Category Archives: East Jerusalem

Saving the Holy Land

Many readers will know of Kairos from their Palestine Document of 2009. This was a bold statement by a group of Christian Palestinians which told the truth about the tragic situation in their country under Israeli occupation…. “a cry of hope in the absence of all hope”.

Kairos is Greek meaning ‘a critical moment in time’. The document was called ‘A Moment of Truth; A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering’. And it was published after the murderous onslaught by Israel against Gaza over Christmas and New Year 2008/9.

The Kairos people said they had “reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people. The decision-makers content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it.”

It was a long and comprehensive document so I’ll just quote this extract to provide a flavour:

Religious liberty is severely restricted; the freedom of access to the holy places is denied under the pretext of security. Jerusalem and its holy places are out of bounds for many Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Even Jerusalemites face restrictions during the religious feasts. Some of our Arab clergy are regularly barred from entering Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is the heart of our reality. It is, at the same time, a symbol of peace and sign of conflict. While the separation wall divides Palestinian neighbourhoods, Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens, Christians and Muslims. Their identity cards are confiscated, which means the loss of their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes are demolished or expropriated. Jerusalem, city of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace.

Also part of this reality is the Israeli disregard of international law and international resolutions, as well as the paralysis of the Arab world and the international community in the face of this contempt. Human rights are violated and despite the various reports of local and international human rights’ organizations, the injustice continues.

We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God…. We declare that any theology, seemingly based on the Bible or on faith or on history, that legitimizes the occupation, is far from Christian teachings, because it calls for violence and holy war.

In 2012 came ‘The Iona Call’ in answer to the Kairos Palestine document. It said:

We are called to respond boldly to the deepening suffering of our sisters and brothers in Palestine under occupation by Israel.We believe it is necessary to challenge the deafening silence of most churches in the face of the continuing injustice of dispossession and denial of basic human and political rights. We agree with the Kairos Palestine document that the occupation by Israel is an evil and a sin.

We ask our churches and theological institutions to challenge how the Bible has been used to justify oppression and injustice.We support Palestinians in their non-violent resistance to Israeli injustice and oppression. We endorse their call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) and other forms of non-violent direct action. We call on Christians to put pressure on governments and the European Union to demonstrate a commitment to justice for Palestinians and security for all people. [The added emphasis is mine.]

In 2017 Kairos Britain merged with Friends of Sabeel UK and became Sabeel-Kairos. The former had been seeking a just and lasting peace in the region based on the realisation of full human and political rights for all. The latter supported the Sabeel Theology Centre in Jerusalem, encouraged the Christian community in the Holy Land in their life and witness, and raised awareness in the UK of Christians in the Holy Land and promoted links with them. Let us hope the marriage bears fruit.

“An inhumane situation that must be changed”

Then, earlier this year Kairos issued a Statement on Gaza and Jerusalem reminding the world that on 14 May 2018 (the 70th anniversary of the proclamation of an Israeli State) Israel slaughtered 60 people and wounded or maimed 2771 among crowds in Gaza walking unarmed towards their villages, which they had been forced to leave.

They were killed in cold blood and posed no threat to anybody. At the same time, the American embassy was relocated to Jerusalem in violation of international law. The transgressor is the great power that should call on others to respect international law.

We live in an inhumane situation that must be changed. The siege on Gaza, on two million people living on land of merely 380 km², must be lifted. The West Bank must be liberated and the people in it regain their freedom and complete equality must be ensured for all inhabitants…. This is the 70th year of this painful truth: the Holy Land has become the land in which human beings kill each other….

We call upon the international community to remember its own resolutions and to abide by them. We call upon churches to be the conscience of humanity and hear the cry of the oppressed in the Holy Land. We call upon them to condemn the Christian Zionists whom we saw in these days contradicting the Gospel of love and peace, by supporting oppression and injustice, under the pretext of prophecies, and standing with the powerful of this world in their injustices.

We urge the international community to shoulder its responsibilities. We call upon it to exert every pressure, even sanctions if necessary, to force Israel to follow the path of peace and justice…. abandon its apartheid practices and comply with international law.”

Ugly reality

They have just announced their intention to launch a Kumi (Rise Up) project later this month. Sabeel is inviting local and international individuals and organizations to join and work as a united force.

The Kumi project, they say, is founded on these three values:

  • Inclusivity: everyone is welcome to join the movement.
  • Justice: based on international law, ending the occupation (including Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem), the right of return, and equal rights for all citizens of Israel.
  • Nonviolent resistance: a commitment to using nonviolence as the only form of resistance.

Its aim is to raise awareness about Palestine and exert pressure on the powerful decision makers of the world to do what is right and end the occupation. With their deep knowledge they have drafted as good a discription of the dire situation as I have seen:

The ugly reality of the present situation has created a feeling of hopelessness for many Palestinians. In our attempt to stand firm in the face of oppression, many believe that we have no chance of success and rightfully feel that we have reached rock-bottom. From global to local levels, we are disheartened by the current reality.

First, at the highest level, the United Nations continues to prove that they are not capable or willing to implement their own resolutions when it comes to Palestine, nor are they able to pass new resolutions to protect the Palestinian people living under military occupation without being blocked by a veto from the United States.

Second, the major players in the international community, including the European Union, UK, China, and Russia, have not shown real political will to help Palestinians achieve their rights.

Third, the United States of America, considered the superpower of the world today, continues to disregard international law and ignores the call to stand for Palestinian rights. Both Democrat and Republican governments have failed to advocate for justice and lasting peace in the land.

Fourth, Israel has become a captive of its own fears and fundamentalist views.

Fifth, we Palestinians feel overwhelmed with what is happening in the Arab World. From the failure of the Arab Spring to bring true and lasting reform, the escalating sectarian wars, the disrespect of human rights, to the growth of religious extremism, we do not expect help from our Arab brothers and sisters.

Sixth, we witness the lack of true coordination between human rights organizations in Palestine, Israel, and around the world developing a clear road map so that a solution based on justice and international law is achieved.

Finally, the internal divisions and disputes among Palestinians have restricted our ability to resist as one united people. These divisions have not only broken our resistance but have also broken our spirits, making us feel completely helpless in the face of oppression.

There’s nothing like telling it the way it is! But despite the many reasons for hopelessness, say Sabeel, they feel that giving up as a people on the margins simply isn’t an option.

Thankfully, Sabeel-Kairos maintains credibility by managing to separate themselves from the usual religious windbags who shy away from politics. The Christian Church ducks these uncomfortable issues by relying on ‘interfaith dialogue’ and maintaining the “deafening silence” referred to in the Iona Call. Take those great buddies the former Archbishop of Canterbury and former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Oodles of interfaith dialogue there. At top level too. But it made no difference. In a vicious attack Sacks recently called a mild remark by Jeremy Corbyn about Zionists 5 years ago “the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech” and absurdly described Corbyn as “an anti-Semite” who has “given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate”. Sacks revealed himself in his true colours especially when it emerged that he had been promoting and leading the notoriously provocative March of the Flags each year on Jerusalem Day, which is an out-and-out religious hate fest terrorising Palestinians in their own homeland.

This appeared in Haaretz last year:

The march, largely attended by bussed-in yeshiva students, is associated with hate speech and violence. Haaretzs Bradley Burston describes it as an annual, gender-segregated extreme-right, pro-occupation religious carnival of hatred, marking the anniversary of Israel’s capture of Jerusalem by humiliating the city’s Palestinian Muslims. Marchers vandalized shops in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter, chanted “Death to Arabs” and “The (Jewish) Temple Will Be Built, the (Al Aqsa) Mosque will be Burned Down,” shattered windows and door locks, and poured glue into the locks of shops forced to close for fear of further damage.” 

Nice one, Sacks. He was elevated to the House of Lords in 2005 “for services to the Community and to Inter-faith Relations”. Oh, the irony of it.

Israel, said Sacks, is the place where his people were born almost 4,000 years ago. I read somewhere that Lord Sacks is of Polish/Lithuanian extraction. Can he demonstrate ancestral ties to the ancient Holy Land?

What Sabeeel-Kairos says helps campaigners and civil society keep focus on some of the essential issues in the big struggle ahead. I pick out the following:

  • Challenge the deafening silence of most churches and why the Bible has been used to justify oppression and injustice;
  • The ‘enemy within’ is often the Christian Zionist;
  • Call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) and other forms of non-violent direct action;
  • Need for better co-operation among human rights organisations and civil society groups in drawing up a road map towards a solution based on justice and international law;
  • America, the great power, must be persuaded to respect international law and call on others to do the same;
  • The siege on Gaza must be lifted;
  • The West Bank must be liberated and its people allowed to regain their freedom. Equality must be ensured for all inhabitants;
  • The international community must shoulder its responsibilities and the UN must show itself capable or willing to implement its own resolutions or dissolve; and,
  • Internal divisions have destroyed Palestinian resistance and undermined international support. The causes must be removed – urgently.

It’s sickening to read that Israelis continue to murder Palestinians daily, with impunity. I, for one, want to see campaigners target the those in Washington and London who could stop the systematic killing and impose justice but to their everlasting shame won’t.

A New Capital? Palestinians say Abu Dis is No Substitute for East Jerusalem

From the offputting concrete edifice that confronts a visitor to Abu Dis, the significance of this West Bank town – past and present – is not immediately obvious.

The eight metre-high grey slabs of Israel’s separation wall silently attest to a divided land and a quarter-century of a failed Middle East peace process.

The entrance to Abu Dis could not be more disconcerting, given reports that Donald Trump’s administration intends it to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, in place of Jerusalem.

The wall, and the security cameras lining the top of it, are the legacy of battles for control of Jerusalem’s borders. Sections of concrete remain charred black by fires residents set years ago in the forlorn hope of weakening the structure and bringing it down.

Before the wall was erected more than a decade ago, Abu Dis had a spectacular view across the valley to Jerusalem’s Old City and the iconic golden-topped Dome of the Rock, less than three kilometres away. It was a few minutes’ drive – or an hour’s hike – to Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the reputed location of Jesus’s crucifixion.

