, including representatives McClintock and Sherman. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Van Taylor (R-TX) also had statements read to the MEK crowd. Later, former U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain Adam Ereli also spoke.

 
A handful of counter demonstrators with the anti-war women’s group CodePink showed up to rally against the MEK group. Tajaddini had organized the protest but stayed at a distance, noting:

They target me because I am Iranian. They have yelled sexist slurs at me and make false claims that I am paid by the regime inside of Iran solely because I do not support sanctions or war against Iran.”

Days prior, CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin had confronted MEK members as they attempted to lobby Congress. On Friday, MEK had pictures on hand of Benjamin meeting with Iranian officials during her participation in peace delegations printed out in an effort to intimidate her. They surrounded her, pushed her, and called her a terrorist.

Immediately after the State Department security personnel escorted Benjamin from the mob, she told MintPress News:

This is an example of the mentality among these people. They have no respect for democracy.

If it weren’t for the police, they would be hitting us and assaulting like they have done many times. They are a cult and a former terrorist group. They have been legitimized with the support of John Bolton and other people in the administration. They’re hated inside Iran.”

One of the MEK members who was captured on video being pushed away by police for being too aggressive towards Benjamin, told MintPress News that Benjamin and the other members of CodePink “have got money from the Iranian agent to participate here.” The accusation of spying for or being on the payroll of Iran is included in most public testimony of those targeted by the group. The MEK member continued:

We want just change of the regime, nothing more, but they are supporting the Iranian terrorist regime.

I hope that the Iranian terrorist regime [is] overthrown and the people can choose anybody they want to. For example, if they elect Maryam Rajavi.”

Maryam Rajavi is the de-facto leader of the MEK since her husband mysteriously disappeared. Rajavi addressed the protest remotely, on two occasions reminding her supporters that the U.S. is their ally and accusing the Iranian government of having it backwards. She congratulated MEK members for their growing support in Washington and shared her vision of opening up markets in Iran. Despite originally billing itself as a Marxist organization, MEK is now staunchly capitalist — perhaps a necessary condition for alliance with the U.S. According to the group:

The council accepts national capitalism and the bazaar [marketplace], private ownership and enterprise, as well as private investment.”

But it isn’t only about the benjamins, CodePink’s Tajaddini argues:

Many members in Congress and the White House have strong ties to the Israeli and Saudi lobby groups [that] support sanctions and a war with Iran. They also support the MEK because they are then able to say that Iranians support the U.S.-led regime change.”

 

The Congressional Cult Caucus

Gov. Richardson opened his speech with red meat for the MEK: “We need a new regime. That regime is you, the MEK.” Richardson concluded by leading a chant of “M-E-K!”

Richardson’s interest in the outcome of United States policy in the Middle East isn’t just confined to his support for the MEK, for which he is rewarded generously. He is also involved in a U.S. oil project in the Syrian Golan Heights, which are illegally occupied by Israel, via a company called Genie Energy Ltd. Given the transnational nature of pipelines, Genie Energy stands to benefit from both regime change in Syria and Iran. Other figures on the company’s advisory board include former Vice President Dick Cheney, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, investment banker Jacob Rothschild and former CIA Director James Woosley.

Former Sen. Robert Torricelli, who helped lobby the Clinton state department to drop the MEK from its terrorist list, cheered Rajavi’s sacrifices for the movement.

Rep. Brad Sherman, Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, assured the crowd that the Iranian government “may be on its last leg.” He said that he was sure that Iran’s military was watching the protest remotely. “So Rouhani, this is the future of Iran. Watch it on your video streams,” he said.

Rep. Tom McClintock told the crowd that “the gang of thugs that have appointed themselves the rulers of Iran — their claim on power is illegitimate and the time to topple them is approaching.”

Jack Keane, a retired four-star general and former Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, said Iran is “choking” on U.S. sanctions and condemned Iran for its alleged support of Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Syria. He told the MEK to “keep up your fight, keep up your resistance.”

Sharing a bit of what appears to be insider knowledge with the cultists, the general told them “the United States will lead a coalition of nations to keep the shipping lanes open in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. That will unfold in the days ahead.”

Following the rally, the MEK marched to the White House, again calling for regime change.

Chant outside the White House:
“What do we want?”
“REGIME CHANGE” pic.twitter.com/Xs7VNgcduD

— They’re concentration camps. (@AliMortell) June 21, 2019

 

MEKing history

Virtually every investigation into the so-called “People’s Mujahedeen” — whether by think tanks, NGOs, or the media — concludes that their support inside of Iran is virtually non-existent. The group participated in the revolution against the Shah but was not invited to the table as a new government was being formed. And so they rebelled, engaging in a campaign of terror marked with assassination attempts against Iranian, U.S. and Jordanian officials. They bombed many businesses. Three U.S. military officials were killed; as were three contractors, and that was prior to the revolution. Afterwards, MEK attacks would see as many as 70 high-ranking officials from other political parties killed. Suicide attacks and assassinations continued.

Eventually, the MEK sided with Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war and was responsible for scores of Iranian casualties. This is largely credited as the reason the group is so widely despised in Iran.

Of the 15 YouTube videos posted by the MEK since it shared its march in Washington, all 15 are videos of people setting fire to things.

In 1989, Maryam and Masoud Rajavi made divorce compulsory to advance the so-called “ideological revolution.” In 1992, the group conducted “near-simultaneous” raids on Iranian embassies in 13 countries. By August 2002, the group started holding press conferences in Washington highlighting the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. The next year, it bombed a UN compound in Iraq, causing the international body to vacate the country.

The RAND Corporation, a U.S. government-funded militarist think tank, was asked by a Marine Corps major-general to provide a “rigorous analysis” of the group. The 133-page report states:

The MeK naturally sought out Iranian dissidents, but it also approached Iranian economic migrants in such countries as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates with false promises of employment, land, aid in applying for asylum in Western countries, and even marriage, to attract them to Iraq. Relatives of members were given free trips to visit the MeK’s camps. Most of these ‘recruits’ were brought into Iraq illegally and then required to hand over their identity documents for ‘safekeeping.’ Thus, they were effectively trapped.

During the more than four decades since its founding, the MeK has become increasingly adept at crafting and promoting its image as a democratic organization that seeks to bring down Iranian tyrants, both secular and religious. This profile has been especially effective in the United States and Europe, where, until recently, the MeK’s extensive fundraising activities have been very successful.”

In the internet era, the cult has managed to keep up with the times. A Channel 4 report found one defector whose job it was to run pro-MEK sockpuppet accounts pretending to be Iranian.

In a possible testament to the group’s effectiveness at manipulating narratives, one media outlet has released what it says is leaked audio of the head of MEK’s cyber unit speaking to a U.S.-based supporter. “We did our best to blame the [Iranian] regime for the [oil tanker] blasts. The Saudis have called Sister Maryam [Rajavi’s] office to follow up on the results,” the MEK official tells him.

Leaked Audio in Iranian media alleges collusion between Saudi Arabia and MEK over Tanker Attacks.https://t.co/LMJSotdnEN pic.twitter.com/r2p6xM3dEo

— Aveek Sen (@aveeksen) June 22, 2019

One leading NGO — Human Rights Watch — did even more digging into the cultish behavior of the group. It interviewed a number of former members, uncovering one case in which a man was “held in solitary confinement for eight-and-a-half years” for wanting to leave. Two people were killed in interrogations.

The level of devotion expected of members was [on] stark display in 2003 when the French police arrested Maryam Rajavi in Paris. In protest, ten MKO members and sympathizers set themselves on fire in various European cities; two of them subsequently died.”

The rights group also reported “mass divorces” as a result of leadership’s “ideological revolution.” MEK told members it would enhance their “capacity for struggle.” Celibacy is likewise mandatory.

Human rights abuses carried out by [MEK] leaders against dissident members ranged from prolonged incommunicado and solitary confinement to beatings, verbal and psychological abuse, coerced confessions, threats of execution, and torture.”

Today, the MEK is constructing a massive compound in Tirana, Albania. A former head of Albanian military intelligence told Channel 4 he thought they were trying to build “a state within a state.”

An aerial shot of the sprawling MEK compound in Tirana, Albania.

The outlet reported that Albania agreed to allow the camp to be set up in order to earn itself additional support from the United States. The report contains the story of one couple from Canada who say their daughter was kidnapped 20 years ago by the group and who traveled to Albania to find her. The MEK social-media troll said there was “forced public confession about any thoughts about sex,” every night. Another said he was tortured for 45 days. The journalist behind the report was repeatedly harassed by MEK and its Albanian private security on camera.

A separate report, in LobeLog, states:

“One journalist confessed to me he felt afraid in his own country when the MEK, accompanied by hired armed Albanian security personnel, followed him. In a public space, they photographed him and made verbal threats, demanding that he hand over his phone on which he had earlier filmed activity outside the MEK camp gate.”

These horrifying anecdotes are apparently of little concern to former Sen. Torricelli, who lobbied to have the group removed from the U.S. terrorist list. “To those of you in Tirana, thank you for being who you are: the point of the spear in the effort for Iranian freedom,” he told the MEK crowd in D.C. on Friday.

 

Media downplay the MEK

It appears that the horror stories from MEK compounds from Europe to the Middle East are also of little concern to the D.C. press corps. Multiple journalists tweeted about the events in manners clearly designed to manufacture a pro-war consensus. Reuters’ White House reporter Steve Holland and Eamon Javers, Washington correspondent for CNBC, offered no context on the group, thereby presenting the pro-regime change cultists as ordinary, concerned, Iranian-Americans.

MAJOR media malpractice!

Local NBC affiliate reports that the tension between the US & Iran “triggered” the MEK protest in Washington. The rally was really at least months in the making. It makes no mention of MEK

Media are just making things up to support their pro-war agenda! pic.twitter.com/37xHxdHEca

— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) June 21, 2019

NBC News White House Correspondent Kelly O’Donnell called the group “pro-democracy protesters seeking Iran regime change.” She eventually deleted the tweet without offering an explanation.

But despite the correspondent’s likely realization of the complete failure in her characterization, the report from NBC News that aired on its local affiliate made no mention of the MEK, yet somehow managed to regurgitate MEK’s inflated claim that it had “thousands” of protesters who attended, when it was clearly far less. The report even concluded with an unsourced claim:

I am told this march and rally was seen in Iran because of live coverage streamed over the internet. Reporting from the White House, Chris Gordon, News 4.”

The report was also tilted “US-Iran Tensions Trigger Protests in DC.” The headline gives the impression that the MEK was protesting in response to recent escalations, when its protest had in fact been long planned to mark the anniversary of a major protest held by the group in Tehran decades ago.

But when CodePink decided to have its own rally out in front of the White House — a feat organized in just three days — calling for an end to sanctions on Sunday, the media virtually ignored it save for a handful of independent reporters.

The MEK’s influence operation in the United States is monied and arguably successful. The cult has the backing of a number of Trump administration officials and allies, current and former members of Congress, and the establishment media. As they say, politics makes strange bedfellows. When it comes to the overthrow of a sovereign foreign government, it seems they are made even with those who are not allowed to keep bedfellows.

Feature photo | MEK cultists rally in front of the State Department, calling for regime change in Iran. Alex Rubinstein | MintPress News

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

The post Why the State Department Let a Terrorist Cult Gather on its Doorstep appeared first on MintPress News.

In Israel the Push to Destroy Jerusalem’s Iconic Al-Aqsa Mosque Goes Mainstream

The iconic golden dome of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque, located on the Temple Mount or Haram el-Sharif, is the third holiest site in Islam and is recognized throughout the world as a symbol of the city of Jerusalem. Yet, this ancient site that dates back to the year 705 C.E. is being targeted for destruction by increasingly influential extremist groups that seek to erase Jerusalem’s Muslim heritage in pursuit of colonial ambitions and the fulfillment of end-times prophecy.

