Category Archives: Crimes against Humanity

Facing the Facts: Israel Cannot Escape ICC Jurisdiction

The Chief Military Advocate General of the Israeli army, Sharon Afek, and the US Department of Defense General Counsel, Paul Ney, shared a platform at the ‘International Conference on the Law of Armed Conflict’, which took place in Herzliya, Israel between May 28-30.

Their panel witnessed some of the most misconstrued interpretations of international law ever recorded. It was as if Afek and Ney were literally making up their own law on warfare and armed conflict, with no regard to what international law actually stipulates.

Unsurprisingly, both Afek and Ney agreed on many things, including that Israel and the US are blameless in all of their military conflicts, and that they will always be united against any attempt to hold them accountable for war crimes by the International Court of Justice (ICC).

Their tirade against the ICC mirrors that of their own leaders. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s anti-ICC position is familiar, last April, US President Donald Trump virulently expressed his contempt for the global organization and everything it represents.

“Any attempt to target American, Israeli, or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response,” Trump said in a writing on April 12.

While Trump’s (and Netanyahu’s) divisive language is nothing new, Afek and Ney were entrusted with the difficult task of using legal language to explain their countries’ aversion for international law.

Prior to the Herzliya Conference, Afek addressed the Israel Bar Association convention in Eilat on May 26. Here, too, he made some ludicrous claims as he absolved, in advance, Israeli soldiers who kill Palestinians.

“A soldier who is in a life-threatening situation and acts to defend himself (or) others (he) is responsible for, is receiving and will continue receiving full back-up from the Israeli army,” he said.

The above assertion appears far more sinister once we remember Afek’s views on what constitutes a “life-threatening situation”, as he had articulated in Herzliya a few days later.

“Thousands of Gaza’s residents (try) to breach the border fence,” he said, with reference to the non-violent March of Return at the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel.

The Gaza protesters “are led by a terrorist organization that deliberately uses civilians to carry out attacks,” Afek said.

Afek sees unarmed protests in Gaza as a form of terrorism, thus concurring with an earlier statement made by then-Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on April 8, 2018, when he declared that “there are no innocents in Gaza.”

Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy, however, is not confined to the Gaza Strip but is also implemented with the same degree of violent enthusiasm in the West Bank.

‘No attacker, male or female, should make it out of any attack alive,’ Lieberman said in 2015. His orders were followed implicitly, as hundreds of Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and Jerusalem for allegedly trying to attack Israeli occupation soldiers or armed illegal Jewish settlers.

Unlike democratic political systems everywhere, in Israel the occupation soldier becomes the interpreter and enforcer of the law.

Putting this policy into practice in Gaza is even more horrendous as unarmed protesters are often being killed by Israeli snipers from long distances. Even journalists and medics have not been spared the same tragic fate as the hundreds of civilians who were killed since the start of the protests in March 2018.

Last February, the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on Gaza’s protests concluded that “it has reasonable grounds to believe that during the Great March of Return, Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some of those violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, and must be immediately investigated by Israel.”

In his attack on the ICC at the Herzliya Conference, Afek contended that “Israel is a law-abiding country, with an independent and strong judicial system, and there is no reason for its actions to be scrutinized by the ICC.”

The Israeli General goes on to reprimand the ICC by urging it to focus on “dealing with the main issues for which it was founded.”

Has Afek even read the Rome Statute? The first Article states that the ICC has the “power to exercise its jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concern, as referred to in this Statute.”

Article 5 elaborates the nature of these serious crimes, which include: “(a) The crime of genocide; (b) Crimes against humanity; (c) War crimes; (d) The crime of aggression.”

Israel has been accused of at least two of these crimes – war crimes and crimes against humanity – repeatedly, including in the February report by the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry.

Afek may argue that none of this is relevant to Israel, for the latter is not “a party to the Rome Statute,” therefore, does not fall within ICC’s legal jurisdiction.

Wrong again.

Article 12 of the Rome Statute allows for ICC’s jurisdiction in two cases; first, if the State in which the alleged crime has occurred is itself a party of the Statute and, second, if the State where the crime has occurred agrees to submit itself to the jurisdiction of the court.

While it is true that Israel is not a signatory of the Rome Statute, Palestine has, since 2015, agreed to submit itself to the ICC’s jurisdiction.

Moreover, in April 2015, the State of Palestine formally became a member of the ICC, thus giving the court jurisdiction to investigate crimes committed in the Occupied Territories since June 13, 2014. These crimes include human rights violations carried out during the Israeli war on Gaza in July-August of the same year.

Afek’s skewed understanding of international law went unchallenged at the Herzliya Conference, as he was flanked by equally misguided interpreters of international law.

However, nothing proclaimed by Israel’s top military prosecutor or his government will alter the facts. Israeli war crimes must not go unpunished; Israel’s judicial system is untrustworthy and the ICC has the legal right and moral duty to carry out the will of the international community and hold to account those responsible for war crimes anywhere, including Israel.

Facing the Facts: Israel Cannot Escape ICC Jurisdiction

The Chief Military Advocate General of the Israeli army, Sharon Afek, and the US Department of Defense General Counsel, Paul Ney, shared a platform at the ‘International Conference on the Law of Armed Conflict’, which took place in Herzliya, Israel between May 28-30.

Their panel witnessed some of the most misconstrued interpretations of international law ever recorded. It was as if Afek and Ney were literally making up their own law on warfare and armed conflict, with no regard to what international law actually stipulates.

Unsurprisingly, both Afek and Ney agreed on many things, including that Israel and the US are blameless in all of their military conflicts, and that they will always be united against any attempt to hold them accountable for war crimes by the International Court of Justice (ICC).

Their tirade against the ICC mirrors that of their own leaders. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s anti-ICC position is familiar, last April, US President Donald Trump virulently expressed his contempt for the global organization and everything it represents.

“Any attempt to target American, Israeli, or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response,” Trump said in a writing on April 12.

While Trump’s (and Netanyahu’s) divisive language is nothing new, Afek and Ney were entrusted with the difficult task of using legal language to explain their countries’ aversion for international law.

Prior to the Herzliya Conference, Afek addressed the Israel Bar Association convention in Eilat on May 26. Here, too, he made some ludicrous claims as he absolved, in advance, Israeli soldiers who kill Palestinians.

“A soldier who is in a life-threatening situation and acts to defend himself (or) others (he) is responsible for, is receiving and will continue receiving full back-up from the Israeli army,” he said.

The above assertion appears far more sinister once we remember Afek’s views on what constitutes a “life-threatening situation”, as he had articulated in Herzliya a few days later.

“Thousands of Gaza’s residents (try) to breach the border fence,” he said, with reference to the non-violent March of Return at the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel.

The Gaza protesters “are led by a terrorist organization that deliberately uses civilians to carry out attacks,” Afek said.

Afek sees unarmed protests in Gaza as a form of terrorism, thus concurring with an earlier statement made by then-Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on April 8, 2018, when he declared that “there are no innocents in Gaza.”

Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy, however, is not confined to the Gaza Strip but is also implemented with the same degree of violent enthusiasm in the West Bank.

‘No attacker, male or female, should make it out of any attack alive,’ Lieberman said in 2015. His orders were followed implicitly, as hundreds of Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and Jerusalem for allegedly trying to attack Israeli occupation soldiers or armed illegal Jewish settlers.

Unlike democratic political systems everywhere, in Israel the occupation soldier becomes the interpreter and enforcer of the law.

Putting this policy into practice in Gaza is even more horrendous as unarmed protesters are often being killed by Israeli snipers from long distances. Even journalists and medics have not been spared the same tragic fate as the hundreds of civilians who were killed since the start of the protests in March 2018.

Last February, the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on Gaza’s protests concluded that “it has reasonable grounds to believe that during the Great March of Return, Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some of those violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, and must be immediately investigated by Israel.”

In his attack on the ICC at the Herzliya Conference, Afek contended that “Israel is a law-abiding country, with an independent and strong judicial system, and there is no reason for its actions to be scrutinized by the ICC.”

The Israeli General goes on to reprimand the ICC by urging it to focus on “dealing with the main issues for which it was founded.”

Has Afek even read the Rome Statute? The first Article states that the ICC has the “power to exercise its jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concern, as referred to in this Statute.”

Article 5 elaborates the nature of these serious crimes, which include: “(a) The crime of genocide; (b) Crimes against humanity; (c) War crimes; (d) The crime of aggression.”

Israel has been accused of at least two of these crimes – war crimes and crimes against humanity – repeatedly, including in the February report by the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry.

Afek may argue that none of this is relevant to Israel, for the latter is not “a party to the Rome Statute,” therefore, does not fall within ICC’s legal jurisdiction.

Wrong again.

Article 12 of the Rome Statute allows for ICC’s jurisdiction in two cases; first, if the State in which the alleged crime has occurred is itself a party of the Statute and, second, if the State where the crime has occurred agrees to submit itself to the jurisdiction of the court.