Now, for many of the 13,000 inhabitants, Jerusalem might as well as be on another planet. They can no longer reach its holy places, markets, schools or hospitals.

Abu Dis, say its residents, is hemmed in on all sides – by Israel’s oppressive wall; by illegal Jewish settlements encroaching relentlessly on what is left of its lands; and by a large, Israeli-run landfill site that, according to experts, is a threat to human health.

The Palestinian authorities do not even control Abu Dis. The Israeli security cameras watch over it and armoured jeeps full of Israeli soldiers make forays at will into its crowded streets.

Perhaps fittingly, given the Palestinians’ current plight, Abu Dis feels more like it is being gradually turned into one wing of a dystopian open-air prison than a capital-in-waiting.

Abu Dis repackaged

Nonetheless, the town has been thrust into the spotlight. Rumours have intensified that US President Trump’s promised peace plan – what he terms the “deal of the century” – is nearing completion. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been drafting it for more than a year.

Back in January Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, confirmed for the first time that the White House was leaning on him to accept Abu Dis as his capital.

The issue has become highly charged for Palestinians since May, when Mr Trump overturned decades of diplomatic consensus by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

That appeared to overturn a once widely shared assumption that Israel would be required to withdraw from East Jerusalem, which it occupied in 1967, and allow the Palestinians to declare it their capital.

Instead Mr Kushner and his team appear to believe they can repackage Abu Dis, just outside the city limits, as a substitute capital.

How plausible is it that the Palestinians can accept a ghettoised, anonymous community like Abu Dis for such a pivotal role in their nation-building project?

Symbolic power

Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian cabinet minister, said Mr Trump would find no takers among the Palestinian leadership.

“A Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital simply won’t work. It’s not credible,” he said. “It’s not just Jerusalem’s religious and historic significance. It also has strategic, economic and geographic importance to Palestinians.”

The people of Abu Dis appear to feel the same way, with many pointing to Jerusalem’s enormous symbolic power, as well as the potential role of international tourism in developing the Palestinian economy.

Abu Dis, however, is unlikely ever to attract visitors, even should it get a dramatic makeover.

The approach road, skirting the massive settlement of Maale Adumim, home to 40,000 Jews, is adorned with red signs warning that it is dangerous for Israelis to enter the area.

The section of wall at the entrance to Abu Dis alludes to the residents’ growing anger and frustration – not only with Israel but some of their own leaders.

Artists have spray-painted a giant image of Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian resistance leader imprisoned by Israel for the past 16 years. It shows him lifting his handcuffed hands to make a V-for-victory sign.

But noticeably, next to him is a much smaller image of Mr Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, whose face has been painted out. He has come under mounting domestic criticism for maintaining Palestinian “security cooperation” with Israel’s occupation forces.

Resentment at such cooperation is felt especially keenly in Abu Dis. Large iron gates in the wall give the Israeli army ready access in and out of the town.

An orphaned town

Under the Oslo accords signed in the mid-1990s, all of Abu Dis was placed temporarily under Israeli military control, and most of it under Israel’s civil control also. That temporary status appears to have become permanent, leaving residents at the whim of hostile Israeli authorities who deny building permits and readily issue demolition orders.

The restrictions mean Abu Dis lacks most of the infrastructure one would associate with a city, let alone a capital.

Abdulwahab Sabbah, a local community activist, said: “We are now a small island of territory controlled by the Israeli army.

“Not only have we lost our schools, the hospitals we once used, our holy places, the job opportunities that the city offered. Families have been split apart too, unable to visit their relatives in Jerusalem.

“We have been orphaned. We have lost Jerusalem, our mother.”

A short drive into Abu Dis and the shell of a huge building comes into view, a reminder that the idea of an Abu Dis upgrade is not the Trump administration’s alone.

In fact, noted Mr Khatib, Israel began rebranding Abu Dis as a second “Al Quds” – the Holy City, the Arabic name for Jerusalem – in the late 1990s, after the Oslo agreement allowed Palestinian leaders to return to Gaza and limited parts of the West Bank.

The Palestinian leadership, desperate to get a foothold closer to the densely populated neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, played along. They expected that Israel would eventually relinquish Abu Dis to full Palestinian control, allowing it to be annexed to East Jerusalem in a future peace deal.

View of al-Aqsa

In 1996 the Palestinians began work building a $4 million parliament on the side of Abu Dis closest to Jerusalem. The location was selected so that the office of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would have a view of Al Aqsa.

Reports from that time talk of Abu Dis becoming a gateway, or “safe corridor”, for West Bank Palestinians to reach the mosque. One proposal was to build a tunnel between Abu Dis and the Old City.

However, with the outbreak of hostilities in 2000 – a Palestinian intifada – work on the parliament came to a halt. The interior was never finished, and there is now no view of Al Aqsa. The parliament too is sealed off from Jerusalem by the wall.

Since then Israel has barred the Palestinian Authority from having any role in East Jerusalem.

Khalil Erekat, a caretaker, holds the key to the unused parliament. Once visitors could inspect the building, including its glass-domed central chamber. Now, he said, only pigeons and the odd stray dog or snake ventured inside.

“No one comes any more,” he added. “The place has been forgotten.”

And that, it seems, is the way Palestinian officials would prefer it. With the Trump administration mooting the town as a substitute capital, the parliament is now an embarrassing white elephant.

Requests from The National to the Palestinian authorities to visit the building were rejected on the grounds that it was no longer structurally safe.

Eyesore ghetto

Evidence of how quickly Israel has transformed Abu Dis from a rural suburb of Jerusalem into an eyesore ghetto are evident in the homes around the parliament.

A once-palatial four-storey home next door would be more in place in war-ravaged Gaza than an impending capital. Its collapsed top floors sit precariously above the rest of the structure.

Mohammed Anati, a retired carpenter aged 64, is a tenant occupying the bottom floor with his wife and three sons.

He said the destruction was carried out by the Jerusalem municipality several years ago, apparently because the upper floors were built in violation of planning rules Israeli military authorities imposed after 1967.

Neighbours speculate that, in fact, Israel was more concerned that the top of the building provided views over the wall.

Mr Anati said that, paradoxically, the Jerusalem municipality treated this small neighbourhood next to the wall as within its jurisdiction. “We have to pay council taxes to Jerusalem even though we are cut off from the city and receive no services,” he said.

Asked whether he thought Abu Dis could be a Palestinian capital, Mr Anati scoffed. “Trump will offer us the worst deal of the century,” he said. “Jerusalem has to be the capital. There is nothing of Jerusalem here since Israel built the wall.”

Only pigeons still free

Nearby, Ghassan Abu Hillel’s two-storey home presses up against the grey slabs of concrete. He said cameras on the top of the wall monitored his and his neighbours’ activities around the clock.

His family moved to this house in 1967, when he was 14 years old, and shortly before Israel occupied Abu Dis, along with the rest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Until the wall was constructed, he spent his time herding sheep and goats on the surrounding hills.

Now he has had to corral then into a corner of the wall. Their improvised pen is daubed with graffiti: “Take an axe to the prison wall. Escape.”

His herd of what was once more than 200 sheep is down to barely a dozen. The animals can no longer graze out on the hills, and he cannot afford the cost of feeding them straw.

Unlike Mr Abu Hillel and the sheep, his pigeons still enjoy their freedom. “They can fly over the wall and reach Jerusalem whenever they want,” he said.

His family owned much of the land surrounding Abu Dis before 1967, he added, but almost all of it had been taken by Israel – originally on the pretext that it was needed for military purposes.

Since then, Israel has built a series of Jewish settlements on the surrounding land, including Maale Adumim, Kfar Adumim and Kedar.

In the early 1980s it also opened a landfill site to cope with the region’s waste. In 2009 the United Nations warned that toxic fumes from waste-burning and leakage into the groundwater posed a threat to local inhabitants’ health.

A bluff from Israel

Some residents are actively finding ways to break out of the isolation imposed on Abu Dis by Israel.

Mr Sabbah is a founder of the Friendship Association, which encourages exchange programmes with European students, teachers and youth clubs. His most successful project is the twinning of Abu Dis with the London borough of Camden.

Mr Sabbah’s prominent political activities may be one reason why his home – along with the local mayor’s – was one of 10 invaded in the middle of the night on September 4.

The operation had the hallmarks of what former Israeli soldiers from the whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence have termed “establishing presence” – military training exercises designed to disrupt the lives of Palestinian communities and spread fear.

Mr Sabbah is sceptical that the Abu Dis proposal by the Trump administration has been made in good faith.

“It’s a bluff,” he said. “Israel has shown through all its actions that it does not want any Palestinian state – and that means no capital, even in Abu Dis.

“It is being offered only because Israel knows no Palestinian leader could ever accept it as a capital. And that way Israel can again blame us for being the ones to reject their version of ‘peace’.”

An oasis of normality

Amid its confinement, however, Abu Dis does have one asset – a university – that now attracts thousands of young Palestinians, though it adds to overcrowding.

The main campus of the Palestinian-run Al Quds university has been operating in Abu Dis since the 1980s.

Sitting on the crossroads between the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and Nablus to the south, Jericho to the east, and Ramallah to the north, the Abu Dis campus has grown rapidly. It has profited from the fact that West Bank Palestinians cannot access another campus of Al Quds university in East Jerusalem.

The university is enclosed and security is tight. Inside, students enjoy spacious grounds with shaded gardens, a small oasis of normality where it is possible briefly to forget the situation outside.

Nonetheless, the university is not immune from Israeli military operations either. On September 5, soldiers shut down the campus and nearby schools, as they reportedly fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at youths.

Omar Mahmoud, aged 23, a medical student from Nablus, raised his eyebrows at the suggestion that Abu Dis could serve as the Palestinians’ capital.

“It’s fully under Israeli control,” he said. “One side there is the wall and on the other side there are Israeli settlements. There are no services and it just gets more crowded by the year.”

He has shared an apartment with other students in Abu Dis for five years. He said: “To be honest, I can’t wait to get out of here.”