Some observers may have noticed the growing effort by some Israeli government and religious officials to remove the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque from the Jerusalem skyline, not only erasing the holy site in official posters, banners and educational material but also physically removing the building itself. For instance, current Knesset member of the ruling Likud Party, American-born Yehuda Glick, was also the director of the government-funded Temple Institute, which has created relics and detailed architectural plans for a temple that they hope will soon replace Al-Aqsa. Glick is also close friends with Yehuda Etzion, who was part of a failed plot in 1984 to blow up Al-Aqsa mosque and served prison time as a result.

“In the end we’ll build the temple and it will be a house of prayer for all nations,” Glick told Israeli newspaper Maariv in 2012. A year later, Israel’s Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel stated that “[w]e’ve built many little, little temples…but we need to build a real Temple on the Temple Mount.” Ariel stated that the new Jewish Temple must be built on the site where Al-Aqsa currently sits “as it is at the forefront of Jewish salvation.” Since then, prominent Israeli politicians have become more and more overt in their support for the end of Jordanian-Palestinian sovereignty over the mosque compound, leading many prominent Palestinians to warn in recent years of plans to destroy the mosque.

In recent years, a centuries-old effort by what was once a small group of extremists has gone increasingly mainstream in Israel, with prominent politicians, religious figures and political parties advocating for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque in order to fulfill a specific interpretation of an end-times prophecy that was once considered fringe among practitioners of Judaism. 

As Miko Peled, Israeli author and human-rights activist, told MintPress, the movement to destroy Al-Aqsa and replace it with a reimagined Temple “became notable after the 1967 war,” and has since grown into “a massive colonial project that uses religious, biblical mythology and symbols to justify its actions” — a project now garnering support from both religious and secular Israelis.

While the push to destroy Al-Aqsa and replace it with a physical Third Temple has gained traction in Israel in recent years, this effort has advanced at a remarkably fast pace in just the past few weeks, owing to a confluence of factors. These factors, as this report will show, include the upcoming revelation of the so-called “Deal of the Century,” the push for a war with Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and the Trump administration’s dramatic lenience in regards to the activity of Jewish extremist groups and extremist settlements in Israel.

These factors correlate with a quickening of efforts to destroy Al-Aqsa and the very real danger the centuries-old holy site faces. While the U.S. press has occasionally mentioned the role of religious extremism in dictating the foreign policy of prominent U.S. politicians like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, it has rarely shone a light on the role of Jewish extremism in directing Israel’s foreign policy — foreign policy that, in turn, is well-known to influence American policies.

When taken together, the threats to Al-Aqsa are clearly revealed to be much greater than the loss of a physical building, though that itself would be a grave loss for the world’s Muslim community, which includes over 1.8 billion people. In addition, the site’s destruction would very likely result in a regional and perhaps even global war with clear religious dimensions. 

To prevent such an outcome, it is essential to highlight the role that extremist, apocalyptic interpretations of both the Jewish and Christian faiths are playing in trends that, if left unchecked, could have truly terrifying consequences. Both of these extremist groups are heavily influenced by colonial ambitions that often supersede their religious underpinning. 

In Part I of this two-part series, MintPress examines the growth of extremist movements in Israel that openly promote the destruction of Al-Aqsa, from a relatively isolated fringe movement within Zionism to mainstream prominence in Israel today; as well as how threats to the historic mosque have grown precipitously in just the past month. MintPress interviewed Israeli author and activist Miko Peled; Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss of Neturei Karta in New York; Imam and scholar of Shia Islam, Sayed Hassan Al-Qazwini, of the Islamic Institute of America; and Palestinian journalist and academic Ramzy Baroud for their perspectives on these extremist groups, their growing popularity, and the increasing threats to the current status quo at Haram El-Sharif/Temple Mount.

The second part of this series will detail the influence of this extremist movement in Israeli politics as well as American politics, particularly among Christian Zionist politicians in the United States. The ways in which this movement’s goal have also influenced Israeli and U.S. policy — particularly in relation to the so-called “Deal of the Century,” President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the push for war against Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah — will also be examined.

 

Two centuries in the cross-hairs

Though efforts to wrest the contested holy site from Jordanian and Palestinian control have picked up dramatically in recent weeks, the Al-Aqsa mosque compound had long been targeted prior to Israel’s founding and even prior to the formation of the modern Zionist movement. 

For instance, Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Kalisher — who promoted the European Jewish colonization of Palestine from a religious perspective well before Zionism became a movement — expounded on an early form of what would later be labeled “religious Zionism” and was particularly interested in the acquisition of Haram el-Sharif (i.e., the Temple Mount) as a means of fulfilling prophecy. 

As noted in the essay “Proto-Zionism and its Proto-Herzl: The Philosophy and Efforts of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalisher” by Sam Lehman-Wilzig, Professor of Israeli Politics and Judaic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, Kalisher sought to court wealthy European Jews to finance the purchase of Israel for the purpose of resettlement, particularly the Temple Mount. In an 1836 letter to Baron Amschel Rothschild, Kalisher suggested that the eldest brother of the wealthy banker family use his abundant funds to bring Jewish sovereignty to Palestine, specifically Jerusalem and the Temple Mount: 

[E]specially at a time like this, when the Land of Israel is under the dominion of the Pasha… perhaps if his most noble Excellency pays him a handsome sum and purchases for him some other country (in Africa) in exchange for the Holy Land, which is presently small in quantity but great in quality… this money would certainly not be wasted… for when the leaders of Israel are gathered from every corner of the world… and transform it into an inhabited country, the many G-d-fearing and charitable Jews will travel there to take up their residency in the Holy Land under Jewish sovereignty… and be worthy to take up their portion in the offering upon the altar. And if the master (Ibrahim Pasha) does not desire to sell the entire land, then at least he should sell Jerusalem and its environs… or at least the Temple Mount and surrounding areas.” (emphasis added)

Kalisher’s request was met with a noncommittal response from Baron Rothschild, leading Kalisher to pursue other wealthy European Jewish families, like the Montefiores, with the same goal in mind. And, though Kalisher was initially unsuccessful in winning the support of the Rothschild family, other notable members of the wealthy European banking dynasty eventually did become enthusiastic supporters of Zionism in the decades that followed.

Kalisher was also influential in another way, as he was arguably the first modern Rabbi to reject the idea of patiently waiting for God to fulfill prophecy and proposed instead that man should take concrete steps that would lead to the fulfillment of such prophecies, a belief that Kalisher described as “self help.” For Kalisher, settling European Jews in Palestine was but the first step, to be followed by other steps that would form an active as opposed to a passive approach towards Jewish Messianism. These subsequent steps included the construction of a Third Temple, to replace the Second Temple destroyed by the Romans around the year 70 C.E., and the reinitiation of ritual animal sacrifices in that Temple, which Kalisher believed could only be placed on the Temple Mount, where Al-Aqsa then sat and still sits. 

Kalisher wasn’t alone in his views, as his contemporary, Rabbi Judah Alkalai, wrote the following in his book Shalom Yerushalayim

It is obvious that the Mashiach ben David [Messiah of the House of David] will not appear out of thin air in a fiery chariot with fiery horses, but will come if the Children of Israel bend to the task of preparing themselves for him.”

Though Kalisher wasn’t the lone voice promoting these ideas, his beliefs — aside from promoting the physical settlement of European Jews in Palestine — remained relatively fringe for decades, if not more than a century, as secular Jews were hugely influential in the Zionist movement after its official formation. However, prominent religious Zionists did influence the Zionist movement in key ways prior to Israel’s founding. One such figure was Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who sought to reconcile Zionism and Orthodox Judaism as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine, a position he assumed in 1924.

Yet, Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss of Neturei Karta, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group based in New York that opposes Zionism, told MintPress that many religious Zionists have since latched onto Kalisher’s ideas, which were widely rejected during his lifetime, in order to justify neocolonial actions sought by secular Zionists. “This rabbi, at the time, other rabbis ‘roared’ against him and his beliefs weren’t accepted,” Rabbi Weiss stated, “But now, the ones who are talking about building this Third Temple….these are Zionists and they have found some rabbi whose ideas benefit them that they have been using to justify Zionist acts” that are not aligned with Judaism “and make them kosher.”

The famous Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, at center, and the dome of Al-Aqsa Mosque pictured on May 15, 1976. Horst Faas | AP

Weiss further expanded on this point, noting that the participants of the modern religious Zionism movement that seek to build a new Jewish temple where Al-Aqsa currently stands are, at their core, Zionists who have used religious imagery and specific interpretations of religious texts as cover for neo-colonial acts, such as the complete re-making of the Temple Mount. 

“It’s like a wolf in a sheepskin…These people who want to incorporate the teachings of this rabbi [Rabbi Kalisher] are proudly saying that they are Jewish, but are doing things Jews are forbidden from doing,” such as ascending to and standing upon the Temple Mount, which Rabbi Weiss stated was “a breach of Jewish law,” long forbidden by that law according to a consensus among Jewish scholars and rabbis around the world that continued well beyond the formation of the Zionist movement in the 19th century. 

Weiss also told MintPress: 

There are only a few sins in Judaism — which has many, many laws, that lead to a Jew being cut off from God — and to go up to the Temple Mount is one of them…This is because you need a certain level of holiness to ascend and… the process to attain that level of holiness and purity cannot be done today, because [aspects of and the items required by] the necessary purity rituals no longer exist today.” 

Rabbi Weiss noted that, for this reason, the Muslim community that has historically governed the area where Al-Aqsa mosque stands never had any problems with the Jewish community in relation to the Temple Mount, as it has been known for centuries that Jews cannot ascend to the area where the mosque currently sits and instead prayed only at the Western Wall. He also stated that the prophetic idea of a Third Temple was, prior to Zionism, understood as indicating not a change in physical structures on the Temple Mount, but a metaphysical, spiritual change that would unite all of mankind to worship and serve God in unison.

Rabbi Weiss asserted that the conflict regarding Al-Aqsa mosque started only with the advent of Zionism and the associated neo-colonial ambition to fundamentally alter the status quo and structures present at the site as a means of erasing key parts (i.e., Palestinian parts) of its heritage. “This [the use of religion to justify ascending to and taking control of the Temple Mount] is a trap for conning other people into supporting them,” concluded the Rabbi.

Nonetheless, Kalisher’s impact can be seen in today’s Israel more than ever, thanks to the rise and mainstream acceptance within Israel of once-fringe elements of religious Zionism, which were deeply influenced by the ideas of rabbis like Kalisher and have served in recent decades as an incubator for some of Israel’s most radical political elements.

Meanwhile, as the debate within Judaism over the Temple Mount has changed dramatically since the 19th century, its significance in Islam has remained steadfast. According to Imam Sayed Hassan Al-Qazwini, “Al-Aqsa is the third holiest mosque in Islam…it is considered to be the place where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven and has been mentioned in the Qoran, which glorifies that mosque and identifies it as a blessed mosque. All Muslims, whether they are Sunni or Shia, revere that mosque” — a fact that has remained unchanged for over a millennium and continues to today. 

 

Religious Zionism gains political force

The modern rise of the religious Zionist movements that promote the destruction of Al-Aqsa mosque and its replacement with a Third Jewish Temple is most often traced back to the Six Day War of 1967. According to Miko Peled, who recently wrote a piece for MintPress News regarding the threats facing Al-Aqsa, “religious Zionism” as a political force became more noticeable following the 1967 war. Peled told MintPress:

After the ‘heartland’ of Biblical Israel came under Israeli control, the religious Zionists, who before then were marginalized, saw it as their mission to settle those newly conquered lands, and to be the new pioneers, so to speak. They took on the job that the socialist Zionist ideologues had in settling Palestine and ridding it of its native Arab population in the years leading up to Israel’s establishment and up to the early 1950s. They saw the “return” of Hebron, Bethlehem, Nablus, or Shchem and, of course, the Old City of Jerusalem as divine intervention and now it was their turn to make their mark. 