While it is true that Israel is not a signatory of the Rome Statute, Palestine has, since 2015, agreed to submit itself to the ICC’s jurisdiction.

Moreover, in April 2015, the State of Palestine formally became a member of the ICC, thus giving the court jurisdiction to investigate crimes committed in the Occupied Territories since June 13, 2014. These crimes include human rights violations carried out during the Israeli war on Gaza in July-August of the same year.

Afek’s skewed understanding of international law went unchallenged at the Herzliya Conference, as he was flanked by equally misguided interpreters of international law.

However, nothing proclaimed by Israel’s top military prosecutor or his government will alter the facts. Israeli war crimes must not go unpunished; Israel’s judicial system is untrustworthy and the ICC has the legal right and moral duty to carry out the will of the international community and hold to account those responsible for war crimes anywhere, including Israel.

View the Frontline Documentary on Gaza that PBS Pulled

PBS stations around the U.S. were scheduled to show a riveting new Frontline documentary, “One Day in Gaza,” but at the last minute PBS pulled it.

The film is missing important context about the issue, but it includes footage that Americans, as Israel’s top funders, should see – including a young, unarmed teen being shot in her head.

BBC, the coproducer of the film, broadcast it to British viewers. We are posting it below so that Americans can also view it.

Recently, hundreds of PBS stations around the United States were scheduled to broadcast a powerful new Frontline documentary: “One Day in Gaza.” But viewers tuning in found that it had been replaced by a slightly updated Frontline report on Robert Mueller that had been broadcast two months before and had been streaming online ever since.

PBS no longer has the Gaza film listed on its schedule.

The documentary was to be aired on the one-year anniversary of events that took place on May 14, 2018, when tens of thousands of men, women, and children in Gaza gathered with the intention of deploying the tactics Gandhi had used in freeing India from British control.

The demonstration that day was the 8th march in what Gazans named the Great March of Return.

Palestinians months earlier had announced their plan for a mass, peaceful demonstration in which Gazans would march for an end to Israel’s crippling 12-year blockade and, especially, for  their right to return to homes stolen by Israel in order to create a Jewish state. Palestinians’ right to return to their homes and ancestral land is well established in international law. This fundamental right, affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel had responded by immediately deploying a hundred snipers.

In the first seven weekly marches, Israeli forces killed about 50 of the marchers and injured over 7,000.

During the 8th march on May 14, the day depicted in the film, Israeli forces killed 60 more and shot 1,000 – an average of one person every 30 seconds.

While this was going on, a glittering Israeli celebration was taking place as a new, transplanted U.S. Embassy opened in Jerusalem, a city that Israel illegally annexed following the Six-Day War that Israel launched in 1967.

Who were the protesters?

Over 70 percent of Gazans are from families that Israel forced out in its founding war to establish “the Jewish state.” Israel confiscated their homes and land and has prevented them from returning ever since. This violates international law.

For 12 years Israel has perpetrated a strangling blockade of Gaza, causing 52 percent unemployment, hunger, the kind of malnutrition that causes growth stunting in children, and increasing hopelessness.

And this blockade is just the most recent one.

On April 15, 2002 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported, “The total blockade has paralysed the Palestinian economy… it is now in a deep recession, with millions of people severely impoverished and extremely food insecure.”

For many years it has been tremendously difficult, sometimes impossible, for Gazans to leave Gaza, and for others to enter it. As a result, many people describe Gaza as the largest open-air prison on earth.

While U.S. news coverage in general, and the Frontline documentary in particular, emphasize the rockets fired by Gaza’s diverse resistance groups, the fact is that Israeli violence preceded the rockets and has greatly exceeded their impact.

In the past year alone, Israeli forces have killed at least 293 Gazans, while Gazans have killed 6 Israelis. Palestinian rockets from Gaza, which are largely homemade, have killed a total of about 40 Israelis in the whole time they’ve been being shot, while during the same time period Israeli forces have killed over 6,000 Gazans. (See this Timeline of deaths and this Israeli source for more info.)

The film says that Israel “fought three major conflicts with Hamas,” but doesn’t mention that during these, Israeli forces killed about 3,600 Gazans (many of them women and children), while Gazan fighters killed approximately 80 Israelis, the large majority of them soldiers.

Powerful but flawed

The Frontline documentary One Day in Gaza is an extremely powerful, if flawed, record of the events of May 14, 2018.

It provides Israeli views, Palestinian views, and riveting, often tragic footage of the day’s events. However, perhaps because of its striving to be “balanced,” or due to constraints imposed by Israel’s powerful lobbies in England and the U.S., the film often leans toward the Israeli narrative and obscures some important points.

The Israeli interviewees in the film are calm, articulate, and seem well-trained in presenting their talking points. Perhaps this is not surprising given that one is an army spokesman, a second is a high-ranking officer, and two are Americans who immigrated to Israel (although this fact is not revealed in the film).

Not interviewed in the film are any of the members of the Israeli group, Breaking the Silence, composed of former Israeli soldiers who describe widespread military practices of gratuitous violence and cruelty.

Below is some background on two of the Israelis featured in the film:

Col. Kobi Heller

Perhaps because of time constraints, Col. Heller’s, background and political persuasion are left out of the film.

While Heller comes across as reasonable, professional, and reluctant to commit the murders we see from his troops, his resumé suggests that there is more to his story.

Heller is a member of Israel’s Religious Zionist movement, a group that has become known for its zealotry and sometimes extremist views of Jewish supremacy. He is called a “kippa shruga,” a term for the type of Jewish fundamentalist known for believing that Arabs should be expelled from Israel and for opposition to any Palestinian state, no matter how small.

It turns out that he has a previous connection to Gaza. Heller is a settler who studied at a religious Zionist yeshiva in a Gaza settlement that combined religious studies with military training. In 2005 the yeshiva was moved to Israel when the Israeli government forcibly expelled the settlers. This caused fierce objections in the settler movement. Many in the army were outraged at this action.

Heller is from Israel’s notorious Golani brigade, increasingly a bastion of the Israeli far right. An Israeli professor states:  “The officer corps of the elite Golani Brigade is now heavily populated by religious right-wing graduates of the preparatory academies.” The New York Times reports that many Israelis are concerned at this development, particularly since a booklet was handed out to soldiers during Israel’s 2009 assault on Gaza that contained a rabbinical edict against showing the enemy mercy.

The Times reports: “The rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles and their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the non-Jews who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land.”

Adele Raemer

An Israeli woman featured in the film is Adele Raemer. She is described as an “Israeli grandmother” who lives two kilometers from the Gaza fence.

In the film she describes her fear of Gazans who wish to return to their homes in Israel. The film does not mention that Raemer is originally an American from the Bronx.

In 1975 she immigrated to Israel and took up residency in the Nirim kibbutz on the border with Gaza. Since the area had originally possessed no history of Jewish habitation, the Zionist movement had established it in 1946 to create a Jewish presence in the Negev in order to claim it as part of a future Jewish state.

Raemer has written that her life in the kibbutz is “95 percent heaven.” Despite being located in a desert, it has green grass and a swimming pool. A little over a mile away, Gazans are enduring a water crisis that has caused Gazan children to suffer from diarrhea, kidney disease, and impaired IQ.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders

The film shows the the flaws and sometimes fatal logistical failures of Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders during the Great March and says that Hamas has “refused to recognize Israel.”

However, the film doesn’t include the fact that Hamas has offered Israel a decade-long truce, that it is Israel that breaks the truces, and that Hamas has said it was willing to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.

In reporting these leaders’ flaws and mistakes, the film fails to mention the extreme difficulties Gaza’s leaders face, including the fact that by assuming this role they face very possible assassination by Israel. Many resistance members have been blown to pieces by Israeli drones.

Those who survive are trying to run a resistance movement, deploy efficient logistical support, and make wise decisions during chaotic conditions in one of the world’s most isolated and longest-besieged enclaves.

Most important, the Palestinian journalist and peace activist who originated the march and is interviewed in the film, Ahmed Abu Artema, says that the film attributed far too much significance to Hamas, and neglected the “primary role played by civil society activists in Gaza.”

In a detailed critique of the film, he writes: “The documentary did not show the reality of the prison that Gaza has become. One shot of the cattle market that exists at the Erez crossing would have been enough to convey the reality of this cage, where there is no freedom of movement, no economic growth, no future prospects – no hope.”

The U.S. connection

The film also fails to inform American viewers of our connection to Israeli actions – that the U.S. gives Israel over $10 million per day. (The U.S. has given Israel on average 7,000 times more per capita than it has given other people around the world.)

And in its framing, the film neglects the fact that a prime driver of Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy is billionaire campaign donor Sheldon Adelson, who attended the celebration with his Israeli wife Miriam. (Adelson once said that he regretted serving in the U.S. army rather than the Israeli one – video here.)