• First published in The National

Under Trump, the Israel Lobby is a Hydra with Many Heads

The Trump administration’s recent steps in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should surely lay to rest any doubts about the enormous, and dangerous, power of the Israel lobby in Washington.

Under Trump, the lobby has shown it can wield unprecedented influence – even by its usual standards – in flagrant disregard for all apparent US interests.

First, there was the move this month of the US embassy to Jerusalem, not quietly but on the 70th anniversary of the most sensitive day in the Palestinian calendar, Nakba Day. That is when Palestinians commemorate their mass expulsion from their homeland in 1948.

By relocating the embassy, Trump gave official US blessing to tearing up the 25-year-old peace process – and in choosing Nakba Day for the move, he rubbed the noses of Palestinians, and by extension the Arab world, in their defeat.

Then, the White House compounded the offence by lauding Israeli snipers who massacred dozens of unarmed Palestinians protesting at the perimeter fence around Gaza the same day. A series of statements issued by the White House could have been written by Israel’s far-right prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, himself.

At the United Nations, the US blocked a Security Council resolution calling for the massacre to be investigated, while Nikki Haley, Trump’s UN envoy, observed to fellow delegates: “No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.”

None of these moves served any obvious US national interest, nor did Trump’s decision the previous week to tear up the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that has long been reviled by the Israeli government.

In fact, quite the contrary: These actions risk inflaming tensions to the point of a regional war that could quickly drag in the major powers, or provoke terror attacks on US soil.

Wall of silence

It should be recalled that two decades ago, it was impossible even to mention the existence of an Israel lobby in Washington without being labelled an anti-Semite.

Paradoxically, Israel’s supporters exercised the very power they denied existed, bullying critics into submission by insisting that any talk of an Israel lobby relied on anti-Semitic tropes of Jewish power.

The wall of silence was broken only with the publication in 2006 of a seminal essay – later turned into a book – by two prominent US academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.

But in a sign of the immense weight of the lobby even as it was being dragged into the light, the pair were unable to find a publisher in the US. Instead, the essay found a home across the Atlantic in the prestigious, if obscure, London Review of Books. One of the pair, Stephen Walt, has publicly admitted that his career suffered as a result.

Since then, a little leeway has opened up on the subject. Even New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, a staunch advocate for Israel, has conceded the lobby’s existence.

In 2011, he explained a well-established, if astounding, ritual of US politics: that the Congress greets every visiting Israeli prime minister more rapturously than the American president himself.

Friedman observed: “I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

Intimidating Congress

Friedman was alluding to the network of Jewish leadership organisations and political action committees in the US, all of them hawkishly pro-Israel, that at election time can channel large sums of money for or against Congressional candidates.

It is not that these pro-Israel organisations control the Congress. It is that they have mastered the techniques of political intimidation. They understand and exploit a flawed American system that has allowed lobbies and their money to dictate the agendas of most US lawmakers. Congresspeople are vulnerable as individuals – not only to the loss of donations, but to a generously funded opponent.

In Trump’s case, the follow-the-money principle could not have been clearer. In the early stages of his battle to become the Republican party candidate for president, when most assumed he stood no chance and he was funding the campaign himself, he was relatively critical of Israel.

Hard as it is to believe now, he promised to be “neutral” on the Israel-Palestine issue; expressed doubts about whether it made sense to hand Israel billions of dollars annually in military aid; backed a two-state solution; and refused to commit to recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

All of that got ditched the moment he needed big funders for his presidential bid. The kingmaker in the Republican party is Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire and champion of the kind of Israeli ultra-nationalist, anti-Arab politics in which Netanyahu excels. Adelson likes Netanyahu so much he even bought him a newspaper, Israel Hayom, which Adelson has grown into the largest-circulation daily in Israel.

In the end, Adelson backed Trump’s election campaign to the tune of $35m. It was the need for Adelson’s support that ensured Trump appointed David Friedman, a long-time benefactor of the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, in the supposedly non-partisan position of US ambassador to Israel. And it was Adelson who was among the honoured guests at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem this month.

The anti-Semitism canard

Those who accuse anyone raising the issue of the Israel lobby of anti-Semitism either misunderstand or intentionally misrepresent what is being claimed.

No one apart from easily identifiable Jew haters is updating the century-old Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious forgery by supporters of the Russian czar supposedly proving that “the Jews” sought world domination through control of the banks and the media.

For starters, the argument for the existence of an Israel lobby does not refer to Jews at all. It is about a country, Israel, and its outsize influence over the policies of the US.

Other countries or groups of US citizens try to exercise such influence, either through similar lobbies or through subterfuge.

No one would deny there is a Cuba lobby that helped influence US policy in seeking to oust revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. And most US lawmakers are currently frothing at the mouth about what they see as covert Russian efforts to influence US politics to Moscow’s advantage.

Why would we expect Israel to be any different? The question isn’t whether the lobby exists, but why the US political system is doing nothing to protect itself from its interference.

If Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s supposed hidden hand in the US is such a threat, why isn’t Israel’s?

Five lobbies in one

Rather than exposing and confronting the Israel lobby, however, US presidents have more typically bent to its will. That was only too obvious, for example, when Barack Obama folded in his early battle with Netanyahu to limit the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

But under Trump, the Israel lobby has come to exercise unrivalled power, because it is now far more than just one lobby. It is a five-headed Hydra worthy of Greek mythology, and only one of its heads relates directly to Israel or organised American Jewry.

In fact, the lobby’s power now derives not chiefly from Israel. Since Trump’s election, the Israel lobby has managed to absorb and mobilise an additional four powerful lobbies – and to a degree not seen before. They are: the Christian evangelicals, the alt-right, the military-industrial complex, and the Saudi Arabia lobby.

Domestically, Trump’s election victory depended on his ability to rally to his side two groups that are profoundly committed to Israel, even though they are largely indifferent, or actively hostile, to the Jews who live there.

Leaders of the US alt-right – a loose coalition of white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups – are infatuated with Israel but typically dislike Jews. That sentiment has been encapsulated by alt-right leader Richard Spencer, who describes himself as a “white Zionist”.

In short, the alt-right treasures Israel because it has preserved a long-discredited model of a fortress-like, belligerent racial homeland. They want the US reserved exclusively for an imagined “white” community, just as Israel defines itself as representing an exclusive Jewish community.

Trump’s reliance on the alt-right vote was highlighted by the early appointment to his administration of several leading figures associated with the movement, including Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Michael Flynn, Julia Hahn and Sebastian Gorka.

Fulfilling God’s prophecy

But more significant still has been the role of evangelicals. That is why Mike Pence, a devout Christian, was chosen as Trump’s running mate. Trump’s team understood that the votes of tens of millions of Americans were assured if Trump pandered to their prejudices.

And happily for Netanyahu, their keenest prejudice is fanatical support for Israel – and not just for Israel inside its internationally recognised borders, but also for Greater Israel, which includes many dozens of illegal Jewish settlements built on Palestinian land.

The Christian Zionists believe that Jews must be corralled into their biblical homeland to fulfill divine prophecy and bring about the Second Coming of the Messiah.

It was primarily for the sake of these Christian Zionists that Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem. And it was why two evangelical pastors with a history of anti-Semitic remarks, John Hagee and Robert Jeffress, were called on to offer their blessings at the opening ceremony.

Trump’s indebtedness to the evangelicals is one reason to be worried about his policies in the region. The Christian Zionists have no interest in fairness, justice or international law. Rather, they are prepared to inflame tensions in the Middle East – and even trigger Armageddon itself – if they think it might benefit Israel and further God’s prophecy.

Eisenhower’s warning

The military-industrial complex has enjoyed a much longer, if more veiled, influence on US politics. A former US army general who became president, Dwight Eisenhower, warned of the looming threat posed by an increasingly dominant corporate sector dependent on war profits back in 1961.

Since then, the power of these corporations has accreted and expanded in precisely the ways Eisenhower feared. And that has only helped Israel.

In the early 1980s, Noam Chomsky, the dissident US intellectual, observed in his book The Fateful Triangle that Israel and the US had different conceptions of the Middle East.

The US was then what Chomsky termed a “status quo power” that was mostly interested in preserving the existing regional order. Israel, on the other hand, was committed to destabilisation of the region – its Balkanisation – as a strategy to extend its hegemony over feuding, internally divided neighbouring states.

Today, it is not hard to see which vision of the Middle East prevailed. The US-headquartered war industries lobbied for – and have profited enormously from – an endless, global “war on terror” that needs their expensive killing toys. The West has even been able to market its wars of aggression against other sovereign states as “humanitarian” in nature.

The benefits to the military industries can be gauged by examining the ever-surging profits of large US arms manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon over the past decade.

Cultivation of fear

Israel has not only benefited from the sanctioning and dismemberment of regional rivals, such as Syria, Iraq and Iran, but it has exploited the opportunity to make itself indispensable to these war-profiting industries.

It has, for example, been the linchpin in developing and refining new ways to exploit the cultivation of fear – most significantly, the ever-expanding “homeland security” industry.

Using the occupied Palestinian territories for experimentation, Israel has specialised in developing surveillance and biometric technologies, lethal and non-lethal crowd control methods, complex incarceration systems, psychological profiling of subjugated populations, and highly dubious redefinitions of international law to lift existing restraints on war crimes and wars of aggression.

That has proved invaluable to the military industries that have sought to profit from new wars and occupations across the Middle East. But it has also meant Israel’s expertise is much sought-after by US political and security elites who wish to pacify and control restless domestic populations.

Israel’s encouragement of the Middle East’s destabilisation has raised new threats in the US – of protest, immigration and terrorism – for which Israel has then supplied readymade solutions.

Israel has helped to rationalise the militarisation of police forces in the US and elsewhere, and provided the training. It has also gradually introduced to the US and other Western countries the kind of racial and political profiling that has long been standard in Israel.

That is the reason why Israeli academic Jeff Halper has warned of the danger that the “war on terror” could ultimately turn all of us into Palestinians.