It began with a small group of Messianic fanatics who forced the government – who at that point, after 1967, was still secular Zionist – to accept their existence in the highly populated areas within the West Bank. That was how the city of Kiryat Arba [illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank] was established. The government, it is worth noting, was happy to be forced into this. From a small group that people thought were fringe lunatics to a Jewish city in the heart of Hebron region.”

Peled further noted that this model, employed by the religious extremist groups that founded illegal West Bank settlements like Kiryat Arba, “has been used successfully since then and it is now used by the groups that are promoting the new Temple in place of Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.” He continued, pointing out that “whereas 20-30 years ago they were considered a fringe group, this year they expect more than 50,000 people to enter the compound to support the group and their goals. Religious Israeli youth who opt out of military service and choose national service instead may work with the [Third] Temple building organizations.”

Extremist settlers escorted by Israeli after they stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on July 22, 2018. Mostafa Alkharouf | Anadolu

Dr. Ramzy Baroud — journalist, academic and founder of The Palestine Chronicle — agreed with Peled’s sense that the Third Temple movement or Temple Activist movement has grown dramatically in recent years and has become increasingly mainstream in Israel. Baroud told MintPress: 

There has been a massive increase in the number of Israeli Jews who force their way into the Al-Aqsa mosque compound to pray and practice various rituals…In 2017 alone, over 25,000 Jews who visited the compound — accompanied by thousands of soldiers and police officers and provoking many clashes that resulted in the death and wounding of many Palestinians. Since 2017, the increase in Jews visiting the compound has been very significant if compared to the previous year when around 14,000 Jews made that same journey.”

Baroud also noted: 

[The Temple Activist movement] has achieved a great deal in appealing to mainstream Israeli Jewish society in recent years. At one point, it was a marginal movement, but with the rise of the far right in Israel, their ideas and ideologies and religious aspirations have also become part of the Israeli mainstream.”

As a result, Baroud asserted: 

[There is] an increasing degree of enthusiasm among Israeli Jews that is definitely not happening at the margins [of society], but is very much a part of the mainstream, more so than at any time in the past, to take over the Al-Aqsa mosque, demolish the mosque in order to rebuild the so-called Third Temple.”

However, Rabbi Weiss disagreed with Peled and Baroud that this faction presents a real threat to the mosque, given that the mosque’s destruction is widely rejected by Diaspora Jewry (i.e., Jews living outside of Israel) and that destroying it would not only cause conflicts with the global Muslim community but also numerous Jewish communities outside of Israel. 

As Rabbi Weiss told MintPress:

Some of the largest and most religious [i.e. ultra-orthodox] Jewish communities outside of Israel, like the second largest community of religious [ultra-orthodox] Jews in Williamsburg, Brooklyn [in New York], and also in Israel … are opposed to this concept of taking over the Temple Mount and other related ideas.” 

Weiss argued that many of these religious Zionists in Israel that are pushing for a new Temple “do not follow Jewish law to the letter and don’t come from the very religious communities, including the settlers…They don’t go to expressly religious schools, they go to Zionist schools. Their whole view is built on Zionism and [secondarily] incorporates the religion,” as opposed to the reverse. As a result, the destruction of the Al-Aqsa mosque, in Weiss’ view, could greatly alienate the state of Israel from these more religious and ultra-orthodox communities. 

In addition, Rabbi Weiss felt that many Jewish and secular Israelis would also reject such a move because it would create even more conflicts, which many Israelis do not want. He described the Temple Activists as “a vocal minority” that represented a “fringe” among adherents to Judaism and a group within Zionism that has tried to use the Temple Mount “in order to be able to excuse their occupation and to try to portray this [the occupation of Palestine] as a religious conflict,” with the conflict surrounding the Temple Mount being an extension of that. 

An Israeli police officer raises his baton on Palestinians worshipers near the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 27, 2017. Mahmoud Illean | AP

Weiss believed that the push to take over the Temple Mount was a “scare tactic” aimed at securing the indefinite nature of the occupation, and noted that many Israelis did not want a spike in or renewal of conflict that would inevitably result if the mosque were to be destroyed. He also added that he did not think there was a “real threat” of the mosque being targeted because international rabbinical authorities have stood fast in their opposition to the project promoted by the Temple Activists.

 

“Tomorrow might be too late”

It is hardly a coincidence that the growth of Temple Activism and associated movements like “neo-Zionism” have paralleled the growth in threats to the Al-Aqsa mosque itself. Many of these threats can be understood through the doctrine developed by Rabbi Kalisher and others in the mid-19th century — the idea that “active” steps must be taken to bring about the reconstruction of a Jewish Temple at Haram El-Sharif in order to bring about the Messianic Age.

Indeed, during the 1967 war, General Shlomo Goren, the chief rabbi of the IDF, had told Chief of Central Command Uzi Narkiss that, shortly after Israel’s conquest of Jerusalem’s Old City, the moment had come to blow up the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. “Do this and you will go down in history,” Goren told Narkiss. According to Tom Segev’s book 1967, Goren felt that the site’s destruction could only be done under the cover of war: “Tomorrow might be too late.” 

Goren was among the first Israelis to arrive at the then-recently conquered Old City in Jerusalem and was joined at the newly “liberated” Al-Aqsa compound by a young Yisrael Ariel, who now is a major leader in the Temple Activist movement and head of the Temple Institute, which is dedicated to constructing a Third Temple where Al-Asqa mosque currently stands.

Narkiss rejected Goren’s request, but did approve the razing of Jerusalem’s Moroccan quarter. According to Mondoweiss, the destruction of the nearly seven centuries old Jerusalem neighborhood was done for the “holy purpose” of making the Western Wall more accessible to Jewish Israelis. Some 135 homes were flattened, along with several mosques, and over 700 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed as part of that operation.

Following the occupation of East Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa has come under increasing threat, just as extremist movements who seek to destroy the site have grown. In 1969, a Christian extremist from Australia, Daniel Rohan, set fire to the mosque. Rohan had been studying in Israel and, prior to committing arson, had told American theology student Arthur Jones, who was studying with Rohan, that he had become convinced that a new temple had to be built where Al-Aqsa stood.

Then, in 1984, a group of messianic extremists known as the Jewish Underground was arrested for plotting to use explosives to destroy Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock. Ehud Yatom, who was a security official and commander of the operation that foiled the plot, told Israel’s Channel 2 in 2004 that the planned destruction of the site would have been “horrible, terrible,” adding that it could provoke “the entire Muslim world [into a war] against the state of Israel and against the Western world, a war of religions.”

One of those arrested in 1984 in connection with the bomb plot, former Jewish Underground member Yehuda Etzion, subsequently wrote from prison that his group’s mistake was not in targeting the historic mosque, which he called an “abomination,” but in acting before Israeli society would accept such an act. “The generation was not ready,” Etzion wrote, adding that those sympathetic to the Jewish Underground movement “must build a new force that grows very slowly, moving its educational and social activity into a new leadership.” 

“Of course I cannot predict whether the Dome of the Rock will be removed from the Mount while the new body is developing or after it actually leads the people,” Etzion stated, “but the clear fact is that the Mount will be purified [from Islamic shrines] with certainty…”

Upon his release from prison, Etzion founded the Chai Vekayam (Alive and Existing) movement, a group that Al Jazeera’s Mersiha Gadzo described as aimed at “shaping public opinion as a prerequisite for building a Third Temple in the religious complex in Jerusalem’s Old City where Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are located.” Gadzo also notes that “according to messianic belief, building the Third Temple at the Al Aqsa compound — where the First and Second Temples stood some 2,000 years ago — would usher the coming of the Messiah.”  

Six years later, another group called the Temple Mount Faithful, which is dedicated to building the Third Temple, provoked what became known as the Al-Aqsa massacre in 1990 after its members attempted to place a cornerstone for the Third Temple on the Temple Mount / Haram El-Sharif, leading to riots that saw Israeli police shoot and kill over 20 Palestinians and wound an estimated 150 more. 

Blood-stained footmarks mark the entrance to Al Aqsa Mosque after Israeli police opened fire on Palestinian worshipers in 1996. Khaled Zighari | AP

This was followed by the riots in 1996 after Israel opened up a series of tunnels that had been dug under Al-Aqsa mosque that many Palestinians worried would be used to damage or destroy the mosque. Those concerns may have been well-founded, given the involvement of then- and current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Third Temple activist groups in creating the tunnels and in subsequent excavations near the holy site, which were and continue to be officially described as “archaeological” in nature. During the 1996 incident, 80 Palestinians and 14 Israeli police officers were killed.

Some Israeli archaeologists have argued that these tunnels have not been built for archaeological or scientific purposes and are highly unlikely to result in any new discoveries. One such Israeli archaeologist, Yoram Tseverir, told Middle East Monitor in 2014 that “the claims that these excavations aim at finding scientific information are marginal” and called the still-ongoing government-sponsored excavations under Al-Aqsa “wrong.” When those “archaeological” excavations at Al-Aqsa resulted in damage to the Western Wall near Al-Aqsa last year, a chorus of prominent Palestinians, including the spokesman for the Fatah Party, claimed that Israel’s government had devised a plan to destroy the mosque.

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Since 2000, Al-Aqsa mosque has been the site of incidents that have resulted in new state crackdowns by Israel against Palestinians both within and well outside of Jerusalem. Indeed, the Second Intifada was largely provoked by the visit of the then-Likud candidate for prime minister, Ariel Sharon, who entered Al-Aqsa mosque under heavy guard. Then-spokesman for Likud, Ofir Akounis, was later quoted by CNN as saying that the reason for Sharon’s visit was “to show that under a Likud government it [the Temple Mount] will remain under Israeli sovereignty.” 

That single visit by Sharon led to five years of heightened tensions, more than three thousand dead Palestinians and an estimated thousand dead Israelis, as well as a massive and still continuing crackdown on Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and in the blockaded Gaza Strip. 

Dr. Ramzy Baroud told MintPress that Sharon’s provocation in particular, and subsequent provocations, are often planned and used by Israeli politicians in order to justify crackdowns and restrictions on Palestinians. He argued:

[Some powerful Israeli politicians] use these regular provocations at Al Aqsa to create the kind of tensions that increase violence in the West Bank and to [then] carry out whatever policies they have in mind. They know exaclty how to provoke Palestinians and there is no other issue that is as sensitive and unifying in the Palestinian psyche as Al-Aqsa mosque.

Not only do we need to be aware of the fact that [provocations at] Al-Aqsa mosque are being used to implement archaic, destructive plans [i.e., destruction of Al-Aqsa and construction of a Third Temple] by certain elements that are now very much at the core of Israeli politics, but also the fact that this type of provocation is also used to implement broader policies pertaining to Palestinians elsewhere.”

 

Drums beating loud

While there have long been efforts to destroy the historic Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, recent weeks have seen a disturbing and dramatic uptick in incidents that suggest that the influential groups in Israel that have long pushed for the mosque’ s destruction may soon get their way. This reflects what Ramzy Baroud described to MintPress as how support for the construction of the Third Temple where Al-Aqsa currently sits is now “greater than at any time in the past” within Israeli society.

Earlier this month on June 2, a religious adviser to the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Al-Habbash, took to social media to warn of an “Israeli plot against the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” adding that “If the Muslims don’t act now [to save the site]… the entire world will pay dearly.” 

Al-Habbash’s statement was likely influenced by a disturbing event that occurred that same day at the revered compound when Israeli police provided cover for extremist Israeli settlers who illegally entered the compound during the final days of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Israeli police used pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse Palestinian worshippers who had gathered at the mosque during one of Islam’s most important holidays while allowing over a thousand Israeli Jews to enter the compound. Forty-five Palestinians were wounded and several were arrested.