Despite its flaws, Americans should see it

But the film cannot do everything, and it does some things extremely well. Overall, it’s not difficult to see why Israel partisans would not wish it broadcast to Americans.

It shows footage that the American public almost never sees. It was this kind of footage that eventually led to Americans ending the Vietnam war.

One of the main take-aways from the film is the extreme ruthlessness of Israeli forces.

Fully armed Israeli soldiers from one of the most powerful armies on earth are seen targeting multitudes of thin, unarmed men, women, and children. The film shows Israeli snipers shooting people in the head, in the back, in the legs.

It shows a youth whose leg was amputated and reports that many of the demonstrators lost limbs that day. (The UN recently reported that 1,700 Gazans shot by Israeli snipers are currently at risk of amputations.)

While U.S. news reports often downplay these actions, the film shows them in all their tragic and horrific reality.

The film shows people who are just standing there suddenly being picked off by snipers. It shows a 14-year-old girl chatting with a friend, then suddenly being shot in the head. And it shows her little brother, who had been with her, later describing how his sister had been killed. This is not footage that Israeli hawks wish American audiences to view.

Another takeaway from the film is the poverty of Gaza’s imprisoned population, particularly compared to the gathering in Israel to celebrate the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem.

Amid the expensive suits and fashionable dresses, American-born Israeli official Michael Oren bemoans the fact that the situation in Gaza has blemished his enjoyment of the festive occasion.

This contrast with Gaza is stark.

With no powerful lobby to represent them and little clout in U.S. media, Palestinians are at the mercy of Israel. The film shows that many in Gaza feel they have little to lose after years of escalating oppression. Some voice impossible dreams that had motivated them, that they could recover their lost homes. Some simply hoped to see them. A few voice the fury that results from dispossession, imprisonment, and brutalization.

While this goes unremarked in the film, there are indications that the “tear gas” Israeli drones poured on people may have been particularly virulent. In the film we see some people convulsing, and one man is delirious. This seems reminiscent of a mysterious gas used in Gaza in early 2001 that caused similar symptoms (reported in the James Longley documentary Gaza Strip).

Courage

While Israeli soldiers shelter behind diverse barriers, armed with advanced weaponry and guided by female soldiers watching it all on TV screens in a remote bunker, it is the Palestinians who demonstrate incredible, sometimes tragic courage.

We see them without weapons, without body armor, without helmets, without uniforms. Old and young, men and women, strong and disabled, they wield slingshots, wave flags.

They’re out in an open field, Israeli forces in front of them, drones overhead. When yet another demonstrator is shot, the blood pouring out, they run to rescue him or her, and then sometimes they, too, are shot. Yet they continue.

The contrast between the Israeli and Palestinian women taking part in the day’s hostilities is acute. Israeli female soldiers are far away, watching the action on computer monitors, telling soldiers when and where to shoot. Their faces are blurred to keep their identities secret. One seems to question what she’s doing, but there’s no indication that she stops.

Gazan women join the mass gathering. They’re out are in the open field, marching, carrying flags, helping the injured… and getting shot.

Theft of a nation

For over 70 years, Israel has gotten away with its astoundingly massive theft of the land and homes of the non-Jews it dispossessed to create an ethnically defined nation, and its decades of violence to maintain this ethnic cleansing. A Palestinian historian has validly termed this the Palestinian Holocaust.

One Day in Gaza shows some of Israel’s millions of victims, their attempt to be free, and what’s being done to them. Americans are not supposed to see that.

While Artema’s biting critique of the film is valid and necessary, it is useful to be aware that for many Americans much of the film will be revelatory.

PBS’s action

PBS’s cancellation, however, has prevented Frontline‘s more than 4.6 million viewers from seeing it.

While PBS calls itself “a trusted window to the world,” someone at PBS shuttered the window on One Day in Gaza.

PBS spokespeople state that Gaza will be broadcast at some point in the coming months, but say they don’t know when. Since the film’s scheduled broadcast date was specifically focused on the one-year anniversary of the day it depicts, it seems odd for PBS to be so unconcerned about broadcasting it in a timely manner. BBC, on the other hand, aired the film on May 13.

According to a Frontline statement, One Day In Gaza was pulled because Frontline “decided to air a timely update to our documentary on the Mueller investigation.” The Mueller investigation report had been broadcast on March 16 and 17 and has been available online ever since. It can be viewed here.

The updated version that bumped One Day in Gaza can be seen here. The update consists of a few minutes added at the end of the report. This new information had already been reported widely in U.S. media, including PBS’s own primetime news program News Hour.

PBS vs local stations

PBS wields considerable power. A national study rated PBS “the most-trusted institution in America.”

Its Frontline program claims to be “American television’s top long-form news and current affairs series.”

According to its website, PBS is a “near-universal media service, available in 9-of-10 U.S. television households. For many Americans, public television is their connection to the world.”

PBS emphasizes the alleged independence of its nearly 350 television and radio stations, stating they are among “the last locally owned media organizations in the country.”

However, in reality it appears that local stations have less control than this implies. When someone at PBS prevented the broadcast of Gaza, that decision prevented all the local stations around the country from airing it.

The fact is that local PBS stations do not have independent access to the film – even though it received funding from the stations.

While most Americans may think that PBS is a public institution, given its name – Public Broadcasting Service” – it is not. It is, in its own words, “a private, nonprofit media enterprise.” One that is, however, largely funded by American taxpayers.

Its ownership is a bit convoluted and multi-layered. While it says it is “owned by its 350 member stations,” its funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. CPB is another private nonprofit, but 95 percent of CPB’s funding comes from the federal government. Most of this money is then given to the member stations.

Phone calls to a PBS station, KQED in San Francisco, revealed that KQED had received many calls complaining about the cancellation and asking when Gaza would be shown. KQED’s customer service representative explained that none of this is in KQED’s hands.

“We Answer to You”

Frontline has refused to divulge who was involved in the decision to pull Gaza. It seems likely that its Senior Editorial Team – consisting of Raney Aronson-Rath, Executive Producer; David Fanning, Founder and Executive Producer at Large; and Andrew Metz, Managing Editor – would have been involved. Fanning has previously been accused of censoring content regarding Israel/Palestine, a charge he denies.

Frontline‘s website announces: “We answer to no one but you.”

It’s unclear who the “you” is. It does not appear to be the member stations who fund it, or the many people whose federal dollars financed the film and wish to see it.

While PBS holds on to the film and fails to release it, people in Gaza continue their David against Goliath struggle.

On May 15th, Gazan men, women, and children again protested, and Israel again unleashed its heavily armed military, injuring 144, including 49 children. The same day, Israeli soldiers also fired at fishermen who were fishing off the coast of Gaza, injuring one of them – a frequent occurrence that Americans rarely, if ever, see on the News Hour.

And so it goes.

Perhaps at some point PBS/Frontline management will decide that the massacre of 60 people and the shooting of a thousand others in a single day is important enough to merit scheduling the film – particularly when the perpetrator has received more U.S. tax money than any other nation in the world.

This post will be updated if PBS schedules a new broadcast date.

It will be updated again if PBS actually shows it.

WATCH: One Day in Gaza    Download: Torrent | Magnet Link

Madonna’s Fake Revolution: Eurovision, Cultural Hegemony and Resistance

Rim Banna, a famous Palestinian singer who translated Palestine’s most moving poetry to song passed away on March 24, 2018, at the age of 51. Rim captured the struggle for Palestinian freedom in the most dignified and melodious ways. If we could imagine angels singing, they would sound like Rim.

When Rim died, all Palestinians mourned her death. Although a few international outlets carried the news of her passing at a relatively young age, her succumbing to cancer did not receive much coverage or discussion. Sadly, a Palestinian icon of cultural resistance who had inspired a whole generation, starting with the First Palestinian Intifada in 1987, hardly registered as an event worthy of remembrance and reflection, even among those who purport to champion the Palestinian cause.

Compare Rim to Madonna, an ‘artiste’ who has stood for self-aggrandizing personal fame and money-making. She has championed the most debased moral values, utilizing cheap entertainment while catering to the lowest common denominator to remain relevant in the music world for as long as possible.

While Rim had a cause, Madonna has none. And while Rim symbolized cultural resistance, Madonna symbolizes globalized cultural hegemony – in this case, the imposition of consumerist western cultures on the rest of the world.

Cultural hegemony defines the US and other Western cultures’ relationship to the rest of the world. It is not culture as in the collective intellectual and artistic achievements of these societies, but as a set of ideological and cultural tools used by ruling classes to maintain domination over the disadvantaged, colonized and oppressed.

Madonna, along with Michael Jordan, the Beatles and Coca Cola represent far more than mere performers and fizzy drinks, but also serve as tools used to secure cultural, thus economic and political dominance, as well. The fact that in some cities around the world, especially in the Southern hemisphere, Coca Cola “flows more freely than water” speaks volumes about the economic toll and political dimension of cultural hegemony.