Alliance with Saudi Arabia

But perhaps the most significant additional boost to Israel’s power in Washington has been its newfound and barely concealed alliance with Saudi Arabia.

For decades, the oil lobby in the US was seen as a counterweight to the Israel lobby. That was why Israel’s supporters traditionally reviled the US State Department, which was viewed as an Arabist outpost.

No longer. Trump, ever the businessman, has cultivated even stronger ties to the Saudis, hoping that arms and technology sales will revive the US economy and his political fortunes.

During a visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to the US in March, Trump noted: “Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation, and they’re going to give the United States some of that wealth hopefully, in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world.”

But Washington’s close ties to the Saudis are increasingly a boon to Israel rather than an impediment. The two have found common cause in their feverish opposition to Iran, and its Shia allies in Syria and Lebanon, and their determination to prevent them from gaining more power in the region.

Israel wants a military hegemony over the Middle East that Iran could undermine, while Riyadh needs an ideological and financial hegemony that Iran might be able to disrupt.

And the Palestinians – the only issue that continues formally to divide Israel and Saudi Arabia – are increasingly viewed by bin Salman as a chess piece he is ready to sacrifice in exchange for Iran’s destruction.

Trump tore up the nuclear accord agreed by Obama with Iran with such incendiary abandon this month because his two Middle East allies jointly demanded he do so.

And the indications are that he may do worse – even attacking Iran – if the pressure from Israel and the Saudis reaches a critical mass.

Time for a little humility

All of these various lobbies have long wielded significant power in Washington, but remained largely separate. In recent years, their interests have come to overlap considerably, making Israel ever more unassailable in US politics.

Under Trump, their agendas have aligned so completely that this multi-headed lobby has as good as collectively captured the presidency on matters that concern it most.

That is not to say that the Israel lobby will not face future challenges. Other pressures are emerging in reaction to the unaccountable power of the Israel lobby, including progressive voices in US politics that are, for the first time, breaking with the long-standing bipartisan nature of the debate about Israel.

Bernie Sanders’s unexpected surge in the Democratic nomination race for the presidency, the rise of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, the growing alienation of young US Jews from Israel, and the US public’s ever-greater exposure on social media to Israel’s crimes are signs of trends it will be difficult for Israel to counter or reverse.

Israel is getting its way at the moment. But hubris is a fault we have been warned about since the time of the ancient Greeks. Israel may yet come to learn a little humility – the hard way.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Europe and the U.S.: An Era of Mutual Indignation

On December 21, 2017 the United Nations General Assembly rejected the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by a 128-9 vote. The only countries to side with Israel and the U.S. were Guatemala, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and for good balance, Togo. (The West African country’s President Gnassingbe benefiting from Israeli aid gushes about “Israel coming back to Africa, and Africa coming back to Israel.”)

Recall that the UNGA resolution that was passed in 1947, proposing the partition of Palestine, which (with a lot of terror) led to the establishment of the state of Israel, posited Jerusalem as a corpus separatum. Not just the status of East Jerusalem but that of the whole city remains in dispute. The city is the third holiest in the Islamic worldview, behind Mecca and Medina. The Prophet supposedly in a miraculous night visit on a sacred horse, alighted the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in what is now the occupied Old City. (I don’t believe that, any more than I believe the Old Testament myth about God causing the sun to remain stationary in the sky to give Joshua more time to conquer Jerusalem from the evil Canaanites–as depicted in Joshua 10:12. But myths are powerful.)

In any case, from the second century to the twentieth the city was overwhelming Christian or Muslim, a large percentage of its inhabitants probably descendants of pre-diaspora Judeans who over time converted to these religions. The proposition that Jerusalem is the “eternal Jewish capital” is a religious, literary and romantic one unjustified by actual history. It was emphatically not the Jewish capital between 70 CE, when Titus destroyed the city (reconstructing it as a pagan one with amphitheaters and baths); or after the Roman emperor Hadrian expelled Judeans from the city in 115; not until 1948 when west Jerusalem was taken by force. It was the headquarters of a Jewish monarch of some sort, often under foreign (Assyrian, Persian, Hellenistic) influence, for at best a thousand years before it became a pagan city, then a Christian city, then a mixed Muslim-Christian city with a small Jewish minority as of the early twentieth century.

Virtually all European allies of the U.S. voted for the resolution condemning Washington for its decision. The stance of major NATO allies UK, France, and Germany was particularly painful.

An injured UN ambassador Nikki Haley declaimed in front of the assembly: “The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation. We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations. And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.”

What a total disconnect. She’s saying: We pay you to support us, no matter what we do, even if it’s something as inflammatory as moving our embassy to territory the UN considers disputed. (That goes for both the western part occupied in 1948 and the eastern part occupied since 1967.) We have the right to place our embassy wherever we want even if no other country agrees with us, except maybe a few small ones we’ve bought. And if you don’t like it we’ll remember your dislike the next time you need us for something.

She’s saying this not to the Third World so much as to Europe. Those ungrateful allies.

This ignorant, haughty, undiplomatic woman is the perfect Trump representative in the UN. She blames Hamas for the deaths of 92 people in Gaza, and depicts their deaths as an expression of Israel’s right to “defend itself” against peaceful demonstrators and some guys with sling-shots, like David used (see 1 Samuel 17:40).

“I ask my colleagues here in the Security Council,”  Haley declaimed on May 15, “Who among us would accept this type of activity on your border? No one would. No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.” (What? When did Danish border guards last kill 92 unarmed people?) This is like saying that the Trump inaugural was the largest in history Or that he’s the healthiest man who’s ever been president, or has the finest genes. It’s more than a lie; it’s a laughable, ridiculous lie in the face of the world, delivered by a political lightweight with no knowledge of history or experience in foreign affairs.

Europe in general doesn’t buy these lies. Nor does it accept the demand from Secretary of State (Minister of War?) Mike Pompeo that it abandon its growing Iran ties at U.S. diktat in order to facilitate the next cataclysmic war—in a zone 3000 km from Italy but 10,000 km from Washington. The Italians have accepted tens of thousands of Syrian and Libyan refugees and are probably not anxious to greet Iranian ones too. They’ve seen the results of U.S.-sponsored regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, and attempted regime changes in Syria and Yemen.

An alliance of the Five Star Movement and Northern League in Italy may be taking power. Beppe Grillo, head of the former, is married to a Muslim Iranian woman. The Northern League calls U.S. accusations of Syrian use of WMD “fake news.” Both parties want closer Russian ties. Last year only 57% of Italians polled had a favorable view of NATO (higher than Spain’s 45% or Greece’s 33% but historically low).

Last January Italy and Iran signed a credit agreement worth 5.0 billion euros whereby Rome will help Italian companies invest in Iran. It was signed by Invitalia Global Investment and two Iranian banks. Is Pompeo going to stop that? In order to better “crush” Iran? Can the U.S. still so cow its traditionally closest allies?

The appointments of John Bolton and Pompeo to key positions around the unhinged, impulsive commander-in-chief mean that the policy gap between Washington and Brussels grows, as a matter of sheer idiocy (John Kelly) versus pragmatic capitalism. As appropriate disdain swells in Europe, may the U.S. recede, or hit its imperial peak then shrivel like the Spanish empire did two centuries ago. And may new silk roads link Persia and Europe as they once did, untroubled by banditry or bombs

Israel’s Premature Celebration: Gazans Have Crossed the Fear Barrier

60 Palestinians were killed in Gaza on May 15, simply for protesting and demanding their Right of Return as guaranteed by international law.

50 more were killed since March 30, the start of the ‘Great March of Return’, which marks Land Day.

Nearly 10,000 have been wounded and maimed in between these two dates.

‘Israel has the right to defend itself’, White House officials announced, paying no heed to the ludicrousness of the statement when understood within the current context of an unequal struggle.

Peaceful protesters were not threatening the existence of Israel; rock throwing kids were not about to overwhelm hundreds of Israeli snipers, who shot, killed and wounded Gaza youngsters with no legal or moral boundary whatsoever.

8-months old, Laila al-Ghandour was one of the 60 who were killed on May 15. She suffocated to death from Israeli teargas. Many, like her, were wounded or killed some distance away from the border. Some were killed for simply being nearby, or for being Palestinian.

Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump, daughter of US President, Donald Trump, ushered in a new era of international relations, when she and her companions unveiled the new US Embassy in Jerusalem.

She was ‘all smiles’ while, at the exact same moment, hundreds of Gazans were being felled at the border. The already dilapidated hospitals have no room for most of the wounded. They bled in hallways awaiting medical attention.

Ivanka has never been to Gaza – and will unlikely ever visit or be welcomed there. Gazans do not register in her moral conscience, if she has any beyond her immediate interests, as people deserving of rights, freedom and dignity.

At the border, many Gaza kids have been coloring their bodies in blue paint, dressing up in homemade costumes to imitate characters from the Hollywood movie, ‘Avatar’. They hoped that, by hiding their brown skin, their plight and suffering could be more relatable to the world.

But when they were shot, their blood gave them away. They were still human, still from Gaza.

The international community has already condemned Trump’s decision to relocate his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, and declared his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital ‘null and void’, but will it go further than mere words?

Will the international community remain trapped between hollow statements and no action? Will they ever truly recognize the humanity of Laila al-Ghandour and all the other children, men and women who died and continue to perish under Gaza’s besieged skies? Will they ever care enough to do something?

The plight of the Palestinians is compounded with the burden of having a useless ‘leadership’.  The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has been busy of late, demanding allegiance from the occupied Palestinians in the West Bank. Large signs and larger banners have been erected everywhere, where families, professional associations, unions and companies have announced, in large font: the “Renewal of Loyalty and Support to President Mahmoud Abbas.”

‘Renewal’? Abbas’ mandate expired in 2009. Besides, is this what Abbas and his Fatah party perceive to be the most urgent matter that needs to be addressed, while his people are being massacred?