Though such provocative visits by Jewish Israelis to Al-Aqsa have occurred with increasing frequency in recent years, this event was different because it up-ended a long-standing agreement between Jordan’s government, which manages the site, and Israel that no such visits take place during important Islamic holidays. As a consequence, Jordan accused Israel’s government of “flagrant violations” of that agreement by allowing visits from religious nationalists, which Jordan described as “provocative intrusions by extremists.”

Less than a week after the incident, Israel’s Culture and Sports Minister, Miri Regev, a member of the Netanyahu-led Likud Party, called for more settler extremists to storm the compound, stating: “We should do everything to keep ascending to the Temple Mount … And hopefully, soon we will pray in the Temple Mount, our sacred place.” In addition, Regev also thanked Israel’s Interior Security Minister, Gilad Erdan, and Jerusalem’s police chief for guarding the settler extremists who had entered the compound.

In 2013, then-member of the Likud Party Moshe Feiglin told the Knesset that allowing Jewish Israelis to enter the compound is “not about prayer.” “Arabs don’t mind that Jews pray to God. Why should they care? We all believe in God,” Feiglin — who now heads the Zehut, or Identity, Party — stated, adding, “The struggle is about sovereignty. That’s the true story here. The story is about one thing only: sovereignty.” 

In other words, Likud and its ideological allies view granting Jewish Israelis entrance to “pray” at the site of the mosque as a strategy aimed at reducing Palestinian-Jordanian control over the site. Feiglin’s past comments give credibility to Rabbi Weiss’ claim, referenced earlier on in this report, that the religious underpinnings and religious appeals of the Temple Activists are secondary to the settler-colonial (i.e., Zionist) aspect of the movement, which seeks to remove Palestinian and Muslim heritage from the Temple Mount as part of the ongoing Zionist project.

Feiglin, earlier this year in April, called for the immediate construction of the Third Temple, telling a Tel Aviv conference, “I don’t want to build a [Third] Temple in one or two years, I want to build it now.” The Times of Israel, reporting on Feiglin’s comments, noted that the Israeli politician is “enjoying growing popularity.”

Earlier this month, and not long after Miri Regev’s controversial comments, an event attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Leon, used a banner that depicted the Jerusalem skyline with the Dome of the Rock noticeably absent. Though some may write off such creative photo editing as a fluke, it is but the latest in a series of similar incidents where official events or materials have edited out the iconic building and, in some cases, have replaced it with a reconstructed Jewish temple. 

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman poses with a picture of the ‘Third Temple,’ May 22, 2018. Israel Cohen | Kikar Hashabat

The day before that event, Israeli police had arrested three members of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound’s Reconstruction Committee, which is overseen by the government of Jordan. Those arrested included the committee’s head and its deputy head, and the three men were arrested while performing minor restoration work in an Al-Aqsa courtyard. The Jordan-run authority condemned the arrests, for which no official reason was given, and called the move by Israeli police “an intervention in their [the men’s] reconstruction work.” According to Palestinian news agency Safa, Israeli police have also prevented the entry of tools necessary for restoration work to the site and have restricted members of the authority from performing critical maintenance work.

In addition, another important figure at Al-Aqsa, Hanadi Al-Halawani, who teaches at the mosque school and has long watched over the site to prevent its occupation by Israeli forces, was arrested late last month

Arrests of other key Al-Aqsa personnel have continued in recent days, such as the arrest of seven Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, including guards of the mosque, and their subsequent ban from entering the site. The Palestinians were arrested at their homes last Sunday night in early morning raids and the official reason for their arrest remains unclear. So many arrests in such a short period have raised concerns that, should the spate of arrests of important Al-Aqsa personnel continue, future incidents at the site, such as the mysterious fire that broke out last April at Al-Aqsa while France’s Notre Dame was also ablaze, may not be handled as effectively owing to staff shortages.

Soon after those arrests, 60 members of a settler extremist group entered the al-Aqsa compound under heavy guard from Israeli police. Safa news agency reported that these settlers have recently been accompanied by Israeli intelligence officials in their incursions at the site.

All of these recent provocations and arrests in connection with the mosque come soon after the King of Jordan, Abdullah II, publicly stated in late March that he had recently come under great pressure to relinquish Jordan’s custodianship of the mosque and the contested holy site upon which it is built. Abdullah II vowed to continue custodianship over Christian and Muslim sites in Jerusalem, including Al-Aqsa, and declined to say who was pressuring him over the site. However, his comments about this pressure to cede control over the mosque came just days after he had visited the U.S. and met with American Vice President Mike Pence, a Christian Zionist who believes that a Jewish Temple must replace Al-Aqsa to fulfill an end times prophecy.

In May, an Israeli government-linked research institute, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, wrote that Abdullah II had nearly been toppled in mid-April, just weeks after publicly discussing external pressure to relinquish control over Al-Aqsa. The report stated that Abdullah II had been a target of a “plot undermining his rule,” which led him to replace several senior members of his government. That report further claimed that the plot had been aimed at removing obstacles to the Trump administration’s “Deal of the Century,” which is supported by Israel’s government.

Last year, some Israeli politicians sought to push for a transfer of the site’s custodianship to Saudi Arabia, sparking concern that this could be connected to plans by some Third Temple activists to remove Al-Aqsa from Jerusalem and transfer it piece-by-piece to the Saudi city of Mecca. On Thursday, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs published an article asserting that “tectonic shifts” were taking place in relation to who controls Al-Aqsa, with a Saudi-funded political group making dramatic inroads that could soon alter which country controls the historic mosque compound.

Sayyed Hassan Al-Qazwini told MintPress that, in his view, the current custodianship involving Jordan’s government is not ideal, as control over the Al-Aqsa mosque “should in the hands of its people, [and] Al-Aqsa mosque belongs Palestine;” if not, at the very least, a committee of Muslim majority nations should be formed to govern the holy site because of its importance. As for Saudi Arabia potentially receiving control over the site, Al-Qazwini told MintPress that “the Saudis are not qualified as they are not even capable of running the holy sites in Saudi Arabia itself. Every year, there has been a tragedy and many pilgrims have died during hajj time [annual Islamic pilgrimage].”

 

Once fringe, now approaching consensus

The threat to Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock compound, the third holiest site in Islam and of key importance to three major world religions, is the result of the dramatic growth of what was once a fringe movement of extremists. After the Six Day War, these fringe elements have fought to become more mainstream within Israel and have sought to gain international support for their religious-colonialist vision, particularly in the United States. As this article has shown, the threats to Al-Aqsa have grown significantly in the past decades, spiking in just the past few weeks.

As former Jewish Underground member Yehuda Etzion had called for decades ago, an educational and social movement aimed at gaining influence with Israeli government leadership has been hugely successful in its goal of engineering consent for a Third Temple among many religious and secular Israelis. So successful has this movement been that numerous powerful and influential Israeli politicians, particularly since the 1990s, have not only openly promoted these beliefs, and the destruction of Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, but have also diverted significant amounts of government funding to organizations dedicated to replacing the historic mosque with a new temple.

As the second and final installment of this series will show, this movement has gained powerful allies, not just in Israel’s government, but among many evangelical Christians in the United States, including top figures in the Trump administration who also feel that the destruction of Al-Aqsa and the reconstruction of a Jewish Temple are prerequisites for the fulfillment of prophecy, albeit a different one. Furthermore, given the influence of such movements on the Israeli and U.S. governments, these beliefs of active Messianism are also informing key policies of these same governments and, in doing so, are pushing the world towards a dangerous war.

Feature photo | Israeli police stand next to the Dome of the Rock mosque at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 27, 2017. Mahmoud Illean | AP

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism

The post In Israel the Push to Destroy Jerusalem’s Iconic Al-Aqsa Mosque Goes Mainstream appeared first on MintPress News.

Annexation: How Israel Already Controls More Than Half of the West Bank

A state of de facto annexation already exists on the ground in most of the occupied West Bank.

Almost two-thirds of the Palestinian territory, including most of its most fertile and resource-rich land, is under full Israeli control. About 400,000 Jewish settlers living there enjoy the full rights and privileges of Israeli citizens.

At least 60 pieces of legislation were drafted by right-wing members of the Knesset during the last parliament to move Israel from a state of de facto to de jure annexation, according to a database by Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group.

Yesh Din points out that the very fact that some of these bills have passed as laws constitutes a form of annexation: “The Israel Knesset [now] regards itself as the legislative authority in the West Bank and the sovereign there.”

Paradoxically, many of those bills were opposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even though they were drafted from within his own ruling coalition.

Netanyahu argued that it would be wrong to pre-empt US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, implying that annexation is high on the agenda.

Leaked details suggest that Washington is now preparing to green-light the formal annexation of at least some of that territory as part of its deal-making, though Netanyahu’s political difficulties and his decision to call another election in September could mean putting details on ice once again.

 

The Golan precedent

Three recent developments have also brought the idea of Israel annexing parts or all of the West Bank onto the agenda.

In March, US President Donald Trump recognised Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, seized from Syria during the 1967 war and annexed by Israel in 1981 in violation of international law. The US decision suggested a precedent whereby it might similarly approve a move by Israel to annex the West Bank.

In April, in the run-up to Israel’s general election, Netanyahu said he would use the next parliament to “extend sovereignty” to all illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, using a phrase preferred by Israeli politicians to “annexation”.

About 400,000 settlers live in the West Bank in 150 official settlements and another 120 so-called “unauthorised” outposts that have been covertly sponsored by the Israeli state since the 1990s. These settlements have jurisdiction over 42 percent of West Bank territory.

In early June, the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a stalwart supporter of the settlements and one of the architects of Trump’s supposed “deal of the century”, told the New York Times that he believed Israel was “on the side of God” and said: “Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”

 

Support in Israel growing

Support in Israel for annexation is growing, with 42 percent backing one of several variants in a recent poll, as opposed to 34 percent who were behind a two-state solution. Only 28 percent of Israelis explicitly rejected annexation.

Behind the scenes, debates about formally annexing the Palestinian territories have been rife in Israel since it occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza in 1967.

Successive Israeli governments, however, have demurred out of concern both that there would be strong international objections (most UN member states would be opposed to the annexation of territory recognised as illegally occupied in international law) and that Israel would be under pressure to give Palestinians in annexed areas citizenship, including the right to vote, that would undermine its Jewish majority.

Senior government ministers such as Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon were among the early proponents of annexing parts of the West Bank. They drew up maps for a permanent settlement programme that would allow Israel to hold on to swathes of the West Bank, especially the most fertile land and the aquifers.

Through the late 1970s and 1980s, a justice ministry official, Plia Albeck, declared large areas of the West Bank “state land”, allowing the government to treat it as effectively part of Israel and build settlements.

 

Speeding tickets and police stations

Israel has applied its laws to the settler population and dozens of Israeli police stations located in the West Bank operate as if the territory has been annexed, issuing speeding tickets and enforcing other infractions on Palestinians. Palestinians’ ultimate recourse to adjudication on legal matters is Israel’s Supreme Court.

In 2011, that court decided that Israel was allowed to exploit more than a dozen quarries, one of the Palestinians’ key resources, because the occupation had become “prolonged” – a ruling that treated the West Bank as if it had been de facto annexed.

The one state reality | Visualizing Palestine

Since the Olso accords, Israeli leaders have tended to pay lip service to Palestinian statehood, at some distant future point. But in practice, they have encouraged the rapid expansion of the settlements. This policy is sometimes referred to as “creeping annexation”.

A number of variants have been advanced by the Israeli right, ranging from the annexation of all Palestinian territories, including Gaza, to annexation limited to certain areas of the West Bank.

 

How Oslo gave Israel control

The main framework for the Israeli debate about annexation is the Oslo process which temporarily carved up the occupied West Bank into Areas A, B and C as a prelude, it was assumed, to eventually transferring sovereignty to the Palestinian Authority.

Area C, 62 per cent of the West Bank, is under full Israeli control and where the settlements are located. It is also where most of the water, agricultural and mineral resources are to be found.