This issue becomes critical when a pro-Israel Madonna decides to perform in Israel, as she has done repeatedly in the past, as part of the Eurovision contest. Knowing who she is and what she stands for, her decision should not come as a surprise; after all, in her September 2009 Tel Aviv concert, she sang while wrapped in an Israeli flag.

Of course, it is essential that artistes of her caliber and the contestants representing 41 different countries, are reminded of their moral responsibilities towards occupied and oppressed Palestinians. It is also important that Israel is confronted regarding its unrelenting efforts to mask its apartheid and war crimes in Palestine.

Indeed, the whitewashing of Israeli human rights violations using art – also known as “art washing” – should not be allowed to continue when Gaza is under siege, where Palestinian children are shot and killed daily without remorse and without the least legal accountability.

This is why such artistic events are important for the Israeli government and society. Israel has used Eurovision as a distraction from the blood and gore that has been taking place not far from that venue. Those who labored to ensure the success of the event, knowing fully how Israel is using the brand as an opportunity to normalize its war against Palestinians, should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

But, on the other hand, should we be the least surprised? Aren’t such global music events, as Eurovision, at the heart of the western-centric globalization scheme of cultural hegemony, which sole purpose is to enforce a capitalist view of the world, where western culture is consumed as a commodity, no different from a McDonald’s sandwich or a pair of Levi jeans?

Calling on 60-year-old Madonna to refrain from entertaining apartheid Israel can be considered beneficial as a media strategy, for it helped highlight, although momentarily, an issue that would have been otherwise absent from news headlines. However, by placing so much focus on Madonna, and whatever human rights’ values she supposedly stands for, we also take the risk of inadvertently validating her and the consumerist values she represents. More, in this Madonna-driven trajectory, we are also neglecting Palestine’s cultural resistance, the core drive behind Palestinian ‘somoud’ – steadfastness – over the course of a century.

In response to her critics, Madonna answered, “I’ll never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda nor will I stop speaking out against violations of human rights wherever in the world they may be.” In the eyes of many who are ignorant of the facts, such an answer may appear as if an ‘empowered’ response to those who are trying to sway a genuine, pure artiste from following her calling.

In fact, Madonna is an expert in appearing as if morally-guided, yet never translating such morality to anything meaningful in reality. In a speech described as “powerful” by the Rolling Stone Magazine, Madonna declared during a Women’s March in Washington D.C. in 2017 “to the rebellion, to our refusal as women to accept this new age of tyranny. Where not just women are in danger, but all marginalized people.”

Of course, Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian women – who have paid a heavy price for Israeli Occupation, war and marginalization – are not to be included in Madonna’s false revolution. And the chances are, shortly after she sings and dances in a jubilant, apartheid Israel, she will once more take on many platforms as if the Rosa Parks of revolutionary art.

While it is important that we keep the pressure on those who engage and validate Israel politically, economically and culturally, these efforts should come secondary to embracing Palestine’s culture of resistance. Behaving as if Madonna’s stage shenanigans represent true culture, while ignoring Palestinian culture altogether, is similar to academics addressing decolonization from the point of view of the colonizer, not the colonized. The truth is, nations cannot truly rid themselves from the colonial mindset without having their narratives take the center-stage of politics, culture and every other aspects of knowledge.

“The intellectual’s error consists in believing that one can know without understanding and, even more, without feeling and being impassioned,” wrote Italian anti-fascist intellectual, Antonio Gramsci. This entails the intellectual and the artist to feel “the elementary passions of the people, understanding them and, therefore, explaining and justifying them.”

The truth is that appealing to Madonna’s moral sense without immersing ourselves passionately in the art of Rim Banna will, in the long run, do Palestinians no good. Only embracing Palestine’s culture of resistance will, ultimately, keep the self-serving, hegemonic and cheap cultural messages of the Madonnas of this world at bay.

Tackling the “Impossible”: Ending Violence

Whenever, in ordinary circumstances, the subject of violence comes up, most people throw up their hands in horror and comment along the lines that it is ‘in our genes’, ‘nothing can be done about it’ or other words that reflect the powerlessness that most people feel around violence.

It is true that violence is virtually ubiquitous, has a near-infinite variety of manifestations and, at its most grotesque (as nuclear war or run-away climate catastrophe), even threatens human extinction in the near-term.

Nevertheless, anyone who pays attention to the subject of violence in any detail soon discovers that plenty of people are interested in tackling this problem, even if it is ‘impossible’. Moreover, of course, at least some people recognize that while we must tackle each manifestation of violence, understanding the cause of violence is imperative if we are to successfully tackle its many manifestations at their source. To do all of this effectively, however, is a team effort. And hopefully, one day, this team will include all of us.

In the meantime, let me start by telling you a little about some of the people who are already working to end violence by tackling one or more of its many manifestations. These individuals are part of a worldwide network set up to focus on ending violence – ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’ – and they have signed a pledge to do so.

Concerned about US government threats to Iran and Venezuela, several Charter signatories were part of one or both recent peace delegations to Iran and Venezuela respectively. These delegations were designed to open more lines of communication and to demonstrate solidarity with those who do not submit to US hegemony.

The 28-member US peace delegation to Iran from 25 February to 6 March 2019 included long-term nonviolent activists Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese and David Hartsough. Unfortunately for David, author of Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist and director of Peaceworkers, his trip didn’t go as planned. If you would like to read a compelling account of his time in Iran with some wonderful Iranians, while learning something about what it means to be on the wrong end of US sanctions, you will find it in ‘An American Casualty of U.S. Economic Sanctions on Iran’. Glad you got the lifesaving medical treatment from our Iranian friends that you needed, David, despite the sanctions! And it is a tragedy that Iran has recently suffered even more, as a result of the devastating floods that have hit the country, with the sanctions cruelly denying them vital emergency assistance.

In relation to Venezuela, a 13-member peace and solidarity delegation from North America landed in Caracas, Venezuela on the weekend of 9-10 March 2019. The delegation included leaders of antiwar groups from the US and Canada and, once again, Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers of ‘Popular Resistance’ and ‘Clearing the Fog’ podcasts. You can read an account of this delegation’s findings in Kevin and Margaret’s highly informative report.

Another initiative to support Venezuelans was outlined in the article ‘A Nonviolent Strategy to Defeat a US Military Invasion of Venezuela’.

Traveling widely to witness and demonstrate solidarity with those on the receiving end of US military violence, another long-term nonviolent activist, Kathy Kelly, recently wrote an article pointing out that ‘Every War Is a War against Children’ in which she evocatively documented examples of what this means for those children living in the war zones we call Yemen and Afghanistan. In an earlier article, Kathy questioned the morality of those corporations – such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics and Raytheon – that profit from the killing their weapons inflict.

Environmental journalist Robert Hunziker continues to fearlessly research and truthfully document the ongoing assaults that humans are inflicting on Earth’s biosphere. In his most recent article ‘The Blue Ocean Event and Collapsing Ecosystems‘, Robert straightforwardly explains the content of a recent interview of Dr. Peter Wadhams, the world’s leading Arctic scientist. Robert notes that ‘Currently, the Arctic is heating up about 4 times faster than the rest of the planet… the temp difference between the Arctic and the tropics is dropping precipitously… thus, driving the jet streams less… creating meandering jet streams… in turn, producing extreme weather events throughout the Northern Hemisphere, especially in mid-latitudes where most of the world’s food is grown.’ Robert also notes that the study of ancient ice cores by a team from the British Antarctic Survey, University of Cambridge and University of Birmingham found ‘major reductions in sea ice in the Arctic’ which will crank up (via temperature amplification as a result of no Arctic sea ice) Greenland regional temperatures ‘by 16°C in less than a decade’ with horrific implications for life on Earth. Thank you, Robert, for reporting what the corporate media won’t touch and even many activists find too terrifying to seriously contemplate.

In Chile, Pía Figueroa continues her heavy involvement in efforts to network those committed to peace and nonviolence and to develop media channels that report the truth. Pía reports that ‘Pressenza International Press Agency’, which celebrated its tenth anniversary last November ‘in more than 40 places of the world’, continues to advance its contribution ‘with a journalism focused on peace and nonviolence, to a world in which all human beings have a place and their rights are fully respected, in a framework of disarmed and demilitarized societies, capable of re-establishing the ecological balance through governments of real and participatory democracy.’

Since attending the Media Forum organized in the city of Chongqing, China, by CCTV+ and CGTN, in October last year, Pía has been busy organizing the upcoming Latin American Humanist Forum in Santiago with the objective of ‘Building Convergences’, as its slogan points out. It will be held on 10-12 May with the participation of many grassroots and social organizations involved in more than twenty networks of nonviolent action and inspired by the European Humanist Forum that took place in Madrid, Spain, in May 2018.