Abbas fears that Hamas is using the blood of the Gaza victims to bolster its popularity. Ironically, it is a shared concern with Israeli leaders, the likes of Israeli army spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. The latter said that Hamas has won the PR war at the Gaza border by a ‘knockout.’

This propaganda is as false as it is utterly racist; yet, it has persisted for far too long. It proposes that Palestinians and Arabs lack human agency. They are incapable of mobilizing and organizing their collective efforts to demand their long-denied rights. They are only pawns, puppets in the hands of factions, to be sacrificed at the altar of public relations.

It did not dawn on Conricus to note that, perhaps, his army lost the ‘PR war’ because its brutes shot thousands of unarmed civilians who did nothing, aside from gathering at the border demanding an end to their perpetual siege; or that, just maybe, the PR war was lost because Israel’s top leaders announced proudly that Gazans are fair game, since, according to Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, “there are no innocents in Gaza.’

Ivanka will go down in Israel’s history as a hero. But Palestinian Resistance is not fueled or subdued by Ivanka, but by the sacrifices of the Palestinians themselves, and by the blood of Laila al-Ghandour, who was denied even a celebration of her first birthday on God’s besieged earth.

The US government has decisively and blatantly moved to the wrong side of history. As their officials attended parties, galas and celebrations of the Embassy move, whether in Israel or in Washington and elsewhere, Palestinians dug 60 more graves and held 60 more funerals.

The world watched in horror, and even western media failed to hide the full ugly truth from its readers. The two acts – of lavish parties and heartbreaking burials – were beamed all over the world, and the already struggling American reputation sank deeper and deeper.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, may have thought he had won. Comforted by his right wing government and society on the one hand, Trump and his angry UN bully, Nikki Haley, on the other, he feels invulnerable.

But he should rethink his power-driven logic. When Gazan youth stood bare-chested at the border fence, falling one drove after the other, they crossed a fear barrier that no generation of Palestinians has ever crossed. And when people are unafraid, they can never be subdued or defeated.

“A Suffocating Groupthink”: Sampling The Corporate Media On Israel, Iran, Syria And Russia

The gaping chasm between reality and unreality is exemplified by recent contrasting statements about journalism from two veteran reporters. On the one side we have Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, who enjoys a public image of principled honesty and a supposedly fierce commitment to news balance and impartiality. But, when he was challenged recently on Twitter about the blatant bias in BBC News reporting, he responded just as one would expect of a well-rewarded, high-profile employee of the national broadcaster:

We are the best source of decent, impartial reportage anywhere in the world.

As Noam Chomsky has observed of elite power and allied corporate journalists:

Heaven must be full to overflowing, if the masters of self-adulation are to be taken at their word.1

In reality, as hundreds of media alerts, and several of our books attest, and also the work of many others, Bowen’s assertion could not be further from the truth.

By contrast, consider a recent interview with renowned journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger on ‘mainstream’ media coverage of Syria, Salisbury, Yemen and Korea. He said:

I’ve never known journalism to be so distorted in order to serve this propaganda […] What we’re seeing is the most intense campaign of propaganda at least since the build-up to the Iraq war in 2003.

Pilger often makes a specific point of including BBC News in his scathing criticism:

Why has so much journalism succumbed to propaganda? Why are censorship and distortion standard practice? Why is the BBC so often a mouthpiece of rapacious power?

In what follows, we itemise a range of important issues where current ‘mainstream’ reporting is not simply poor or weak; but systematically skewed in the interests of Western state-corporate power.

It is important to grasp that this is not about the so-called ‘failure’ of corporate journalism. Rather, this is a reminder that corporate journalism is performing exactly as it should. As Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky noted when introducing their propaganda model of the media in ‘Manufacturing Consent’, published thirty years ago:

The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.2 Our emphasis.

1. Israelis Deliberately Killing Palestinians, Including Children

A recent media alert highlighted the mass killing and wounding of Palestinians in Gaza, including children, by Israeli armed forces in what the media often describe as ‘clashes’. Before the latest major massacre on May 14 (see below), Israeli forces had already killed over 50 Palestinian protesters and injured over 5000, including 1700 by live fire, during Great March of Return protests that began on March 30. UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk condemned Israel’s actions as violations of international law.

On April 21, an Israeli general confirmed in a radio interview that even children have been shot deliberately under clear and specific orders. United Nations peace process envoy Nickolay Mladenov declared the targeting of children ‘outrageous.’

In a sane world, such an appalling Israeli policy would be major headline news. Our searches revealed not a single ‘mainstream’ report about it in the days following the Israeli general’s comments. We asked senior BBC News editors and journalists to point us to the BBC News headlines and follow-up coverage on this revelation. BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet was the only one to respond. And that was after we observed that she had previously reported in 2013 that Syrian children had been ‘targeted by snipers’. What about Palestinian children targeted by Israeli forces? She replied:

Thank you for message. Am involved in another story now but will forward to colleagues working in the region now.

Predictably, there was no follow-up on BBC News, as far as we could see. We need only imagine the global outrage if Palestinian snipers were found to be deliberately targeting Israeli children to gauge the current level of media silence.

Even more mass killings of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers have occurred since. On May 14, on the day that the US controversially opened its new embassy in Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers killed and wounded huge numbers of Palestinians. By the evening, the UN noted that 55 had been killed, including six children. 2,771 people were reported injured, including 1,359 by live ammunition, with 130 people in a critical condition. By the following day, the death toll had risen to 61, including an eight-month-old baby who died from tear gas inhalation.

All day long, BBC News disgraced itself with headline after headline on the top page of its website masking the truth. Despite weeks of public outrage at previous biased reporting of Gaza protests, BBC News was still using the Israeli-approved word ‘clashes’ to describe the deliberate mass killing of Palestinians.

Compare with the Guardian website which, for once, did not mince its words about Israel’s crimes: ‘Israeli troops kill dozens of Palestinians’. Would that really have been too difficult for someone at BBC News to type out? Clearly so, and no surprise given that the BBC routinely trembles in fear before the pro-Israel lobby. Why else would BBC News choose ‘Dozens die as US opens Jerusalem embassy’ as a headline, masking the fact that Israeli troops had massacred civilians? To be fair to the BBC, the Guardian print edition of May 15 was equally as bad, featuring the headline, ‘Israel: Trump’s new embassy opens – and dozens are killed’.

By the end of the day, the top headline on the BBC News website was: ‘Israel defends Gaza action as 55 killed’. As ever, the Israeli perspective is given prominence, even as it commits abhorrent crimes against civilians. The massacre of unarmed civilians was merely an ‘action’, and the identity of the people murdered by the Israeli army was obscured – perhaps a mix of Israelis and Palestinians had been killed? In fact, there were no Israeli casualties.

On the flagship BBC News at Ten, graphics and headlines proclaimed, ‘Gaza Clashes’, an abomination used by the BBC instead of ‘Gaza Massacre’. The heart-breaking reality behind the lie of ‘clashes’ could be seen in the anguish of a Palestinian father crying in farewell to his little boy:

Oh people, my son

The following day (May 15), the BBC’s truth-mangling headline read:

Gaza braced for further violent protests

A more honest headline would have been:

Gaza civilians braced for a further Israeli massacre

A glimmer of hope for sanity was seen when, following public outrage, The New York Times changed its headline on an article from ‘Palestinians died in protest’ to ‘Israeli soldiers killed dozens of Palestinians’. As Twitter user @FalafelDad observed:

media accountability is NECESSARY and can be achieved.

2. Fact-Checking Trump’s Iran Deal Speech

When Donald Trump announced last week that the US was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, analysis by Now This News website revealed in a short video that, in his speech:

Trump averaged one false claim every 83 seconds.

For example, Trump claimed:

The deal allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium and – over time – reach the brink of a nuclear breakout.

As the video pointed out:

False. The deal forced Iran to give up all weapons-grade uranium and barred it from producing more.

Trump continued:

The deal lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for very weak limits on the regime’s nuclear activity.

And in the real world?

Wrong. The deal gave inspectors unrestricted access to all Iranian nuclear sites and suspicious facilities.

And so on.

In contrast, BBC News at Ten essentially took Trump’s speech at face value. Our challenge to senior BBC editors and correspondents to actually fact-check Trump’s assertions was met with the usual silence.

In an online piece, Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent, did go so far as to say:

The inconvenient truth for Donald Trump is that, as far as it goes, the nuclear deal was working.

Despite this, Mr Trump presented it in stark and frankly erroneous terms – for leaving out things that it was never supposed to cover in the first place.

But two lines couched in rather vague and non-specific terms is scant compensation for flagship BBC News television reporting that is little more than stenography. Senior editors and journalists seem to believe that their job is to tell the public what ‘our’ leaders say, and not to scrutinise claims made. This is galling; all the more so when dangerous rhetoric, making war more likely, goes unchallenged. But then, as John Pilger once wrote, corporate journalists are:

the essential foot soldiers in any network devoted to power and propaganda.

3. Douma And The Salisbury Attack

There is so much that could be said on Douma following our recent two-part media alert. Note, for instance, the corporate media’s response to a press conference at the headquarters of the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW in the Hague on April 26. A number of Syrians, including children, gave their version of events in Douma, casting serious doubt on the official Western narrative of a chemical weapons attack that provided the pretext for missile attacks by the US, the UK and France on April 14. ‘Mainstream’ media dutifully headlined the scathing dismissal by Western powers of the Russia-organised press conference as ‘nothing more than a crude propaganda exercise‘ and an ‘obscene masquerade.’

Meanwhile, the corporate media blanked the assessment of Scott Ritter, the UN weapons inspector vindicated in his detailed appraisal that Iraq had been fundamentally disarmed of ‘WMD’ before the 2003 war. Last month, interviewer Dennis Bernstein of Flashpoints Radio asked Ritter:

Isn’t it also the case that there were problems with the allegations concerning Syria using chemical weapons in 2013 and then again in 2015? I believe The New York Times had to retract their 2013 story.

Ritter replied:

They put out a story about thousands of people dying, claiming that it was definitely done by the Syrian government. It turned out later that the number of deaths was far lower and that the weapons systems used were probably in the possession of the rebels. It was a case of the rebels staging a chemical attack in order to get the world to intervene on their behalf.