Area B, 20 percent, is under Israeli security control and Palestinian civil control. And Area A – mainly Palestinian built-up areas on 18 percent of the West Bank – is nominally under full Palestinian control.

The option favoured by most of Netanyahu’s Likud party involves the annexation of areas populated with settlers, or about 40 percent of the West Bank mostly located in Area C.

This option would keep West Bank Palestinians outside the annexed areas and make it easier to avoid conferring any residency or citizenship rights on them. The Palestinian Authority would be given “limited autonomy” – a kind of glorified municipal role – over the remaining fragments of the West Bank.

To the right of Likud, opinions range from annexing all of Area C to annexing the entire West Bank and Gaza, and the creation of Palestinian “Bantustans” modelled on South Africa’s racist apartheid system. Some propose a “salami” method, with Israel gradually slicing off more of the West Bank.

The Israeli centre-left fears formal annexation not only violates international law but will damage Israel’s image abroad by encouraging comparisons with apartheid-era South Africa. In the absence of a Palestinian state, a minority of Jews might soon be ruling over a majority of Palestinians.

The centre-left is also concerned about the costs of annexation. Commanders for Israel’s Security, a group of retired security officials, argue that annexation will lead to the inevitable collapse of the Palestinian Authority.

As a result, they believe Israel would incur annual costs of between $2.3bn and $14.5bn, depending on the extent of the West Bank area annexed. There would also be a loss of $2.5bn in foreign investments. Palestinian uprisings could cost Israel’s economy as much as $21bn.

Right-wing economists like Amatzia Samkai of the Caucus for Eretz Israel say Israel will benefit economically. If Area C is annexed, only a small number of Palestinians will be entitled to Israeli welfare payments, he says. Such costs, he adds, can be more than offset by an expanded labour force and a drop in real-estate prices after West Bank land is freed up for house building by Israelis.

 

Knesset ‘sovereign’ in West Bank already

Of the 60 pieces of draft annexation legislation brought before the Knesset, eight have passed into law.

The main laws that have been passed include:

  • annulling a special council overseeing higher education in West Bank settlements and transferring its powers to the main Israel Council for Higher Education.
  • approving retroactively the theft of private Palestinian land used to build settlements. The previous official position was that settlements should be built only on land Israel had declared state land because it was not owned by Palestinians.
  • extending benefits available in Israel – from tax exemptions and egg production quotas to renewable energy investments – to West Bank settlements.
  • unifying the criminal register used by police in Israel and the West Bank.
  • transferring powers to adjudicate matters involving the West Bank to lower courts in Israel.
  • prohibiting businesses from refusing to supply services to West Bank settlements.

In addition, Yesh Din notes, Israel has recently shifted its diplomatic position and legal arguments to the courts in relation to the West Bank.

It has rejected the West Bank’s status as being under occupation, asserted Israel’s authority to operate there and eroded the obligation to protect the rights and property of the Palestinian population.

Palestinian observers watch as children walk past Israeli soldiers on their way to school in the West Bank city of Hebron following Israel’s expulsion of an international observer force from the Palestinian city, Feb. 12, 2019. Majdi Mohammed | AP

Another significant piece of legislation Netanyahu is known to favour – chiefly for personal reasons because it could be used to protect him from corruption indictments – is an Override Law.

The measure is being aggressively promoted by settler groups because it would strip Israel’s Supreme Court of judicial review powers to block legislation annexing the West Bank.

 

Palestinian support?

On the Palestinian side, a tiny number, mostly business leaders, have backed annexation of the West Bank. They have been cultivated by the Trump administration as a potential alternative leadership to the Palestinian Authority. Most Palestinians consider them traitors or collaborators.

Hebron businessman Ashraf Jabari, for example, has entered into a partnership with settler counterparts in the “Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce”, using the settlers’ Biblical name for the West Bank.

The chamber promotes joint ventures such as shopping centres along West Bank main roads, tourism initiatives and infrastructure projects.

Jabari and others have consciously sought to package annexation on Israeli terms as similar to the one-state agenda of a growing section of the Palestinian population, especially those supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS).

“We have to think about this area as one entity, not two entities and two realities,” he told journalists recently.

Certainly, there are Palestinians who consider annexation and Israel’s direct re-occupation of the West Bank, unmediated by the PA, as a necessary condition for Palestinians launching a civil rights or anti-apartheid struggle to realise a genuine one-state solution.

Feature photo | This Oct. 28, 2016, photo shows the Israeli settlement of Bait Hagay through a barbed wire fence that secures the perimeter, south of the West Bank city of Hebron. Nasser Shiyoukhi | AP

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is www.jonathan-cook.net.

Source | JonathanCook.net

The post Annexation: How Israel Already Controls More Than Half of the West Bank appeared first on MintPress News.

Veteran Navy Officer Exposes Flaws in US Version of Iran Oil Tanker Narrative

Insurge — The Trump administration has released a range of photographic and video evidence in support of its claim that

proves how Iran attacked a Japanese-owned oil tanker near the Strait of Hormuz. But a Canadian military analyst and former Navy officer for nearly twenty years has called the evidence into question, highlighting unresolved anomalies in the US version of events. His reservations are backed by Japanese government sources.

A number of other states — the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel — as well as other jihadist groups and even a rogue hardline faction of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, have been flagged as potential culprits in the attacks that could pave the way for a wider war fitting into the Trump administration’s new plan for ‘American Energy Dominance’.

The US government says that the evidence, including fragments of an exploded weapon and a magnet from an unexploded device, indicates that limpet mines were attached to the side of the oil tankers. The statement of a US Navy explosives expert that the mines bear “a striking resemblance” to similar mines used by Iran has been widely reported.

 

US intelligence: an incoherent story

But the claim is challenged by the analysis of another former Naval oficer. According to Dr Gwynne Dyer who has served as a Reserve Naval Officer in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve, US Naval Reserve, and British Royal Navy Reserve for a total of 17 years, alleged US intelligence about the incident does not add up. Dr Dyer, despite believing that on balance Iran is “probably” behind the series of Gulf oil tanker attacks, concedes that:

The evidence is far from conclusive.”

His analysis coheres with that of the private US intelligence firm Stratfor, which notes of the spate of recent attacks that while Iran would have reason to “harass” vessels around its territory “to send a message of resolve in the face of Washington’s punishing economic and military pressure…. On the other hand, it doesn’t make strategic sense for Iran to target European vessels at a time when it is desperately seeking to retain the Continent’s political and economic support.”

Strafor suggests that other culprits might include al-Qaeda, other regional jihadist outfits that have a similar modus operandi of targeting oil tankers, or even a breakaway faction of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards that is unhappy with official Iranian government diplomacy.

Writing in a local Canadian newspaper, Dr Dyer — who has taught military history and war studies at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto and the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, UK — observed that as limpet mines “cling to ships’ hulls by magnetic force but have to be placed by hand,” this means they were “probably placed while the ships were in port”, because it is:

… almost impossible to place a limpet mine once a ship is underway. Other boats cannot come close enough without being spotted, and swimmers (including scuba divers) cannot keep up.”

This analysis contradicts the explanation initially put forward in a joint statement by the UAE, Norway, and Saudi Arabia at a UN briefing, alleging that limpet mines were placed by divers deployed by speed boats.

All six tankers that have been attacked sailed from ports in Saudi Arabia or the UAE. According to Dr Dyer, given the implausibility of the mines being deployed as suggested by the UAE, Norway and Saudi Arabia, this suggests that the mines would have been planted on the tankers before departure. But this raises other questions. In Dr Dyer’s words:

So is security in Saudi and UAE ports so lax, even after the first attacks in May, that foreign agents can plant limpet mines on tankers before they sail?”

US officials have also put forward aerial video of a small Iranian boat at one of the tankers as evidence of how the Revolutionary Guards removed an unexploded limpet mine, apparently demonstrating a botched effort to cover-up their complicity.

But this too makes little sense according to Dyer:

Limpet mines are generally fitted with ‘anti-handling devices’ (i.e. they explode when you try to remove them), and yet everybody on that boat crowded onto the bow as if to get as close to the explosion as possible.”

 

Other potential state culprits?

Dyer raises the possibility that the mines could have been planted surreptitiously by Saudi Arabia or the UAE in order to generate a justification for a long-desired war on Iran. He mentions the potential role of Israel but argues that the former would be unlikely to consent to their regional dabbling:

The leading candidates are Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the two Arab countries that are doing their best to push the United States into a war against Iran on their behalf. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would also love to see the US attack Iran, but one doubts that Israel’s de facto Arab allies would want Israeli special forces operating on their territory.”

Japanese government officials, however, appear to be even less convinced of the US position. “The US explanation has not helped us go beyond speculation,” one senior Japanese government official told Japan Today.

The newspaper quoted a government source close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who responded to Pompeo’s claim that the US assessment was based on “intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”

The Japanese source close to the prime minister commented:

These are not definite proof that it’s Iran. Even if it’s the United States that makes the assertion, we cannot simply say we believe it.”

A separate government source at the Japanese Foreign Ministry went further, suggesting that Pompeo’s own criteria of sophisticated expertise sufficient to conduct the attack might implicate both the US and Israel:

That would apply to the United States and Israel as well.”

 

John Bolton’s advanced warning of the attacks

According to the Times of Israel, the US intelligence on Iran’s alleged role in earlier attacks on oil tankers came from the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. Other reports implied that Mossad had advanced warning of the attacks, and had passed on information to the US several weeks before the first incidents.

“Mossad had tipped off the United States on an impending Iranian attack on American interests in the Gulf, prompting Washington to deploy an aircraft carrier strike group to the region, in a sharp escalation of US President Donald Trump’s pressure campaign,” added the Times. “Israeli officials conveyed information gathered largely by the Mossad on an Iranian plan to attack either a US or US-allied target, details of which were not provided to the network.”

The alleged intelligence was reportedly passed on by Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben Shabbat to his counterpart, John Bolton, in April — a month prior to the first attacks. According to Bolton himself, the meeting with Ben Shabbat covered “our shared commitment to countering Iranian malign activity & other destabilizing actors in the Middle East & around the world.”

Yet the conclusions of the Bolton-Ben Shabbat intelligence coordination did not seem to match British intelligence assessments of the threat posed by Iran, even after the latest attack.

At a recent Pentagon press conference, a senior British military official, Major General Chris Ghika — a deputy commander of Operation Inherent Resolve, the coalition conducting counter-terrorist operations against Isis in Iraq and Syria — contradicted the US position when he remarked that “No — there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces” in the region. “We monitor them along with a whole range of others because that’s the environment we’re in. If the threat level seems to go up then we’ll raise our force protection measures accordingly.”

 

Who wants a war?

Despite his reservations, military analyst Gwynne Dyer suggests that Iran may have wanted to carry out such attacks to prove to the US its capacity to easily shut down the Strait of Hormuz, in an effort to dissuade the US from attacking Iran. In most scenarios explored by Pentagon agencies, a shut down of the Strait would stop critical transport of a significant portion of the world’s oil supplies, which would likely trigger catastrophic price hikes and the collapse of major Western economies.

But Dyer points out that while President Donald Trump’s intentions are unclear, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton “probably do want a war with Iran. They would never say that, but they spin every bit of data in as anti-Iran a direction as possible. That includes, of course, their analysis of who is behind these attacks.”

During Bolton’s previous tenure in the US government, evidence emerged that the Bush administration had attempted to fabricate an incident which could be used to justify a long-planned military strike on Iran

According to a former senior US intelligence official, a meeting in Vice-President Cheney’s office occurred a few weeks after five Iranian patrol boats approached three US Navy warships in the Strait of Hormuz. Press reports described Iranian ship-to-ship radio transmissions threatening to “explode” the warships. But within a week, an internal Pentagon inquiry concluded that there was no evidence that the Iranian boats were the source of the transmissions, and that they originated from a prankster long known for sending fake messages in the region. Regarding the meeting with Cheney, the former US official said that:

The subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington.”