Anwar A. Khan was born into ‘a liberal Muslim family in Bangladesh’. As a 16 year old college student, he participated in the ‘Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, which resulted in horrendous loss of life, genocide against Bangladesh’s intelligentsia and systematic rapes.’ This experience taught him the nature of the US establishment as he was ‘on the battle field along with so many friends of mine and Indian soldiers to fight back the obnoxious nexus of the Pakistani military regime and the Whitehouse establishment’ to create Bangladesh. Khan Bhai went on to complete a post-graduate education, before embarking on a 43-year (so far) business career, involving many different levels of corporate engagement and which took him to many countries of the world, including Venezuela in 2010 where he met both Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro.

He also writes regularly in his spare time and recently wrote an article highlighting the adverse impact of the lack of infrastructure under which many impoverished countries suffer, given the way in which the global economy functions to exploit them. In the article, he describes an inferno that started on the night of 20 February 2019 in a building at Chawkbazar, a 300-year-old Dhaka neighbourhood, ‘where chemicals for making deodorants and other household uses were illegally stored’. The fire ‘quickly spread to four nearby buildings where many people were trapped. Hundreds of firefighters rushed to the scene but traffic jams in the narrow streets held them up. It took almost 12 hours to bring the fire under control….’ The horrific inferno claimed about 100 lives and more were injured.

Commenting on the current project that she is organizing with friends, Lori Lightning outlines the rationale behind ‘Bear Bones Parenting’:

There’s no course or exam to pass to become a parent, and most try to figure this out once a parent, and usually in an exhausted overwhelmed state. Bedtimes, meals, chores, and healthy open communication all become a task without a trusted framework in place.

Based on 51 years of combined wisdom as educators, counselors, health practitioners, moms, step moms and foster moms, Bear Bones Parenting offers an intuitive formula to demystify the basics of parenting and a workbook with tools for reflection and wellness practices to take you actively through day to day living no matter where you are at in your life. You dedicate 15 minutes a day and in trade stop being overwhelmed. A “do it yourself” workbook filled with tools to turn life into what you envision for yourself and your family.

Our cast of puppets help to inspire playful reflection on our children’s temperaments and our own. Eventual creation of short videos will be easily accessible for busy parents and provide some examples of how things typically play out with temperaments and inspiration of the Bear way, which is curious, intuitive, firm and loving.

We hope that BBP can help reduce parental stress and frustration so there is time to connect in joy and curiosity with our children and foster their independence.

For more information, you can contact Lori at this email address: moc.liamgnull@gnitneraPsenoBraeB

Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh is volunteer Director of The Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability (PIBS) and the Palestine Museum of Natural History (PMNH) but he is also actively engaged in the Palestinian struggle for liberation from Israeli occupation. As he evocatively noted in a recent Easter reflection:

This is the tenth Easter I celebrate after returning to Palestine in 2008. When we native Christian Palestinians have a few moments to meditate and reflect in this season, we reflect that some 2.5 billion human beings believe in a message that originated with a Palestinian baby born in a manger here and was crucified for being the first revolutionary Palestinian to push for caring for the sick and the poor.

We reflect on the real message of Jesus, a message of love and coexistence. The harsh reality on the ground reminds us of our responsibility to shape a better future.

We are hopeful because we take a long view of history. Some 150,000 years ago, humans migrated from Africa using Palestine as the passage way to Western Asia and then the rest of the world. 12,000 years ago, this area became the center of development for agriculture (the Fertile Crescent). This was where we humans first domesticated animals like goats and donkeys and plants like wheat, barley, chickpeas, and lentils. This transformation allowed our ancestors time to evolve what we now call “civilization”. Hence, the first writings, the first music, and art, and the first thoughts of deities. From our Aramaic alphabet came the Latin, Arabic, Syriac, and Hebrew alphabets. Aramaic was the language of Jesus and much of our current Palestinian Arabic is still Aramaic words.

Mazin continues to travel regularly, lecturing about initiatives of the museum but also about the political reality in Palestine. If you would like to volunteer to assist the museum’s projects, or to donate money, books, natural history items or anything else that would be useful, you are welcome to contact Mazin and his colleagues at gro.erutanenitselapnull@ofni

Finally, we are deeply saddened to report the passing of Tom Shea, a long-time stalwart in the struggle for a better world and one of the original team of individuals who launched ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’ on 11 November 2011. We include below the testament of his great friend and fellow nonviolent activist, Leonard Eiger:

For Tom Shea, Peace WAS the Way

My dear friend and fellow Ground Zero member Tom Shea passed away peacefully in the early morning hours of April 3rd surrounded by his family.

Earlier in his life Tom had been a Jesuit, a high school teacher, and had started an alternative high school and Jesuit Volunteer Corp: Midwest. He had also been involved in social justice issues on the national level with the Jesuits. Ground Zero member Bernie Meyer remembers Tom with great fondness, from being a student at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland where Tom was teaching, to resisting together at Ground Zero many years later.

Tom was 47 when he left Cleveland for Traverse City, Michigan in 1977. There he met his partner Darylene, and they were inseparable from then on. Together, they participated in the Nuclear Freeze movement, and were part of the Michigan Peace Team. They traveled to New York for the second Conference on Disarmament in 1982. They protested both the first Gulf War and the war in Iraq. They also engaged in war tax resistance.

At Darylene’s suggestion, they attended a course in conflict mediation in the early ‘80s at a time when there was little written on the subject. That experience led them to a course taught by Quakers at Swarthmore College in 1986. In 1990 Tom and Darylene founded the five-county Conflict Resolution Service in Northern Michigan and trained the first group of volunteer mediators. Their mission was to promote peace and civility in the community through the use of mediator guided dialogue. In the early days of the program, volunteers met in church basements and around kitchen tables to train, role play and share experiences. They would travel to the homes of people needing mediation, focusing on resolving family and neighborhood conflicts.

Tom and Darylene moved to Snoqualmie, Washington in 2007 to spend more time with Darylene’s children. Tom got involved in community issues and continued his war tax resistance work. You could find him every April 15th, in front of the local post office, offering tax resistance information.

I was still leading a social justice ministry at the Snoqualmie United Methodist Church when one day Tom called the church office and asked who was doing social justice work in the area. We connected immediately due to common work and friends. Soon, Tom and I were making the pilgrimage together across the water to Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, and the rest (as they say) is history.

I have spent countless hours with Tom and Darylene, discussing world affairs and working together on strategies and tactics for our work with Ground Zero. Tom and Darylene have been inseparable as both life partners and co-conspirators for peace. Tom once said that Darylene is like a Jesuit herself: “Jesuits are taken as very scholarly people and she’s very scholarly.”

In addition to working on media and communications for Ground Zero, and planning vigils and nonviolent direct actions at the Bangor Trident nuclear submarine base, Tom put himself on the line many times, often entering the roadway blocking traffic, both on the County and Federal sides, symbolically closing the base and risking arrest. Tom also created street theatre scripts that have been used during vigils at the submarine base to entertain and educate people.

Robert Burrowes, who cofounded ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’, said that “Tom was one of the true legends in my life. A long-standing symbol of, and nonviolent fighter for, everything that could be in our world.” When all is said and done, Tom’s life can be summed up by A.J Muste: “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”

We will be scattering some of Tom’s ashes (per his wishes) at Ground Zero Center during our August Hiroshima-Nagasaki weekend of remembrance and action.

I invite you to honor Tom’s memory by supporting the work of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. There are many ways we can engage in war tax resistance in the context of a broad range of nonviolent strategies for social change.

While diminished by the passing of Tom, the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action continues ‘to explore the meaning and practice of nonviolence from a perspective of deep spiritual reflection, providing a means for witnessing to and resisting all nuclear weapons, especially Trident. We seek to go to the root of violence and injustice in our world and experience the transforming power of love through nonviolent direct action.’ You can read about their ongoing efforts on their website, Ground Zero, which also features a ‘Current Action Alert: Stop the “Low-Yield” Trident Warhead!

Each of the individuals mentioned above is part of the ongoing and steadily expanding effort to end the violence in our world. They refuse to accept that violence cannot be ended, and each has chosen to focus on working to end one or more manifestations of violence, according to their particular interests. If you would like to join these people, you are welcome to sign the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’.

If your own interest is campaigning on a peace, climate, environment or social justice issue, consider doing it strategically.

If your focus is a defense or liberation struggle being undertaken by a national group, consider enhancing its strategic impact.

If your preference is addressing the climate and environmental catastrophes systematically, consider participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth‘.

If you would like to tackle violence at its source, consider revising your parenting in accordance with ‘My Promise to Children‘. If you want the evidence to understand why this is so crucial, see ‘Why Violence?‘ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice‘.

If you are aware enough to know that you are not dealing effectively with our deepening crisis, consider doing the personal healing necessary to do so.

It may be that ending human violence is impossible, as many believe. But there are a great number of people around the world who do not accept this and who are struggling, relentlessly, to end violence before it ends us. What about you?

Notre Dame of Gaza: Our Mosques and Churches are Also Burning

As the 300-foot spire of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris tragically came tumbling down on live television, my thoughts ventured to Nuseirat Refugee Camp, my childhood home in the Gaza Strip.