He continued:

A similar scenario unfolded last year when the Syrian government dropped two or three bombs on a village and suddenly there were reports that there was sarin nerve agent and chlorine gas wafting through the village, killing scores of people. Videotapes were taken of dead and dying and suffering people which prompted Trump to intervene. Inspectors never went to the site. Instead they relied upon evidence collected by the rebels.

Ritter expanded on this vital point:

As a weapons inspector, I can tell you that chain of custody of any samples that are to be used in the investigation is an absolute. You have to be at the site when it is collected, it has to be certified to be in your possession until the laboratory. Any break in the chain of custody makes that evidence useless for a legitimate investigation. So we have evidence collected by the rebels. They videotaped themselves carrying out the inspection, wearing training suits that would not have protected them at all from chemical weapons! Like almost everything having to do with these rebels, this was a staged event, an act of theater.

Ritter then turned to the US/UK/France missile attack on Syria on April 14:

We bombed three targets, a research facility in Damascus and two bunker facilities in western Syria. It was claimed that all three targets were involved with a Syrian chemical weapons program. But the Syria weapons program was verified to be disarmed. So what chemical weapons program are we talking about? Then US officials said that one of these sites stored sarin nerve agent and chemical production equipment. That is a very specific statement. Now, if Syria was verified to be disarmed last year, with all this material eliminated, what are they talking about? What evidence do they have that any of this material exists? They just make it up. [Emphasis in original]’

Serious questions also remain regarding the official story on the Skripal poison attack in Salisbury; not least, why the rebranded D-Notice committee has issued not just one, but two notices in an attempt to shut down aspects of media coverage.

As ever, the views of ‘experts’ and witnesses whose testimony accords with the Western narrative are given heavy coverage in the corporate media; while those whose testimony runs counter to that narrative tend to be either dismissed or simply ignored. As Noam Chomsky once observed:

Under what’s sometimes been called “brainwashing under freedom,” the critics, or at least, the “responsible critics” make a major contribution to the cause by bounding the debate within certain acceptable limits – that’s why they’re tolerated, and in fact even honored.3

4. Today’s McCarthyism

As noted earlier, the ‘intense campaign of propaganda’ described by John Pilger is severely distorting what passes for journalism. A constant target of this distortion is Russia, in a grotesque echo of Cold War propaganda. From Moscow, the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg plays the required role, recently commenting on the inauguration ceremony following Russian president Putin’s re-election:

The symbolism and the message couldn’t be clearer. Putin, the modern tsar. Loved by his people.

Putin and Russia are forever portrayed as flexing their military muscles and representing a threat to the West, not least by BBC News. It is notable that a similar snooty, doom-mongering tone is absent when UK state occasions, or military exercises, are reported.

Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News responded to us on Twitter:

You will find Putin has a little more power than the Queen by the way. Just a tad…

We replied:

UK churnalism endlessly drools over “our” dear leaders. Remember the Blair adulation? And Obama? But that’s okay, because they’re “good guys”, not like Putin.

Thomson followed up with:

I don’t see much drooling. And neither Blair nor Obama routinely liquidate opposition/journalists as happens under Putin’s Kremlin, unarguably.

Our response:

Because you don’t want to see it. But you can see Putin’s crimes. Can you also see that Blair and Obama destroyed entire countries [Iraq, Libya], also unarguably? Can you see that the state-corporate system they served is ferociously violent, exploitative and criminal?

Thomson did not answer, other than to request to be ‘untagged’ from an exchange he had initiated, following a further critical response from another tweeter.

Meanwhile, the increasingly neocon Guardian plastered on its front page, not just one, but three, pieces of anti-Russia propaganda:

Revealed: UK’s push to strengthen anti-Russia alliance
‘Deny, distract and blame’: how Russia fights propaganda war
Clickbait and Skripal jokes: Russia’s RT thrives online

The Guardian, once regarded by many on the left as the vanguard of power-challenging journalism, was clearly pushing the ‘red scare’ agenda hard, in line with UK government priorities.

The big ‘Revealed’ piece was written by Patrick Wintour, the paper’s diplomatic editor. The main message, which could have come straight from a government press release, was this:

The UK will use a series of international summits this year to call for a comprehensive strategy to combat Russian disinformation and urge a rethink over traditional diplomatic dialogue with Moscow, following the Kremlin’s aggressive campaign of denials over the use of chemical weapons in the UK and Syria.

Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook was rightly critical in a blog piece:

When I trained as a journalist, we reserved a “Revealed” or an “Exposed” for those special occasions when we were able to bring to the reader information those in power did not want known. These were the rare moments when as journalists we could hold our heads high and claim to be monitoring the centres of power, to be fulfilling our sacred duty as the fourth estate.

Cook continued:

But today’s Guardian’s “exclusive” story “Revealed: UK’s push to strengthen anti-Russia alliance” is doing none of this. Nothing the powerful would want hidden from us is being “revealed”. No one had to seek out classified documents or speak to a whistleblower to bring us this “revelation”. Everyone in this story – the journalist Patrick Wintour, an anonymous “Whitehall official”, and the named politicians and think-tank wonks – is safely in the same self-congratulatory club, promoting a barely veiled government policy: to renew the Cold War against Russia.

The author of the second piece on ‘how Russia fights propaganda war’ was, ironically, Luke Harding, the paper’s former Moscow-based correspondent who regularly churned out pro-West propaganda in that role. Former UK diplomat Craig Murray describes Harding as ‘MI6’s most important media conduit (after [BBC security correspondent] Frank Gardner)’. The pinpoint demolition of Harding by Aaron Maté of The Real News Network last year is a must-watch.

A later Guardian piece by Amanda Meade, Guardian Australia’s media correspondent, actually contained this line:

RT is a powerful PR arm of the Russian government which is used as a weapon in the global information war.

When did the Guardian ever write the following line?

The BBC is a powerful PR arm of the British government which is used as a weapon in the global information war.

As Caitlin Johnstone rightly notes, any discussion of ‘Russian disinformation’ is invalid if it sweeps under the carpet previous massive Western propaganda campaigns; not least that leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Those questioning the official Western narratives on Russia and Syria have been subjected to an appalling McCarthyite campaign of vilification and intimidation; in large part initiated by The Times and followed up by others, including Guardian columnist George Monbiot and Huffington Post. This has led to the late rearrangement of a planned conference in Leeds, titled ‘Media on Trial,’ after the city council pulled the plug on allowing Leeds City Museum to be used as the venue. A report on the event’s cancellation, written by Chris York, a senior editor at HuffPost UK, smeared the speakers, including Professors Tim Hayward and Piers Robinson, as ‘pro-Assad’. Indeed, York has been relentless in attacking the academics as ‘pro-Assad’.

As for George Monbiot, the Guardian’s long-time resident ‘dissident’, his subservience to the official narrative on Russia and Syria was starkly exposed by journalist Peter Hitchens in recent exchanges on Twitter. Hitchens had previously published a detailed piece on his blog titled, ‘Who Gassed Whom in Syria? We don’t Know. Please Don’t be Rushed into War.’

The Twitter exchange is lengthy and not archived in a single thread, as far as we are aware. But as an indicator of Monbiot’s inability to respond to Hitchens, consider this discussion on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons(OPCW):

Monbiot:

The OPCW/JIM report on Khan Shaykhun [in 2017] presented a mountain of evidence for a chemical weapons attack by the Assad government

Hitchens:

1. The report is based on a study that breaks the OPCW’s own stated 2013 rule: No assessment without visiting the site. But the OPCW never visited the site. It is full of anonymous judgements of likelihood, phrases such as “appeared to be” and “highly likely”

Followed up by:

2. Sorry to put it like this George (but not very) but any proper journalist knows that “appears to be;” and “highly likely” are phrases used by people who would have loved to say “is”, but haven’t the facts which would allow them to do so.

And:

3. I’d also say that in a long career I have learned to be sceptical of opinions convenient to the person presenting them, originating from unnamed and unidentified sources, and of people with firm views about events they did not themselves witness.

After Monbiot had ‘liked’ a tweet smearing Hitchens as ‘a chemical weapons denier/Assad-Putin stooge’, together with Monbiot’s clear inability to properly respond to reasonable questions from Hitchens about supposed incontrovertible evidence of Assad’s guilt, Hitchens concluded:

I have been dismayed and disappointed by the behaviour of @GeorgeMonbiot on this issue, where he has preferred smear to rational, fact-based debate. What has happened to radicalism in the west, when prominent left-wingers behave like this?

Indeed. Although, when it comes to UK foreign policy, far from being a ‘left-winger’, Monbiot has consistently aligned himself with dubious neocon and ‘interventionist’ voices for some considerable time.

Concluding Remarks

It may have taken several years, but Guardian columnist Owen Jones has come to realise something vital about the ‘mainstream’ media which, to his credit, he has been willing to share:

The main thing I’ve learned from working in the British media is that much of it is a cult. Afflicted by a suffocating groupthink, intolerant of critics, hounds internal dissenters, full of people who made it because of connections and/or personal background rather than merit.

As Ian Sinclair pointed out in the Morning Star:

the indignant responses [from corporate journalists] — perfectly illustrating Jones’s argument — came thick and fast.

The response from Deborah Haynes, Times defence editor, was typical when she proudly declared:

No-one tells me what to think

US writer and media critic Michael Parenti had the perfect response for this recurring facile boast from corporate journalists:

You say what you like because they like what you say.

In other words, journalists are filtered for ‘reliability’; only those who say, write and even think the right things are able to reach senior positions in journalism. The consequences for genuine truth-telling journalism are horrendous, as the above examples show.

  1. Chomsky, Year 501, Verso, 1993, p.20.
  2. Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, Vintage, 1988/1994, p. 1.
  3. Quoted, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel, The New Press, New York, 2002, p. 13.