 

Eyewitnesses contradict alleged US intelligence

The story of the latest incident is further complicated by the testimony of the Japanese owner of the tanker, who said that sailors on board the ship had seen something flying toward it just before the explosion above the waterline.

“We received reports that something flew towards the ship,” said Yutaka Katada, president of Kokaku Sangyo Co. at a press conference.

The place where the projectile landed was significantly higher than the water level, so we are absolutely sure that this wasn’t a torpedo. I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship.”

The Trump administration has not dealt with the contradictory eyewitness accounts, but instead has doubled-down on the evidence it says proves the use of limpet mines which solely implicate Iran.

 

Trump’s energy plan

US hostility toward Iran comes in the context of the escalation of the Trump administration’s plan for “American Energy Dominance”. In May, the White House issued a triumphant statement on Trump’s efforts to “open up new export opportunities for American energy producers…We are exporting more and more energy as production soars and President Trump negotiates better market access for our producers.”

The White House statement also trumpeted the government’s success in rolling back environmental regulations and climate change commitments.

While oil exports have nearly doubled, and US liquid natural gas (LNG) exports have increased by 272 percent, they are nowhere near where the US administration wants them to be. In the New York Times late last year, Bethany McLean — who famously reported on the Enron scandal — warned that the shale boom driving Trump’s export ambitions could be about to grind to a halt as the industry’s mounting debts, declining profits and dwindling production rates come home to roost.

US shale is still expensive and over the last decade Iran had successfully captured much of America’s hoped for export market despite sanctions. Iran is a major oil and gas supplier to China, India, Korea and Turkey. It also supplies European markets, namely Italy, Spain, France and Greece, along with Japan and the UAE. Asian buyers in particular have explored the possibility of purchasing Iranian oil in currencies other than the dollar to bypass US sanctions.

Iran is thus a major geopolitical competitor to the Trump administration’s export plans, as well as to the role of the dollar as the de facto reserve currency for the global oil trade. The Trump administration has made no secret of its ambition to take Iranian oil exports down to zero with a view to provoke internal regime change.

Feature photo | Sailors stand on deck above a hole the U.S. Navy says was made by a limpet mine on the damaged Panama-flagged, Japanese owned oil tanker Kokuka Courageous, anchored off Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, during a trip organized by the Navy for journalists, June 19, 2019. Fay Abuelgasim | AP

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is the founding editor of the 100% reader-funded investigative journalism project INSURGE intelligence. His latest book is Failing States, Collapsing Systems: BioPhysical Triggers of Political Violence (Springer, 2017). He is an 18-year investigative journalist, formerly of The Guardian where he reported on the geopolitics of social, economic and environmental crises. He now reports on ‘global system change’ for VICE’s Motherboard. He has bylines in The Times, Sunday Times, The Independent on Sunday, The Independent, The Scotsman, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, New York Observer, The New Statesman, Prospect, Le Monde diplomatique, among other places. He has twice won the Project Censored Award for his investigative reporting; twice been featured in the Evening Standard’s top 1,000 list of most influential Londoners; and won the Naples Prize, Italy’s most prestigious literary award created by the President of the Republic. Nafeez is also a widely-published and cited interdisciplinary academic applying complex systems analysis to ecological and political violence. He is a Research Fellow at the Schumacher Institute.

Source | Insurge Intelligence

The post Veteran Navy Officer Exposes Flaws in US Version of Iran Oil Tanker Narrative appeared first on MintPress News.

Why Protesters Set Fire to the US Embassy in Honduras 

Grayzone The streets of Honduras were filled with protesters and clouds of tear gas as the month of June began. The national police fanned out through the country to crush the protests with heavy-handed tactics at the direction of President Juan Orlando Hernández, the US-supported neoliberal leader who won power in elections marred by documented fraud.

As the protests peaked, fire was set to the doors of the American embassy in the capital, Tegucigalpa, in an apparent act of retribution against the United States for its role in propping up the widely unpopular president. It was a striking act of symbolic resistance that recalled events in 1988 when Hondurans burned the vehicles of US embassy personnel to protest Washington’s dirty war against Nicaragua. The fortifications installed around the US embassy after that incident may have prevented the latest burning from consuming the rest of the building.

Ten years ago, the democratically elected center-left Honduran President, Manuel Zelaya, was whisked away from his residence in a brazen military raid supported by the United States. Zelaya’s removal cleared the path for the interests of big business across the country. As the ten year anniversary of the U.S.-supported coup approaches, Hondurans are rising up against neoliberal austerity measures imposed by Washington and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that have triggered mass public sector layoffs and raised prices on basic goods.

Following mass demonstrations on Friday, May 31 which were especially sizable in the capital of Tegucigalpa, The Grayzone spoke by phone with Gerardo Torres, Secretary of International Affairs for the Liberty and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), the new party to which Zelaya now belongs.

“Yesterday and today we declared a national strike, which was successful. The estimate is that there were over a hundred demonstrations in Honduras in the last two days,” he said.

Throughout the month of May, healthcare workers and educators organized widespread demonstrations against decrees by Hernández that put their livelihoods in immediate jeopardy. Honduran citizens have followed these public sector workers into the streets, infuriated by IMF loans that required the government increase electricity costs while slashing healthcare and education. Anger about the abuses of foreign mining companies was also a major factor in the protest grievances.

“Honduran people went out in the streets. And not only the health workers and teachers, but all of the workers and political organizations and people that are fighting against mining companies; the people that are fighting for land and for the defense of their territories; for their natural resources – we all got together with the teachers and the health workers,” LIBRE’s Torres explained. “We have been in a struggle for more than a month. In recent days, the demonstrations have increased.”

Right now, Honduran police are repressing a protest & road blockade in southeastern Danli while today, they repressed protest at El Salvador-Honduras border (see video). There was also a march in Tegucigalpa today #Honduras pic.twitter.com/nL9oJZRgpj

— Honduras Solidarity (@hondurassol) June 12, 2019

In early May, the IMF and the Honduran government reached a “staff-level” agreement on a USD $311 million loan, meaning that it still requires approval from the IMF executive board. According to the IMF, the agreement “reforms” the public electricity company, Empresa Nacional de Energía Eléctrica (ENEE). Energy distribution was privatized in 2014 and sold off to the highest bidder: the Honduran Commercial Finance Bank. It isn’t clear what reforms the new IMF deal will bring on.

Torres said that “the IMF is demanding that education and healthcare – the public system – should pass to the control of intervention boards that would oversee and manage a change to the system. The problem is that those agreements that the government has already signed allowed them to fire many people.”

“A key objective of the economic program is to maintain macroeconomic stability, while enacting economic and institutional reforms to foster inclusive growth. Policies will build on previous achievements to strengthen the policy and institutional framework,” the IMF says.

By touting its “previous achievements” in Honduras, the IMF has signaled how out of tune it is with the country’s poor and working class, who have experienced no such gains in their own livelihoods. While the IMF’s “macroeconomic” agenda has fostered economic growth, it has been anything but inclusive; restricted to country’s elite and the drug cartels they work with. The conditions faced by the poor majority have only worsened.

 

Negotiating a neoliberal nightmare

While the measures that would be imposed under the new IMF deal remain unknown, the effects of neoliberalization on Honduras’s health and education sectors have brought economic punishment down on the country’s workers.

The government’s spending on education, nearly a third of the overall budget one year after the coup, has been slashed to less than a fifth, according to Honduran economist Hugo Noé Pino. Healthcare spending was slashed by 20 percent, meanwhile. “

Honduras has the highest poverty rate in the continental Americas: 65.7%, by the last available official government count in 2016, with a staggering 42.5% of the entire population classified as living in extreme poverty.

The harshest austerity measures were meted out by Juan Orlando Hernandez, a US-friendly politicians whose election in 2013 violated the Honduran constitution and was marred by fraud. Following his first year in office, Hernández oversaw the layoffs of 2,000 employees of the government-owned electric company known as ENEE. Thousands of sanitation and public telecommunications workers have also been let go under the government of Hernández.

Meanwhile, repeated fuel price hikes since 2012 have devastated the working class and sparked popular resentment.

Corruption has gone hand-in-hand with the austerity measures, and are now described simply as Honduras’s “Operating System.” Massive protests in 2015 followed the revelation that Hernández’s allies had gutted the Honduran Institute for Social Security (IHSS), stealing healthcare funds to finance electoral campaign and defrauding the public through selling wildly overpriced placebos to the IHSS for vast profits.

While protesters demanded an anti-corruption body akin to the then-robust United Nations-led CICIG in neighboring Guatemala, they were instead handed a toothless anti-fraud mission called MACCIH.

Anthropologist Adrienne Pine, an Associate Professor at American University who has lived in Honduras and written extensively on the country, told The Grayzone, “The MACCIH is frankly something of a laughingstock in Honduras, seen as a technocratic tool of the U.S. government to legitimize the Hernández regime. It has pursued mostly small, safe targets in cases that do little to threaten the current structures of power put in place through the U.S.-supported 2009 coup.”

“But when the biggest example of corruption imaginable — the blatant theft of the country’s election — happened on its watch in 2017, the MACCIH remained silent,” Pine said. “And when you have violently anti-democratic policies like IMF-led efforts to privatize healthcare and education overriding the will of the Honduran people, that doesn’t fit within the MACCIH’s narrow definition of ‘corruption’ either.”

Back in 2014, a paper from the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) think tank on a $189 million IMF loan noted that the poor would bear the brunt of the economic shock therapy. Five years later, with this prediction confirmed, Hernández is pushing for more austerity in the name of “reform.”

As Torres explained, “We have seen in the Hernández government how he has destroyed all of our public services with the intention to transfer those public services to private hands in a neoliberal strategy that we all know very well: you destroy the public institutions and then you say that there is no other way to save it unless it’s passed to the private sector.”

 

Designing a de facto dictatorship

When he was elected president of Honduras in 2009, Manuel Zelaya struck a less radical posture than those of most of his progressive counterparts across Latin America. He brought a minimum wage to the country and instituted some much-needed economic reforms.

It was only after he signed cooperation agreements with Venezuela through the PetroCaribe economic alliance and began to work towards resolutions on land disputes between poor and indigenous populations that multinational corporations, government insiders and U.S.-backed civil society groups began to turn up the heat.

In the lead-up to the coup, CIA cutouts like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) were pumping $50 million a year into Honduras for “democracy promotion.” US-backed civil society groups like the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise and the Center for International Private Enterprise focused on driving a wedge between big business and Zelaya.

By June 2009, the coup plotters were confident enough to make their move. The night before they came for Zelaya, they met with a high-ranking U.S. military official. The Defense Department was reportedly concerned that Zelaya’s presidency gave Venezuela’s then-President Hugo Chavez increasing influence in the country.

In an early morning military operation, Zelaya was rushed onto a plane bound for Costa Rica. The plane took a pit stop at the U.S.’s Soto Cano air base, known locally as Palmerola. Zelaya described the operation as a kidnapping upon landing in Costa Rica.

A little less than a month later, the U.S. embassy in Honduras sent a cable to the White House and a handful of higher-ups in the State Department, including Secretary Hillary Clinton. The cable, later released by WikiLeaks, declared that there was “no doubt” that the raid “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup.”

Describing the coup as a “kidnapping,” the embassy concluded that none of the arguments of regime change supporters had “any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution. Some are outright false.”

While Clinton’s State Department did not openly endorse the coup, it immediately defied the Organization of American States’ (OAS) unanimous demand that Zelaya immediately return as president. Clinton unilaterally circumvented the OAS, informally recognizing the business-friendly Roberto Micheletti as the democratically-elected president to be.