Then, also on television, I watched as a small bulldozer hopelessly clawed through the rubble of my neighborhood mosque. I grew up around that mosque. I spent many hours there with my grandfather, Mohammed, a refugee from historic Palestine. Before grandpa became a refugee, he was a young Imam in a small mosque in his long-destroyed village of Beit Daras.

Mohammed and many in his generation took solace in erecting their own mosque in the refugee camp as soon as they arrived to the Gaza Strip in late 1948. The new mosque was first made of hardened mud, but was eventually remade with bricks, and later concrete. He spent much of his time there, and when he died, his old, frail body was taken to the same mosque for a final prayer, before being buried in the adjacent Martyrs Graveyard. When I was still a child, he used to hold my hand as we walked together to the mosque during prayer times. When he aged, and could barely walk, I, in turn, held his hand.

But Al-Masjid al-Kabir – the Great Mosque, later renamed Al-Qassam Mosque – was completely pulverized by Israeli missiles during the summer war on Gaza, starting July 8, 2014.

Hundreds of Palestinian houses of worship were targeted by the Israeli military in previous wars, most notably in 2008-9 and 2012. But the 2014 war was the most brutal and most destructive yet. Thousands were killed and more injured. Nothing was immune to Israeli bombs. According to Palestine Liberation Organization records, 63 mosques were completely destroyed and 150 damaged in that war alone, oftentimes with people seeking shelter inside. In the case of my mosque, two bodies were recovered after a long, agonizing search. They had no chance of being rescued. If they survived the deadly explosives, they were crushed by the massive slabs of concrete.

In truth, concrete, cements, bricks and physical structures don’t carry much meaning on their own. We give them meaning. Our collective experiences, our pains, joys, hopes and faith make a house of worship what it is.

Many generations of French Catholics have assigned the Notre Dame Cathedral with its layered meanings and symbolism since the 12th century.

While the fire consumed the oak roof and much of the structure, French citizens and many around the world watched in awe. It is as if the memories, prayers and hopes of a nation that is rooted in time were suddenly revealed, rising, all at once, with the pillars of smoke and fire.

But the very media that covered the news of the Notre Dame fire seemed oblivious to the obliteration of everything we hold sacred in Palestine as, day after day, Israeli war machinery continues to blow up, bulldoze and desecrate.

It is as if our religions are not worthy of respect, despite the fact that Christianity was born in Palestine. It was there that Jesus roamed the hills and valleys of our historic homeland teaching people about peace, love and justice. Palestine is also central to Islam. Haram al-Sharif, where al-Aqsa Mosque and The Dome of the Rock are kept, is the third holiest site for Muslims everywhere. Yet Christian and Muslim holy sites are besieged, often raided and shut down per military diktats. Moreover, the Israeli army-protected messianic Jewish extremists who want to demolish Al-Aqsa and the Israeli government has been digging underneath its foundation for many years.

Although none of this is done in secret; international outrage remains muted. In fact, many find Israel’s actions justified. Some have bought into the ridiculous explanation offered by the Israeli military that bombing mosques is a necessary security measure. Others are motivated by dark religious prophecies of their own.

Palestine, though, is only a microcosm of the whole region. Many of us are familiar with the horrific destruction carried out by fringe militant groups against world cultural heritage in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Most memorable among these are the destruction of Palmyra in Syria, Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan and the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul.

Nothing, however, can possibly be compared to what the invading US army has done to Iraq. Not only did the invaders desecrate a sovereign country and brutalize her people, they also devastated her culture that goes back to the start of human civilization. Just the immediate aftermath of the invasion alone resulted in the looting of over 15,000 Iraqi antiquities, including the Lady of Warka, also known as the Mona Lisa of Mesopotamia, a Sumerian artifact whose history goes back to 3100 BC.

I had the privilege of seeing many of these artifacts in a visit to the Iraq Museum only a few years before it was looted by US soldiers. At the time, Iraqi curators had all precious pieces hidden in a fortified basement in anticipation of a US bombing campaign. But nothing could prepare the museum for the savagery unleashed by the ground invasion. Since then, Iraqi culture has largely been reduced to items on the black market of the very western invaders that have torn that country apart. The valiant work of Iraqi cultural warriors and their colleagues around the world has managed to restore some of that stolen dignity, but it will take many years for the cradle of human civilization to redeem its vanquished honor.

Every mosque, every church, every graveyard, every piece of art and every artifact is significant because it is laden with meaning, the meaning bestowed on them by those who have built or sought in them an escape, a moment of solace, hope, faith and peace.

On August 2, 2014 the Israeli army bombed the historic Al-Omari Mosque in northern Gaza. The ancient mosque dates back to the 7th century and has since served as a symbol of resilience and faith for the people of Gaza.

As Notre Dame burned, I thought of Al-Omari too. While the fire at the French cathedral was likely accidental, destroyed Palestinian houses of worship were intentionally targeted. The Israeli culprits are yet to be held accountable.

I also thought of my grandfather, Mohammed, the kindly Imam with the handsome, small white beard. His mosque served as his only escape from a difficult existence, an exile that only ended with his own death.

Russia warns Bolton: “Monroe Doctrine” Remarks are Insulting to Latin America

What is the ‘Monroe Doctrine’? In brief, it is a document which defines the entire Western Hemisphere as a ‘backyard’ of the United States. It ‘philosophically’ justifies Washington’s neo-colonialism, and the most barbaric coups it has been triggering, as well as covered and open interventions in the Caribbean, and in Central and South America.

And now, National Security Advisor John Bolton, is using this term in connection with Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, outraging those who are opposing the US foreign policy in the region. What he means is clear, although it is never pronounced as bluntly as that: Countries in the Western Hemisphere should never be allowed to go socialist, and they should be prevented from disobeying Western dictates.

In Doha, Qatar, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, expressed his outrage over Bolton’s evoking of the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ now, when the West is doing all in its power to overthrow the democratically elected left-wing government of Venezuela:

The theory and the practice of “backyards” is generally insulting…

Sergei Lavrov also added that:

Since 1945, when the UN was founded, the international law is being regulated by this universal and the most legitimate organization.

This is, obviously, not how the United States sees the world. Maybe it never even considered such an approach.

*****

But back to the ‘notorious’ Monroe Doctrine.

Surprisingly, it was not always intended to intimidate and brutalize independent and progressive Latin American nations.

According to the definition of the United States Department of State:

The Monroe Doctrine was a United States policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas beginning in 1823. It stated that further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.

So, in theory at least, this policy was supposed to be putting the brakes on European colonialist expansionism. This may sound almost unbelievable now.

How very unfortunate that it has evolved into one of the most unscrupulous tools of oppression in modern history!

Contradictory to its original meaning, the United States used the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ in order to overthrow basically all patriotic, progressive and left-wing governments in the Western Hemisphere; governments that resisted the selfish geo-political interests of Washington, or the interests of US corporations, including the infamous United Fruit Company which was notorious for treating virtually all Central American countries as if they were its private plantations.

Then during the Cold War, US foreign policy towards Latin America was built on the belief that the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ should be invoked in order to prevent the spread of Soviet-backed Communism in the region.

What followed is well known: massacres in Central America, brutal coups and fascist dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and elsewhere; tens of thousands of men, women and children ‘disappeared’. Death squads murdering, raping and torturing everywhere, from Guatemala and Salvador to Argentina and Chile.

The fight for US hegemony was basically and cynically named as a ‘fight for democracy’. Slavery was defined as ‘freedom’. The ‘Monroe Doctrine’ became synonymous with Plan Condor, with monstrous torture chambers and with people being thrown alive into the sea from helicopters.

*****

Now the Trump administration is re-deploying those old and fatal Cold War warriors, elevating them to high positions, the same people who were murdering, plotting and cheering assassins. The list reads like a “Wanted for Genocide” catalogue: Elliott Abrams, Michael Pompeo and yes: John Bolton.

These individuals are, of course, unapologetic.

Just recently, John Bolton declared:

In this administration we’re not afraid to use the phrase ‘Monroe Doctrine’. This is a country in our hemisphere and it’s been the objective of American presidents going back to Ronald Reagan to have a completely Democratic hemisphere.

He was talking about Venezuela, of course.

And so, the almost 200 year old ‘Monroe Doctrine’ has been revitalized; put to deadly work once again.

As reported by the Daily Star:

Mr. Bolton said the Donald Trump administration was “not afraid to use the phrase ‘Monroe Doctrine’,” when asked why it was targeting Venezuela while maintaining close alliances with tyrannies such as Saudi Arabia. The doctrine, dating back to the 1820s, denoted the Western hemisphere as a zone of US influence.

It is clear that this time, what Mr. Bolton envisions under the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ has nothing in common with the fight against European colonialism. It is a bellicose ‘modern-day’ interpretation of the doctrine: the justification for Western imperialism all over the Hemisphere. And perhaps all over the world.