May 14th: Just Another Day in a Collapsing Empire

May 14th was quite a day for the empire, the shit show on full display exhibiting lots of swagger in its death throes. The people on the inside are the last to know. They don’t see it but everyone else does. The rest of the world can see the toxic death culture, they see the rationalizations for idiocy and how silly they seem. The US empire has no clothes but wears only a paper thin emotional veneer resembling a child who attempts to lie for the first time after murdering the family dog. This is the modern American mind of empire. Delusional and full of contrived pablum to excuse their wretched actions. Trump is truly the perfect man to represent this country, its true face. A huckster, a gangster, and a liar that says one thing and does the opposite. The actions and the results before us are the real values of empire and not their diseased words, which are devoid of truth.

On May 14th the empire’s best friend Israel continued to show its reverence for death while inhumanely shooting protestors on the Gaza strip. 58 lives lost and 2,700 injured are the current stats, horrors playing out that we’ll never be able to wrap our minds around, but tomorrow Palestinians will wake up and know a life that has more suffering than the day before. Many of the injured will look forward to death knowing the Israeli government lacks all basic compassion for fellow humans and the wounded know the path ahead will contain even more hardship. The implications of Israeli actions won’t make headlines for long in the US, and the externalities we’ll never see directly tied to this story will cause sadness and turmoil they will struggle to fight past for years – if Israel lets them live that long. We humans are more fragile than what is put onto our TV screens. Characters undergo one torturous event after another with little repercussions, but in reality our emotions break, especially when all community has been stripped out from under us, especially when people we love are killed or maimed for no good reason.

Six who died were under the age of 18. Does the US care? Nope, they’d sooner blame Palestinians for putting kids in the line of fire of Israeli soldiers than take responsibility for supporting a regime who sadistically fires openly into crowds of unarmed people. The corporate media have short memories, convenient memories. We forget how upset we were at the Syrian gas attack that may have claimed 40 lives and later the incident was filled with controversy over if Assad was actually responsible, I do not know the truth about this but I smell bullshit from somewhere, regardless of my bullshit sniffing abilities that number is less than the 58 killed at the protests on May the 14th. And there will be not a chirp, a squawk, a snort, or whinny of angst directed towards Israel for these actions by our overlords. In fact, quite the opposite.

The ignoble Jared Kushner said at the embassy opening that “Those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution.” referring to protestors who don’t have guns, didn’t wound one Israeli soldier, they don’t have an air force, tanks, humvees, an organized military, or any of the implements of destruction Israel does, yet Palestinians are somehow provoking violence to such an extent the bully state had to slaughter them? Ok Jared, fuck you. There is no respect for life, zero empathy, and not the smallest hint of a lingering humanity remaining in the logic of the state.

The US operates in a good ole boy league where the fellow goombahs get an automatic pass, they are made men, with made nations, they do as they please. So it would also please them on the day of May 14th to move the US embassy to Jerusalem as nothing more than a provocation to invite targets out for the racist Israeli state to gun down. The ostensible provocateurs are a battered people who are being violently edged off this planet for reasons of insanity from a bully regime and their bully death culture. The provoked are a people crying out for someone in the world to stand up to this machine. Provoked to the point they want the world to witness what those in power will do to people who are of no legitimate threat; To show how vicious and small in character those who wield power are, to show how profound their lack of wisdom. Palestinians are no more of a threat to Israel than an ant is to an elephant, yet this particular raging elephant’s sense of entitled justice is to seek out the ant population and stamp it out of existence, then boast as if they were doing a great service.

In other news occurring on the day of May 14th 2018, the supreme court of American shysterism decided to give states the power to legalize gambling. With the current predicament of the world and the myriad of issues I quite frankly get tired of speaking to…the warring, the species extinction this, the climate change that, the wealth inequal…..well, you get the point. Any logical mind might say that we shouldn’t take time to further line the pockets of the wealthy by allowing them to own these new con games. Also, it might seem a tad exploitative to further entice the poor to desperately gamble away their rapidly diminishing savings before addressing those much larger issues, but all dissent will go unheard because there’s money to be made, boys, so instead we’ll hear people say some ridiculous drivel about how this is good for economic growth, and we’ll continue to live by the obvious lies of supply side economics.

And of all the issues in the world to address, of all the ideas in dire need of review, the US government’s highest court chooses to address sports gambling and rules in favor of empowering an industry that has been synonymous with organized crime even in areas it’s legalized. From gangster Bugsy Segal who famously had a role in creating the Las Vegas strip, to Sheldon Adelson who was said to have ties to Chinese mafia, and, of course, like flies attracted to shit Donald Trump comes buzzing around the casino business with plenty of allegations mafia associations, of course, his most verifiable organized crime association being the US government itself.

Legalizing sports betting is an apropos move for an empire doing all it can to emulate the Biff Tannen universe that was widely referenced at the start of the Trump presidency. Sports are already a severely overemphasized part of American culture. The athletes are receiving salaries that rival that of some of the most abusive CEOs, but the US populace worships them, they make excuses for the rampant greed out of addictive impulse. Many of these dollars athletes and billionaire owners earn are subsidized from lower class taxpayers where they are forced to pay for stadiums and surrounding infrastructure owned by the billionaires, just so we can watch athletes whose top salaries are quickly approaching 40 million a year play for meaningless things that will quickly be forgotten in time.

The narrative from states and business interests looking to profiteer off gambling will put on their best act to pretend like the abusive capitalist activity of gambling is some form of freedom, and the narrative of Israeli slaughter of Palestinians is that peaceful protestors are a threat to a heavily armed military, and the narrative from corporate media will be that these are just things happening and not signs of empire collapsing amid the ever growing misery of a global population. And the narrative of the people in the empire who are lonely, sad, and separated from connection will tell themselves that democracy and capitalism will somehow purify to the point that they’ll really deliver on the goods this time around. That surely this twisted form of democracy installed by genocidal slavers will avert disaster in the coming elections. The idea is we wait in futility for events that have no chance of curving the murderous gangsterism inset in this disposable dung heap of a society; I don’t mean to insult dung, lots of good things grow out of dung, nothing good grows out of this disease. It must be transformed at a deep level to be fertile space again, and if we are to heal the disease we cannot continue to sow the lies of false narratives.

Draft Dodger in Chief Dodges “Historic” Opening of US Embassy, Jerusalem

It was NBC’s Cal Parry who summed up the obscenity of Donald Trump’s ignorant and igniting decision to move the US Embassy to West Jerusalem, then to celebrate the inauguration on Monday, 14th May: “Well dressed American and Israeli officials on one side of the screen: desperation, death and fires on the other.”

In 1948, 700,000 Palestinians began their flight from the city and the region trying to escape the massacres by Jewish militias on that date, seventy years ago. Commemorated ever since as the day of “Nakba” — disaster, catastrophe, cataclysm — following them to this day as land is stolen, families expelled and “settlements” encroach, and Palestinian history is bulldozed.

‘ “When the massacre started the (paramilitaries) took a kid and strapped him on an army jeep and drove him around different neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, saying ‘the same will happen to you if you don’t leave,’ ” Abu Kaya said, retelling his grandfather’s story to Middle East Eye.’

…  not a single country currently has its embassy in Jerusalem because such a move is widely considered to violate international law.

Further:

Under United Nations Resolution 181, which in 1947 set out the conditions for the partition of Palestine into an “Arab State” and a “Jewish State”, Jerusalem was to be administered by the UN under a “special international regime.

The 1949 armistice agreement that formally ended the first Arab-Israeli war divided the city along the “Green Line” into Israeli-controlled western areas, and Jordanian-held East Jerusalem, which included the Old City.

Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war is widely recognised as illegal and violates further United Nations resolutions.

For Palestinians then, sovereignty over the city is not something for leaders of other countries to determine, as US President Donald Trump did when he announced the embassy move in December.

In the few minutes it took to jot down notes for this piece, the Palestinian death toll of those demonstrating rose from twenty-eight dead, shot by Israeli soldiers, to forty-three. The injured rose from 1,693 to “near two thousand.”

Fadi Abo Salah, 30, who lost both legs in a bombing by Israeli aircraft, was one who lost his life, in his wheel chair — targeted by an Israeli sniper — in front of his wife and three small children. (Palestine Live group.)

Israel, frequently declaring itself “the only democracy in the Middle East”, carried out a very democratic slaughter and target practice. Young, old, disabled, male, female, all were equally entitled to be shot, sniped at, tear gassed.

Tiny Laila al-Ghandour who died from tear gas inhalation was just eight months old.1

Journalist Sharif Kouddos recorded:

Wails of grief inside family home of Laila al-Ghandour, 8-month old who died of gas inhalation yesterday. Her aunt says the gas came from everywhere, including drones.

By Monday’s end he Tweeted:

Sharif Kouddous

@sharifkouddous

Casualty toll from today in Gaza now stands at 55 dead, including 6 minors. 2,770 wounded, including 225 children. Of the wounded over 1,350 were hit with live ammunition, according to Ministry of Health.

“It is unbearable to witness such a massive number of unarmed people being shot in such a short time,” stated Médecins Sans Frontières.

As the Embassy partied and visitors “clapped and cheered”, Gaza’s hospitals, already teetering on collapse resulting from restrictions on all coming in to the besieged Strip — including electricity, with water contaminated — had surgeons operating day and night, with the injured being treated in the hospital car parks even, due to the overwhelming influx of those targeted.

In another world, just sixty miles away: ‘Washington’s Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, stood on a stage painted with the US flag and said:

Today’s historic event is attributed to the vision, courage and moral clarity of one person to whom we owe an enormous and eternal debt of gratitude: President Donald J Trump.  The crowd cheered and gave a standing ovation.1

Deaths had risen to fifty nine.

Of the eighty six Ambassadors to Israel, only thirty two attended the ceremony, with fifty four boycotting and only four EU Member countries attending.

Moreover:

The Haaretz newspaper reported that most EU member States did not participate in the ceremony because they have a firm policy towards the transfer of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It said that the ambassadors of Russia, Egypt, India, Japan and Mexico also did not attend the celebration.