Hillary Clinton, right seated with Honduran President Porfirio Lobo at a 2010 Summit in New York, Sept. 22, 2010. Bebeto Matthews | AP

The negotiations took place at gunpoint once Zelaya returned to Honduras, and were designed to legitimize the coup behind democratic guise. Clinton’s long-time confidante,  Lanny Davis, meanwhile, was hired by the Honduran chapter of the Business Council of Latin America to serve as the primary Beltway lobbyist for the coup. Together with Clinton, Davis consolidated a regime change narrative within Washington circles..

The post-coup elections in 2009, marked by fraud and violence, brought Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa into the office of presidency. Lobo Sosa, like the current president, was also adjacent to drug trafficking. His son, Fabio Lobo, is serving a 24-year sentence in the United States for conspiring to import cocaine into the country.

Meanwhile, Lobo Sosa’s wife, Rosa Elena de Lobo, is facing up to 80 years in jail for having pilfered nearly USD $500,000 from public coffers during his time in office. Ironically, Lobo Sosa is now callingfor his successor, Juan Orlando Hernández, to resign.

Due to austerity measures ushered in by his government and enforced through the militarization of the country, Juan Orlando Hernández quickly became a hated figure among average Hondurans. Nevertheless, he announced he would run for reelection, which is explicitly banned by the constitution. What’s more, Hernandez’s party was banking its success on a series of dirty tricks.

During the run-up to the 2017 election, The Economist obtained a two-hour recording from a “participant” in a training session held by Hernández’s National Party for party activists “manning voting tables at polling stations on election day.”

“By The Economist’s count, the session’s leader advocates at least five vote-rigging methods, couching them in banal terms such as ‘strategy’ and ‘technique,’” the magazine reported.

Hernandez’s opponent, Salvador Nasralla was five points ahead with most of the vote counted. But suddenly, election authorities stopped releasing results. Almost two days later, when the vote counting resumed, Nasralla’s lead had vanished, allowing Hernández to squeak by with a tiny margin of victory.

Election observers from the Organization for American States noted “the lack of guarantees and transparency, as well as the accumulation of irregularities, mistakes and systemic problems that have surrounded this electoral process during the pre-electoral phase, election day, and the post-electoral phase, that as a corollary do not allow the Mission to have certainty about the results.”

From an on-the-ground perspective, Torres recounted the timeline of the vote-counting process to The Grayzone: “When they had 80 percent of the votes counted we were winning by five points, and so they shut down the system 466 times until they started winning again. We went to the streets and we were on the streets for a month fighting. Then the U.S. ambassador, Heidi Fulton, appeared before the nation saying that the United States recognized Hernández as the winner. Then they provided the support of the United States military forces and they continued giving money to Hernández.”

 

Repressing the resistance

Protests against the apparent fraud exploded around the country. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights foundthat at least 22 civilians were killed in the protests, and at least 16 of them were gunned down by police. 1,300 people were thrown in jail, many in military detention centers.

“We have two compañeros who are still in prison a year and a half after they were accused of burning the front door of a hotel in Tegucigalpa,” Torres noted. Edwin Espinal and Raúl Álvarez await trial in the military-run, U.S.-style maximum security “La Tolva” prison 16 months later.

Edwin Espinal, a veteran human rights defender held by the Hernandez government

Edwin Espinal and Raúl Álvarez are political prisoners. Edwin’s case in particular is particularly egregious, as he is a well-known human rights defender who has been threatened, arbitrarily detained, and even tortured dozens of times by Honduran security forces since the coup for his work organizing for social justice causes,” Adrienne Pine told The Grayzone.

“His criminalization for standing up for human rights and democracy stands in stark contrast to the impunity enjoyed by the violent state security forces and death squads,” Pine continued. “The fact that Edwin has protective measures issued by the Inter-American Human Rights Court meant nothing to the U.S.-supported regime, which has placed him and Raúl in pre-trial detention in a prison designed for the most violent organized criminals, putting both of their lives at serious risk. Edwin has lost nearly fifty pounds and has been refused necessary medical care.”

Honduran prisons are notoriously inhumane due to poor sanitation, overcrowding, and insufficient nutritional standards. The country’s prison system is designed to accommodate 10,600 inmates, but held nearly twice that in 2018.

The UN High Commissioner’s Office cites “credible and consistent testimonies” that those detained during the 2017 electoral crisis were subjected to abuse in some cases constituting torture and that the police had fired upon protesters indiscriminately. The same report also found that during the protests, at least six journalists were attacked by police and broadcasts that criticized the government were shut down.

Attacks on the press during the post-electoral crisis were just the tip of the iceberg, however. Even the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights of Honduras, itself a part of the government, documented the murder of 25 journalists between 2014 and 2016 while Hernández was in power. In 2016 the body also registered 16 violent attacks on lawyers, in which 13 were killed.

Since the 2009 coup, according to the human rights organization, Cattrachas, more than 300 LGTTBI (Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Travesti, Bisexual and Intersex) Hondurans have been killed. The numbers represent a dramatic increase in violent hate crimes against the community compared with previous periods.

The below graph shows the number of violent murders against members of the LGTTBI community per year (in red), compared with the number of cases for which anyone has been charged with the crime.

And in 2019 alone, prior to the current uprising, the UN Human Rights Office “received 51 complaints about murders of human rights defenders in the country, of which at least 21 have been verified by UN Human Rights Office.”

A new criminal code to go into effect in November, published on May 10, lays bare the prosecutorial priorities of the Honduran government. For one, the law reduces the maximum prison sentence for aggravated drug trafficking by five years. Some new penalties introduced under the law bring prison sentences as low as four years for trafficking crimes. It also opens up the door for traffickers who cooperate with investigations by authorities.

The legal reforms were proposed in the wake of the 2018 arrest of President Hernández’s brother, Juan Antonio Hernández, in Miami on drug trafficking charges. According to LIBRE’s Torres, the US has looked the other way while the Hernández government has done the bidding of powerful local drug cartels.

“The United States knew in 2017 that Juan Orlando Hernandez was being investigated over participation with drug cartels and still supported him and allowed him to forcefully stay in power with an illegal reelection, and without winning,” he said.

Meanwhile, journalists and publishers face fresh risks under the new criminal code, including “crimes against honor” and “crimes against morality.” Defamation and slander may now come with increased prison sentences, including more than a year behind bars.

Prison sentences for women who get abortions and doctors who perform them will increase to up to six and 10 years, respectively.

Participation in “illicit meetings and protests” will also be punishable by up to four years in prison, while protest leaders and financiers could face 15 years.

These draconian measures have been met with virtual silence from Washington and little coverage in a corporate US media that served as a megaphone for Nicaragua’s right-wing opposition when it launched a coup in April 2018.

“The hypocrisy is really obvious,” Torres said. “Nicaragua is just beside Honduras. We are neighbors. And it’s interesting how in two countries that are so close, that are in the same region, the U.S. has such different policies.”

The contradiction in treatment between Honduras and Nicaragua can be easily understood in terms of US military interests. Just over 50 miles from Tegucigalpa is the Palmerola Soto Cano military base, where the US army has free reign.

Hernández supported US threats against Venezuela, acceded to Trump’s call to move the Honduran Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in violation of international law, and agreed to surges in US troops in the country’s Northern Territory to have more control in the Caribbean and Central America.

“Even though the DEA has some investigation into Hernández it is clear that the U.S. Southern Command wants Hernández in power,” Torres explained.

The US gave more than $80 million in military assistance to the Hernández government between 2013 and 2017 according to the Security Assistance Monitor

 

Taking aim at the fountainhead

On Friday, tires were set on fire in the doorway of the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa. The Associated Press reported that it wasn’t clear why those who set fire to tires at the embassy’s doorstep “weren’t stopped by guards outside the embassy.”

While the uprising has been largely peaceful, acts of property destruction have occurred. Protest leader and head of the Honduran Medical Association Dr. Suyapa Figueroa, blamed “infiltrators from this country’s dictatorial government.”

In response to a tweet Friday by reporter Gilda Silvestrucci noting that 20 minutes has passed since a group of masked individuals set and there were no police officers or firefighters to be seen, the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras, OFRANEH, responded“what a coincidence [that this would happen in] one of the most surveilled and protected locations in Honduras…”

Earlier in the day, a National Police truck was seen transporting tires.

Manifestantes queman sede de la Embajada de Estados Unidos en Tegucigalpa, #Honduras, como protesta del apoyo de Donald Trump al Gobierno corrupto de Juan Orlando Hernández.
Como no es #Venezuela los medios CALLAN el hecho. @antonioguterres @mbachelet@ONU_es @Pontifex_es @UN pic.twitter.com/yuuK4KU7Rb

— Javier Alexander Roa (@RoaJavier) May 31, 2019

Adrienne Pine, the anthropologist at American University, noted, “The similarities between false flag operation that took place at the Tegucigalpa Marriott and the embassy fire are obvious. In the former instance, police uncharacteristically disappeared from the scene. Numerous infiltrators from the National Party were clearly identified and recorded inciting and participating in violence; yet only longtime human rights defenders were criminalized and are being held as political prisoners.”

Pine continued: “The same thing happened last Friday–you see the unprecedented absence of security forces at the U.S. embassy just before a group of heavily disguised individuals set the fire, and the immediate targeting of social justice activists, despite a similar lack of evidence that they played any role in the vandalism.”

While the fire very well may have been an act of sabotage by an agent provocateur, it could have also been the result of the pent-up anger of the Honduran population at the United States for its role in the coup and dictatorship that followed. Bystanders at the scene chanted, “American trash, American trash” as the fire burned.

Since May 24, the embassy had issued three “security alerts” and two “demonstration alerts.”

It also issued a statement condemning the arson, which read: “The acts of violence that took place today at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras are unacceptable. We are working closely with the Honduran authorities to bring those responsible to justice.”

A week later, protest leaders refused a government offer for dialogue, vowing only to engage in talks once the government’s IMF-backed scheme targeting the healthcare and education sectors are withdrawn.

A few days later, activists announced that social security workers from the IHSS would join the struggle.

Though the protests were triggered by the latest round of privatization measures, Hondurans are also lashing out against the outside powers that imposed these policies. “The action against the U.S. embassy is something that has been, historically, prepared in the mind of the people,” Torres told The Grayzone.

“People are aware that the United States embassy is the only reason why Juan Orlando Hernández is still the president of Honduras.”

Feature photo | A Honduran soldier with an extinguisher attempts to put out a fire outside the main entrance into the U.S. Embassy during a protest against the government of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, May 31, 2019. Elmer Martinez | AP

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC, covering foreign policy, police, prisons, and protests. Follow him on Twitter at @RealAlexRubi.

Source | Grayzone

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On UN World Refugee Day Palestinians Keep Their Right of Return Alive Through Hope, Resistance

The United Nations’ World Refugee Day, observed annually on June 20, should not merely represent a reminder of “the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.”

It should also be an opportunity for the international community to truly understand and actively work towards finding a sustainable remedy to forced displacement, for no woman, man or child should be forced to endure such grueling, shattering and humiliating experience in the first place.

Palestinians who have withstood the degradation of exile for over 70 years embody the harshness of this collective experience more than any other group.

To be a refugee means living perpetually in limbo – unable to reclaim what has been lost, the beloved homeland, and unable to fashion an alternative future and a life of freedom, justice and dignity.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are currently 68.5 million people around the world who have been forced out from their homes, with 25.4 million of them classified as refugees.

Of the officially listed refugees, 5.4 million are Palestinians, registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

For Palestinians, the grim reality of being a refugee is compounded through the absence of any political horizon, enough to convey a sense of hope that, 70 years after the genesis of the Palestinian refugee crisis, a remedy is at hand.

Abandoned in this seemingly eternal quest for a homeland, Palestinians hold tighter onto hope, because it is hope alone that feeds their own sense of determination, which neither time nor distance will stand between them and their Right of Return. This internationally-honored right is etched in the hearts and minds of millions of Palestinians everywhere.  