Sergei Lavrov correctly defined Bolton’s remarks as ‘insulting’. They are also deadly. As they are indicative of what Western foreign policy may soon become, or has already become: an unapologetic and uncompromising return to the harshest form of expansionism.

What the US tried to avert (perhaps) some 200 years ago, it at some point joined, and then ‘perfected’. Now, it is trying to bring it to an absolute extreme.

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

The Unfinished Gaza War: What Netanyahu Hopes to Gain from Attacking Palestinian Prisoners

The current violence targeting Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails dates back to January 2. It was then that Israel’s Public Security Minister, Gilad Erdan declared that the “party is over.”

“Every so often, infuriating pictures appear of cooking in the terrorist wings. This party is coming to an end,” Erdan was quoted in the Jerusalem Post.

Then, the so-called Erdan’s Committee recommended various measures aimed at ending the alleged “party”, which included placing limits on prisoners’ use of water, banning food preparations in cells, and installing jamming devices to block the alleged use of smuggled cell phones.

The last measure, in particular, caused outrage among prisoners, for such devices have been linked to severe headaches, fainting and other long-term ailments.

Erdan followed his decision with a promise of the “use of all means in (Israel’s) disposal” to control any prisoners’ protests in response to the new restrictions.

The Israel Prison Service (IPS) “will continue to act with full force” against prison “riots”, he said, as reported by the Times of Israel.

That “full force” was carried out on January 20 at the Ofer Military Prison near Ramallah, in the West Bank, where a series of Israeli raids resulted in the wounding of more than 100 prisoners, many of whom sustaining bullet wounds.

The Nafha and Gilboa prisons were also targeted with the same violent pattern.

The raids continued, leading to more violence in the Naqab Prison on March 24, this time conducted by the IPS force, known as the Metzada unit.

Metzada is IPS’ ‘hostage rescue special operation’ force and is known for its very violent tactics against prisoners. Its attack on Naqab resulted in the wounding of many prisoners, leaving two in critical condition. Palestinian prisoners fought back, reportedly stabbing two prison guards with sharp objects.

On March 25, more such raids were conducted, also by Metzada, which targeted Ramon, Gilboa, Nafha and Eshel prisons.

In response, the leadership of Palestinian prisoners adopted several measures including the dismantling of the regulatory committees and any other form of representation of prisoners inside Israeli jails.

The decentralization of Palestinian action inside Israeli prisons would make it much more difficult for Israel to control the situation and would allow prisoners to use whichever form of resistance they may deem fit.

But why is Israel provoking such confrontations when Palestinian prisoners are already subjected to a most horrid existence and numerous violations of international law?

Equally important, why now?

On December 24, embattled Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders of Israel’s right-wing government dissolved the Knesset (parliament) and declared early elections on April 9.

A most winning strategy for Israeli politicians during such times is usually increasing their hostility against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, including the besieged Gaza Strip.

Indeed, a hate-fest, involving many of Israel’s top candidates kicked in, some calling for war on Gaza, others for teaching Palestinians a lesson, annexing the West Bank, and so on.

Merely a week after the election date announcement was made, raids of prisons began in earnest.

For Israel, it seemed like a fairly safe and controlled political experiment. Video footage of Israeli forces beating up hapless prisoners, accompanied by angry statements made by top Israeli officials captured the imaginations of a decidedly right-wing, militant society.

And that’s precisely what took place, at first. However, on March 25, a flare in violence in Gaza led to a limited, undeclared war.

A full-fledged Israeli war on Gaza would be a big gamble during an election season, especially as recent events suggest that the time of easy wars is over. While Netanyahu adopted the role of the decisive leader, so determined to crush the Gaza resistance, his options on the ground are actually quite limited.

Even after Israel accepted Egyptian-mediated ceasefire terms with the Gaza factions, Netanyahu continued to talk tough.

“I can tell you we are prepared to do a lot more,” Netanyahu said in reference to the Israeli attack on Gaza during a video speech beamed to his supporters in Washington on March 26.

But, for once, he couldn’t, and that failure, from an Israeli viewpoint, intensified verbal attacks by his political rivals.

Netanyahu has “lost his grip on security,” the Blue and White party leader, Benny Gantz proclaimed.

Gantz’s accusation was just another insult in an edifice of similar blistering attacks questioning Netanyahu’s ability to control Gaza.

In fact, a poll, conducted by the Israeli TV channel, Kan, on March 27, found that 53% of Israelis believe that Netanyahu’s response to the Gaza resistance is “too weak.”

Unable to counter with more violence, at least for now, the Netanyahu government responded by opening another battlefront, this time in Israeli prisons.

By targeting prisoners, especially those affiliated with certain Gaza factions, Netanyahu is hoping to send a message of strength, and to assure his nervous constituency of his prowess.

Aware of the Israeli strategy, Hamas’ political leader, Ismail Haniyeh linked the ceasefire to the issue of prisoners.

We “are ready for all scenarios,” Haniyeh said in a statement.

In truth, the Netanyahu-Erdan war on Palestinian prisoners is foolish and unwinnable. It has been launched with the assumption that a war of this nature will have limited risks, since prisoners are, by definition, isolated and unable to fight back.

To the contrary, Palestinian prisoners have, without question, demonstrated their tenacity and ability to devise ways to resist the Israeli occupier throughout the years. But more importantly, these prisoners are far from being isolated.

In fact, the nearly 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails represent whatever semblance of unity among Palestinians that transcends factions, politics and ideology.

Considering the direct impact of the situation in Israeli prisons on the collective psyche of all Palestinians, any more reckless steps by Netanyahu, Erdan and their IPS goons will soon result in greater collective resistance, a struggle that Israel cannot easily suppress.

“The Essence of Being Palestinian”: What the Great March of Return is Really About

The aims of the Great March of Return protests, which began in Gaza on March 30, 2018 are to put an end to the suffocating Israeli siege and implementing the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees who were expelled from their homes and towns in historic Palestine 70 years earlier.

But there is much more to the March of Return than a few demands, especially bearing in mind the high human cost associated with it.

According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, over 250 people have been killed and 6,500 wounded, including children, medics and journalists.

Aside from the disproportionately covered ‘flaming kites’ and youth symbolically cutting through the metal fences that have besieged them for many years, the March has been largely non-violent. Despite this, Israel has killed and maimed protesters with impunity.

A UN human rights commission of inquiry found last month that Israel may have committed war crimes against protesters, resulting in the killing of 189 Palestinians within the period March 30 and December 31, 2018.

The inquiry found “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at children, medics and journalists, even though they were clearly recognizable as such,” the investigators concluded as reported by BBC online.

Many in the media, however, still do not understand what the Great March of Return really means for Palestinians.

A cynically titled report in the Washington Post attempted to offer an answer. The article, “Gazans have paid in blood for a year of protests. Now many wonder what it was for,” selectively quoted wounded Palestinians who, supposedly, feel that their sacrifices were in vain.

Aside from providing the Israeli military with a platform to blame the Hamas Movement for the year-long march, the long report ended with these two quotes:

The March of Return “achieved nothing,” according to one injured Palestinian.

“The only thing I can find is that it made people pay attention,” said another.

If the Washington Post paid attention, it would have realized that the mood among Palestinians is neither cynical nor despairing.

The Post should have wondered: if the march ‘achieved nothing’, why were Gazans still protesting, and the popular and inclusive nature of the March has not been compromised?

“The Right of Return is more than a political position,” said Sabreen al-Najjar, the mother of young Palestinian medic, Razan, who, on June 1, 2018, was fatally shot by the Israeli army while trying to help wounded Palestinian protesters. It is “more than a principle: wrapped up in it, and reflected in literature and art and music, is the essence of what it means to be Palestinian. It is in our blood.”

Indeed, what is the ‘Great March of Return’ but a people attempting to reclaim their role, and be recognized and heard in the struggle for the liberation of Palestine?

What is largely missing from the discussion on Gaza is the collective psychology behind this kind of mobilization, and why it is essential for hundreds of thousands of besieged people to rediscover their power and understand their true position, not as hapless victims, but as agents of change in their society.

The narrow reading, or the misrepresentation of the March of Return, speaks volumes about the overall underestimation of the role of the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom, justice and national liberation, extending for a century.

The story of Palestine is the story of the Palestinian people, for they are the victims of oppression and the main channel of resistance, starting with the Nakba – the creation of Israel on the ruins of Palestinian towns and villages in 1948. Had Palestinians not resisted, their story would have concluded then, and they, too, would have disappeared.

Those who admonish Palestinian resistance or, like the Post, fail to understand the underlying value of popular movement and sacrifices, have little understanding of the psychological ramifications of resistance – the sense of collective empowerment and hope which spreads amongst the people. In his introduction to Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, Jean-Paul Sartre describes resistance, as it was passionately vindicated by Fanon, as a process through which “a man is re-creating himself.”