Return is possible | Visualizing Palestine

The archetypal image of a refugee – a man, a woman, a child holding on to the pole of a tent, charting a path of exile to no specific place, imploring UN officials for help, and the world for mercy – is, by itself, not enough to deconstruct the complexity of that identity. To belong to a place that has ejected you, yet to seek an alternative home in places to which you do not belong, culturally and in every other way, confuses one’s sense of being. The psychological trauma alone is shattering.

While Palestinians continue to hold on to a sense of identity in their various spaces of exile – refugee camps across Palestine and the Middle East – their prolonged odyssey is seen as a ‘problem’ to be haphazardly fixed, or entirely dismissed, in order for Israeli Jews to maintain their demographic majority.

The mere fact that the Palestinian people live and multiply is a “demographic threat” to Israel, a ‘demographic bomb,’ even. This unmistakably racist notion is wholly embraced by Israel’s allies in Washington and elsewhere.

When Israel and its friends argue that the Palestinians are an “invented people“, not only are they aiming to annihilate the Palestinian collective identity, but they are also justifying in their own minds the continued killing and maiming of Palestinians, unhindered by any moral or ethical consideration.

Israel and the US will do anything in their power to trivialize the centrality of the Palestinian refugee question and its relevance to any future just peace in Palestine.

Nearly a million Palestinian were made refugees following the establishment of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine in 1948. Hundreds of thousands more acquired that dismal status in subsequent years, especially during the Israeli war and occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.

The 5.4 million refugees registered with UNRWA are those original refugees and their descendants.

Israel has never agreed to take responsibility for the consequences of its violent inception – the ethnic cleansing, the untold destruction of towns and villages and the very erasure of historic Palestine.

Even during the Oslo Peace Process, Israel refused to discuss the core issue of refugees, relegating it to the ‘final status negotiations’, which have never taken place and will, most likely, never actualize.

In the meantime, Palestinian refugees have been sentenced to subsist in this unfair status – neither here nor there. If there was such a status as second, third and fourth time refugees, Palestinians would have acquired that, as well.

Indeed, millions of Palestinian refugees have been exiled more than once, from Palestine to Jordan or Lebanon; from there to Syria, and back and forth.

The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the current war in Syria have taught us that Palestinian refugees with relatively better living conditions are not safe, either.

The small Palestinian refugee community in Iraq was persecuted after the invasion, to the point that they were forced to leave, en masse, to any country willing to take them. Many of them ended up as refugees in South America.

The same sordid scenario was repeated in Syria and will, tragically, be replayed elsewhere in the future.

A man walks through rubble in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in the Syrian capital Damascus, Syria, Oct. 6, 2018. Hassan Ammar | AP

Instead of remedying the crisis with a degree of moral and legal accountability, successive US administrations have tried to marginalize the importance of the Right of Return.

Israel, on the other hand, has targeted refugee communities through wars and massacres, most notably during the 1982 war and invasion of Lebanon, and the subsequent Sabra and Shatila Massacre in September of that same year.

Now, with the help of the Donald Trump’s administration, Israel and the US are orchestrating even more sinister campaigns to make Palestinian refugees vanish through the very destruction of UNRWA and the redefining of the refugee status of millions of Palestinians.

By denying UNRWA urgently needed funds, Washington wants to enforce a new reality, one in which neither human rights, nor international law or morality are of any consequence.

What will become of Palestinian refugees seems to be of no importance to Trump, his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, and other US officials. The Americans are now watching, hoping that their callous strategy will finally bring Palestinians to their knees so that they will ultimately submit to the Israeli government’s dictates.

The Israelis want the Palestinians to give up their Right of Return in order to get “peace”. The joint Israeli-American “vision” for the Palestinians basically means the imposition of apartheid and keeping Palestinian exiles in a never-ending ordeal.

The Palestinian people will never accept this injustice.

The Right of Return remains a driving force behind Palestinian resistance, as the Great March of Return demonstrated in Gaza, starting March of last year.

All the money in Washington’s coffers will not reverse what is now a deeply embedded belief in the hearts and minds of millions of refugees throughout Palestine, the Middle East and the world.

Palestinian refugees may not top the political agenda of the Middle East at the moment, but it is their persistence, determination and undying hope that will keep their cause alive until international law is respected and human rights are truly honored.

Feature photo | People hold keys, in support of Palestinians right to return, as they take part in a rally against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Rabat, Morocco, Dec. 10, 2017. (AP Mosa’ab Elshamy | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter, and is a former Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB.  

The post On UN World Refugee Day Palestinians Keep Their Right of Return Alive Through Hope, Resistance appeared first on MintPress News.

Inside Canada’s Outsized and Under-Scrutinized Bid to Overthrow Maduro

OTTAWA — Canada’s foreign policy, under the auspices of Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, is bucking the country’s long standing tradition of generally staying out of the affairs of governments to its south in Latin America. Indeed, Canada has been one of the major players orchestrating repeated coup attempts in Venezuela since Juan Guaido declared himself president in January.

One opinion piece in a major Canadian publication, the Toronto Star, notes:

Almost immediately after Guaido anointed himself president, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced that he was Canada’s guy and that Maduro should cede power to him.

Maduro won’t do that without a fight. So what Freeland was really saying was that Canada would support anything, including an armed coup, to remove Maduro.”

Meanwhile, another major Canadian publication, the Globe and Mail, reports:

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke with Juan Guaido to congratulate him on unifying opposition forces in Venezuela, two weeks before he declared himself interim president.

Separately, Ottawa was told by opposition groups, former diplomats and a Venezuelan émigré to expect a major announcement.”

That was reported based on sourcing from a “senior Canadian government source who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.”

Perhaps it should be no surprise that Freeland — who said she was “proud” of her grandfather, a Nazi collaborator — sympathizes with Popular Will, the political party of Leopoldo Lopez, who appears to have kept a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in his library.

Lopez was under house arrest for organizing violent riots in 2014. He was freed during the attempted military coup by Guaido but had to quickly take refuge in the Spanish Embassy. He has previously admitted to kidnapping government officials in 2002 and had endorsed the military coup against President Chavez that year.

Canada was among the first group of nine nations that immediately recognized the interim presidency of the then-obscure Guaido.

Ben Rowswell, former Canadian ambassador to Venezuela, told Globe and Mail that “Ottawa would have thoroughly examined the strategy the Venezuelan opposition was proposing before publicly supporting Mr. Guaido,” according to the outlet. He added:

To have countries that represent two-thirds of the population of Latin America do it in minutes shows there was a remarkable alignment that’s got to be nearly unprecedented in the history of Latin America.

What you might be seeing here is success of some extraordinary quiet diplomacy.”

Perhaps the strongest indicator that Guaido’s Popular Will party coordinated Guaido’s self-declaration of presidency with international backers is a tweet from long-time opposition leader María Corina Machado. She took selfies with Guaido in 2014 at the height of the violent Guarimba protests that left 43 dead and hundreds injured by mobs and opposition booby traps.

Con @jguaido y Alcides Padilla en la Fiscalía, juntos en una misma lucha por una Venezuela libre pic.twitter.com/TNUdcDNG82

— María Corina Machado (@MariaCorinaYA) June 16, 2014

About a week before Guaido’s declaration, Machado tweeted that he “is the president” and “the governments of the hemisphere are ready to recognize it.” Five days later, she gave an explicit death threat to Maduro on a Miami-based news station. Indeed, Machado had been tweeting about Juan Guaido — as well as his “ambassador” to the U.S., former Exxon lawyer Carlos Vecchio — as far back as 2010.

Machado’s Sumate NGO has taken tens of thousands of dollars from the United States’ National Endowment for Democracy, a cutout of the Central Intelligence Agency that serves as a front to protect the legitimacy of the civil-society groups it bankrolls. Machado was previously charged with involvement in a plot to assassinate Maduro.

 

Guaido’s team of elite brand ambassadors

Machado shares an important backer in Canada with Guaido: his “ambassador” to the country, Orlando Viera-Blanco. Viera-Blanco wished her a “happy birthday” on Twitter in 2012, calling her “Cariños Maria Corina,” meaning “sweetheart Maria.” He since then has described her as a “fighter with a sweet and noble look,” and adulated her for “practically alone” standing for “one of the most serious, in-depth agendas: the departure of Cubans from Venezuela.” In 2014, at the end of the Guarimba protests, Viera-Blanco accompanied Machado as she lobbied the Canadian parliament, including the foreign affairs committee.

“Days before the guarimbas began, it had been decided that Maria Corina Machado would be the leader of the conspiracy —  that decision was made in the United States,” Venezuela Analysis reported, citing a retired Venezuelan colonel who admitted to colluding with her. Audio recordings document Machado inciting more Guarimba activity.

Viera-Blanco has long advocated, even before the Guarimbas, that the opposition needs to hold street protests and that Leopoldo Lopez and Machado are the true leaders of their fight.

For his part, Viera-Blanco has been president of the Canadian Venezuelan Engagement Foundation, an NGO focusing on “elite leadership training and humanitarian aid,” and an international corporate lawyer and partner at his own Viera Blancos & Associates since 1988. He is also on the board of advisors for a Miami-based “technology-enabled real estate company” that specializes in luxury condos.

While members of the diaspora with deep pockets like Vecchio and Viera-Blanco are repping Guaido’s shoestring foreign ministry abroad, Canada and the U.S. have retained ultra-hawks to oversee their Venezuela policies.

 

Canada’s coup overseer

A few months ago, a Canadian government-run publication posted a contract — picked up by reporter Yves Engler — for a “Special Advisor on Venezuela,” a position similar to that of war-criminal Elliott Abrams, the White House’s “Special Representative for Venezuela.”

“Canada is playing a critical role regionally and globally in efforts to increase pressure on the Venezuelan government to end the violence, unrest and deprivation, and return to constitutional order,” the job description reads. It sought someone with not just “TOP SECRET” clearance, but who is also able to “[u]se your network of contacts to advocate for expanded support to pressure the illegitimate government to return constitutional order” and,

“[u]se your network of civil society contacts on the ground in Venezuela to advance priority issues.”

The contract was posted even though the job continues to belong to Allan Culham because of a technicality in Canadian law.

Cullham got his start in politics with the Canadian International Development Agency. There he planned agency programs and served as “Director of Corporate Information.” Over the years, Culham worked his way up the ladder before he was appointed as, first, ambassador to Guatemala, then to El Salvador, and then to Venezuela, where he served between 2002 and 2005, starting months after the coup in 2002 against President Hugo Chavez.

Canada’s Special Envoy for Venezuela, Allan Culham, center, speaks with OAS head Luis Almagro. Photo | Twitter

He would eventually go on to serve as Permanent Representative of Canada to the Organization of American States.

According to a 2004 diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, Culham called Machado’s Sumate NGO “impressive” and “transparent.” Machado had, of course, endorsed the 2002 military coup. Culham also condemned Chavez as a “bully” and “aggressive.”

In 2015, Culham said he “met López when he was the mayor of the Caracas municipality of Chacao [2000-2008] where the Canadian Embassy is located. He too became a good friend and a useful contact in trying to understand the many political realities of Venezuela.”

During his time in politics, Culham as railed against the “Chavista Bolivarian revolution” and advocated “hardline pro-corporate, pro-Washington” policies, Engler notes. This history and the connections he can leverage make him perfect to fill the position of, as Engler calls it, “Canada’s Elliott Abrams.”

Whether it be from the side of the U.S. or Canadian government, or on the side of Juan Guaido’s shadow cabinet, it’s clear that financial and political elites are calling the shots. As MintPress News recently reported, the Venezuelan opposition doesn’t even hide it, with one Popular Will director explicitly admitting that the country’s elites fill the ranks of his party.

Feature photo | Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, arrives with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on June 12, 2019, at the Department of State in Washington. Sait Serkan Gurbuz | AP

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

The post Inside Canada’s Outsized and Under-Scrutinized Bid to Overthrow Maduro appeared first on MintPress News.

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