For 70 years, Palestinians have embarked on that journey of the re-creation of the self. They have resisted, and their resistance in all of its forms has molded a sense of collective unity, despite the numerous divisions that were erected amongst the people.

The March of Return is the latest manifestation of the ongoing Palestinian resistance.

It is obvious that elitist interpretations of Palestine have failed – Oslo proved a worthless exercise in empty clichés, aimed at sustaining American political dominance in Palestine as well as in the rest of the Middle East.

But the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993 shattered the relative cohesiveness of the Palestinian discourse, thus weakening and dividing the Palestinian people.

In the Israeli Zionist narrative, Palestinians are depicted as drifting lunatics, an inconvenience that hinders the path of progress – a description that regularly defined the relationship between every western colonial power and the colonized, resisting natives.

Within some Israeli political and academic circles, Palestinians merely ‘existed’ to be ‘cleansed’, to make room for a different, more deserving people. From the Zionist perspective, the ‘existence’ of the natives is meant to be temporary. “We must expel Arabs and take their place,” wrote Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion.

Assigning the roles of dislocated, disinherited and nomadic to the Palestinian people, without consideration for the ethical and political implications of such a perception, has erroneously presented Palestinians as a docile and submissive collective.

Hence, it is imperative that we develop a clearer understanding of the layered meanings behind the Great March of Return. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza did not risk life and limb over the last year simply because they required urgent medicine and food supplies.

Palestinians did so because they understand their centrality in their struggle. Their protests are a collective statement, a cry for justice, an ultimate reclamation of their narrative as a people – still standing, still powerful and still hopeful after 70 years of Nakba, 50 years of military occupation and 12 years of unrelenting siege.

How Israel is Working to Remove Palestinians from Jerusalem

The 350,000 Palestinian inhabitants of occupied East Jerusalem are caught between a rock and hard place, as Israel works ever harder to remove them from the holy city in which they were born, analysts and residents warn.

That process, they say, has only accelerated in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s decision a year ago to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem, effectively endorsing the city as Israel’s exclusive capital.

“Israel wants Palestinians in Jerusalem to understand that they are trapped, that they are being strangled, in the hope they will conclude that life is better outside the city,” said Amneh Badran, a politics professor at Jerusalem’s Al Quds university.

Since Israel seized the eastern part of Jerusalem in 1967 and then illegally annexed it in 1981, it has intentionally left the status of its Palestinian population unresolved.

Israeli officials have made Palestinians there “permanent residents,” though, in practice, their residency is easily revoked. According to Israel’s own figures, more than 14,500 Palestinians have been expelled from the city of their birth since 1967, often compelling their families to join them in exile.

Further, Israel finished its concrete wall slicing through East Jerusalem three years ago, cutting some 140,000 Palestinian residents off from the rest of the city.

A raft of well-documented policies – including house demolitions, a chronic shortage of classrooms, lack of public services, municipal underfunding, land seizures, home evictions by Jewish settlers, denial of family unification, and police and settler violence – have intensified over the years.

At the same time, Israel has denied the Palestinian Authority, a supposed government-in-waiting in the West Bank, any role in East Jerusalem, leaving the city’s Palestinians even more isolated and weak.

All of these factors are designed to pressure Palestinians to leave, usually to areas outside the wall or to nearby West Bank cities like Ramallah or Bethlehem.

“In Jerusalem, Israel’s overriding aim is at its most transparent: to take control of the land but without its Palestinian inhabitants,” said Daoud Alg’ol, a researcher on Jerusalem.

Like others, Mr Alg’ol noted that Israel had stepped up its ‘Judaisation’ policies in Jerusalem since the US relocated its embassy. “Israel is working more quickly, more confidently and more intensively because it believes Trump has given his blessing,” he said.

Demographic concerns dominated Israel’s thinking from the moment it occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, and subordinated it to the control of Jewish officials in West Jerusalem – in what Israel termed its newly “united capital”.

City boundaries were expanded eastwards to attach additional Palestinian lands to Jerusalem and then fill in the empty spaces with a ring of large Jewish settlements, said Aviv Tartasky, a researcher with Ir Amim, an organisation that campaigns for equal rights in Jerusalem.

The goal, he added, was to shore up a permanent three-quarters Jewish majority – to ensure Palestinians could not stake a claim to the city and to allay Israeli fears that one day the Palestinians might gain control of the municipality through elections.

Israel has nonetheless faced a shrinking Jewish majority because of higher Palestinian birth rates. Today, Palestinians comprise about 40 per cent of the total population of this artificially enlarged Jerusalem.

Israel has therefore been aggressively pursuing a twin-pronged approach, according to analysts.

On one side, wide-ranging discriminatory policies – that harm Palestinians and favour Jewish settlers – have been designed to erode Palestinians’ connection to Jerusalem, encouraging them to leave. And, on the other, revocation of residency rights and the gradual redrawing of municipal boundaries have forcibly placed Palestinians outside the city – in what some experts term a “silent transfer” or administrative ethnic cleansing.

Israel’s efforts to disconnect Palestinians from Jerusalem are most visibly expressed in the change of Arabic script on road signs. The city’s Arabic name, Al Quds (the Holy), has been gradually replaced by the Israeli name, Urshalim, transliterated into Arabic.

The lack of services and municipal funding and high unemployment mean that three-quarters of Palestinians in East Jerusalem live below the poverty line. That compares to only 15 per cent for Israeli Jews nationally.

Despite these abysmal figures, the municipality has provided four social services offices in the city for Palestinians, compared to 19 for Israeli Jews.

Only half of Palestinian residents are provided with access to the water grid. There are similar deficiencies in postal services, road infrastructure, pavements and cultural centres.

Meanwhile, human rights groups have noted that East Jerusalem lacks at least 2,000 classrooms for Palestinian children, and that the condition of 43 per cent of existing rooms is inadequate. A third of pupils fail to complete basic schooling.

But the biggest pressure on Palestinian residents has been inflicted through grossly discriminatory planning rules, said Mr Tartasky.

In the areas outside the wall, Palestinians have been abandoned by the municipality – and receive no services or policing at all.

Israel’s long-term aim, said Mr Tartasky, had been exposed in a leak of private comments made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2015. He had proposed revoking the residency of the 140,000 Palestinians outside the wall.

“At the moment, the government is discussing putting these residents under the responsibility of the army,” Mr Tartasky said.

That would make them equivalent to Palestinians living in Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank and sever their last connections to Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, on the inner side of the wall, Palestinian neighbourhoods have been tightly constrained, with much of the land declared either “scenic areas” or national parks, in which construction is illegal, or reserved for Jewish settlements. The inevitable result has been extreme overcrowding.

In addition, Israel has denied most Palestinian neighbourhoods’ masterplans, making it all but impossible to get building permits.

“The advantage for Israel is that planning regulations don’t look brutal – in fact, they can be presented as simple law enforcement,” said Mr Tartasky. “But if you have no place to live in Jerusalem, in the end you’ll have to move out of the city.”

An estimated 20,000 houses – about 40 per cent of the city’s Palestinian housing stock – are illegal and under threat of demolition. More than 800 homes, some housing several families, have been razed since 2004.

As well as the large purpose-built Jewish settlements located on Palestinian land in East Jerusalem, several thousand extremist settlers have taken over properties inside Palestinian neighbourhoods, often with the backing of the Israeli courts.

Mr Tartasky noted that Israel has been accelerating legal efforts to evict Palestinians from their homes over the past year, with close to 200 families in and around the Old City currently facing court battles.

When settlers move in following such evictions, Ms Badran said, the character of the Palestinian neighbourhoods rapidly changes.

“The settlers arrive, and then so do the police, the army, private security guards and municipal inspectors. The settlers have a machine behind them whose role is to make life as uncomfortable as possible for Palestinians. The message is: ‘You either accept your subjugation or leave’.”

In Silwan, where settler groups have established a touristic archaeological park in the midst of a densely populated Palestinian community just outside the Old City walls, life has been especially tough.

Mr Alg’ol, who lives in Silwan, noted that fortified settler compounds had been established throughout the area, many dozens more Palestinian families were facing evictions, excavations were taking place under Palestinian homes, closed-circuit TV watched residents 24 hours a day, and the security services were a constant presence. Many hundreds of children had been arrested in recent years, usually accused of stone throwing.

Israel’s newest move is the announcement of a cable car to bring tourists from West Jerusalem through Palestinian neighbourhoods like Silwan to the holy sites of the Old City.

Mr Tartasky said touristic initiatives had become another planning weapon against Palestinians. “These projects, from the cable car to a series of promenades, are ways to connect one settlement to the next, bisecting Palestinian space. They strengthen the settlements and break apart Palestinian neighbourhoods.”

Mr Alg’ol’s family was one of many in Silwan that had been told their lands were being confiscated for the cable car and a new police station.

“They want to turn our community into an archaeological Disneyland,” he said. “And we are in the way. They plan to keep going until we are all removed.”

First published in The National