Fallout has been swift. French President Emmanuel Macron in a telephone call to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and to Jordan’s King Abdullah condemned the “violence of the Israeli armed forces …” and again criticized the moving of the Embassy.

King Abdullah, of course, has custodianship of all Jerusalem’s Holy Sites and: ‘has the right to exert all legal efforts to safeguard them, especially Al Aqsa Mosque, which is defined as “The Entirety of Al Haram Al Sharif.” ‘ As far as can be ascertained thus far, it seems that this important, indeed unique, historic custodianship was neither discussed with the King or his representatives, nor even a consideration of the Trump Administration as they bulldozed their way through diplomacy, history and all norms in their Jerusalem settlement.

NATO ally President Erdogan of Turkey has recalled his Ambassadors to Israel and the US.

South Africa recalled their Ambassador to Israel, with immediate effect, as the Embassy celebrations were ongoing.

Ireland has summoned Israel’s Ambassador to protest Israeli violence.

Kuwait moved for an emergency meeting of the UN, which was blocked by the US. A ‘draft statement included language expressing “outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians exercising their right to peaceful protest.” ‘

‘It also reaffirmed UN resolutions on the status of Jerusalem, saying that recent events had “no legal effect” under international law. The statement was withdrawn once the US indicate that it would block it, a UN diplomat said.’ (CNN, 15th May 2018.)

Qatar condemned “a massacre” and “savage killings.”

Germany, somewhat weakly, expressed concern at the massacre saying: “The right to peaceful protest must also apply in Gaza”, via a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman

In the UK, the Labour Party’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry in an unusually unequivocal statement said:

We condemn unreservedly the Israeli government for their brutal, lethal and utterly unjustified actions on the Gaza border, and our thoughts are with all those Palestinians in Gaza whose loved ones have been lied or injured as a result.

These actions are made all the worse because they come not as the result of a disproportionate over-reaction to one day’s protests, but as the culmination of six weeks of an apparently systemic and deliberate policy of killing and maiming unarmed protestors and bystanders who pose no threat to the forces at the Gaza border, many of them shot in the back, many of them shot hundreds of metres from the border, and many of them children.

Throughout that six-week period, the UN’s Secretary General has been calling for an independent investigation into these incidents, one that should urgently determine whether international law has been broken, and hold the Netanyahu government to account for their actions. The UK should lead calls for the UN Security Council to order such an investigation today.

These incidents must also be the catalyst for urgent and concerted international pressure on the Netanyahu government to lift the blockade on Gaza, and end Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories. No longer can Netanyahu act as a law unto himself, under the protection of the Trump administration, whose decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem today has further inflamed the situation.

Chile, with the largest population of Palestinians outside the Arab world, raised Palestinian flags outside the main entrance of the Presidential Palace of La Moneda.

Sacha Sergio Llorenty Soliz, Bolivia’s UN Ambassador, read the names of the Gaza massacre victims at the UN session, wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh.

The mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau has demanded an arms embargo on Israel, demanding backing of Amnesty International’s call for a global arms embargo on Israel. Amnesty has condemned: “ … an abhorrent violation of International Law and human rights. “

Zeid bin Ra’ad al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated: “Those responsible for outrageous human rights violations must be held to account.”

Writer, broadcaster and academic, Kenan Malik Tweeted:

@kenanmalik

Mark Regev, Israeli ambassador to the UK, considers the shooting dead of 58 Palestinians and the wounding of 2700 as “measured” and “surgical”. I’d hate to know what is his definition of “unmeasured” or “non-surgical.”

The death toll became sixty.

From the Trumposphere, Donald Trump input:

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

May 14

Big day for Israel. Congratulations!

However, on this day of diplomatic thuggery  — which the US State Department flagged as a “historic move” — the five times Draft Dodger in Chief it seems reverted to type. The man to whom limelight is seemingly indispensible, stayed in Washington and addressed the Embassy gathering by video, from a safe 5,897 miles away, dodging any potential conflict, demonstrations, dissent. Trump, of course, pulled out of a visit to London in February, to open the new US Embassy, which has also relocated, reportedly for fear of the massive protests planned at his stay.

The man who can menace Iran, threaten North Korea with: “ … fire and fury and frankly the power the likes of which like this world has never seen”, cowers from peaceful protesters with placards. No wonder he had no intention of showing up in Jerusalem, even as guest of honour, surrounded by steel rings of security, in a region destabilized by the US and “allies” for decades, with the unarmed, indigenous population simply demanding some justice sixty miles away.

Donald Trump, it seems, talks the talk but can’t walk the walk. Perhaps someone also told him Armageddon is in Israel (site now named Megiddo.)

  1. Guardian, 15th May 2018.

Hamas and Fatah: Why the Two Groups are Failing

The Palestinian national movement, which has led the decades-long struggle against Israel’s takeover of the Palestinians’ homeland, has reached the lowest ebb in its history, according to analysts.

But as Palestinians mark this week the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the “Catastrophe” that followed the dispossession of their homeland and the creation of Israel in its place, there are signs of possible change.

For more than a quarter of a century, the Palestinian movement has been split into two increasingly irreconcilable ideological factions, Fatah and Hamas – now reflected in a profound geographical division between their respective strongholds of the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Both camps have not only failed to bring about any significant achievements, say analysts, but illegal Jewish settlements have steadily entrenched across the West Bank and a 12-year blockade, bolstered by Israeli military attacks, has choked Gaza into a humanitarian disaster.

There is no tangible regional or international support for the Palestinian cause, and the Trump administration barely bothers to conceal its role now as cheerleader for Israel.

That includes a decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem this week, effectively recognising Israel’s claim on a city Palestinians regard as their future capital.

Ideological ‘bankruptcy’

“The Palestinian national movement has moved beyond crisis to the point of bankruptcy,” said Ghassan Khatib, a former cabinet minister in the Palestinian Authority (PA), and now a lecturer at Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah.

“Neither the armed resistance of Hamas nor the diplomacy of Fatah has made any gains,” he told Al Jazeera. “They are failed governments, and the public is deeply dissatisfied.”

The dire situation has left observers wondering whether the Palestinian national movement can reinvent itself and find more successful strategies over the coming years and decades.

Both Fatah and Hamas are preparing for major demonstrations, hoping to bring attention to decades of oppressive Israeli rule.

But the events are also likely to underscore how much ground they have lost to Israel – and how the pressure for new thinking is coming from the ground up, not from the leadership.

‘No need for fear’

Recent weeks have seen regular protests at Gaza’s perimeter fence attracting tens of thousands of Palestinians, and dominated by young people. The emphasis has been on direct, non-violent mass action, spurning the high-level diplomacy of Fatah and Hamas’ traditional commitment to armed resistance.

Although the Gaza protests – under the banner of the Great March of Return – were not initiated by Hamas, it had shown a willingness to support them, noted Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

“Hamas has recognised the utility of the marches,” she told Al Jazeera. “It adopted them rather than crushed them. The hope must be that Fatah will soon realise this too – that they understand there is utility to people resisting.”

Ahmed Al-Naouq, a youth activist in Gaza, pointed out that the focus of the protests was the demand that the refugees – a large majority of Gaza’s population – be allowed to return to the lands, now in Israel, they were expelled from in 1948.

“In Gaza we are more creative and flexible in our thinking because we have no other choice. We want to break out of this prison,” he told Al Jazeera.

“My father worked for many years inside Israel. We are ready to live alongside Israeli Jews in peace – they need to set aside their fears.”

Return to conflict’s roots

Nathan Thrall, a local analyst with the International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution organisation based in Washington and Brussels, pointed out that the Gaza protests were returning the Palestinian struggle to its historic roots.

“Even before the founding of the PLO, the central issue in Palestinian nationalism was the refugees – more so than the 1967 issue [of the occupation],” he told Al Jazeera.

The right of the 750,000 Palestinians made refugees by the 1948 war and their descendants to return to their ancestral lands originally lay at the heart of the platforms of all the political parties, he said.

“The national movement slowly compromised on that.”

Under the Oslo process launched in 1993, it was widely assumed that the refugees, if they returned at all, would move to a separate and minimal Palestinian state rather than their former towns and villages.

“There was an intentional ambiguity: the leadership talked about the right of return at the same time as it promoted the two-state solution, even though the two principles appear contradictory,” said Thrall.

Support for one state

But the Palestinians’ historic compromise had turned into a dead-end.

“The two-state idea was never seen as ideal. No one marches for it or is prepared to sacrifice their life for it,” he said. “But that pragmatism has yielded no results, and has led to great popular disenchantment. Now ordinary people are going back to the roots of the Palestinian issue.”

That appears to return Palestinian nationalism to its original vision of a single state, as long propounded by the PLO under its leader Yasser Arafat. He only accepted partition of historic Palestine in the late 1980s, faced with overwhelming western pressure.

“It is significant that there has been a steady increase in support for one state among the Palestinian public, now at around 30 per cent,” Buttu said.

“That is surprising, given that today not one Palestinian party, in the West Bank and Gaza or the 48 areas [of Israel], publicly supports it.”

Even Hamas, she said, had effectively followed Fatah. It had abandoned its traditional goal of Palestinian-Islamic rule over all of historic Palestine.

“Gradually Hamas has adopted the two-state formula, plus, in its case, a long-term truce with Israel,” Buttu said.

‘Critical gap’

In an indication of Hamas’ growing desire to compromise, the Israeli media reported this month that “unprecedented strategic distress” had led the movement to offer Israel a truce in return for easing the blockade and allowing it to rebuild Gaza’s infrastructure.

What was evident, said Khatib, was a “critical gap” between the national leaderships and Palestinian public opinion, especially among the youth.

The latter was increasingly interested in popular, non-violent struggle as a way to break out of the Palestinians’ isolation.

“But there are strong vested interests that will try to maintain the current situation,” he said, pointing to the Palestinians’ dependence on foreign donors, Israel’s control over the transfer of income to the PA, and in turn the vast number of families relying on PA salaries.

“Neither Fatah nor Hamas are in a position to advance popular struggle. They are bureaucratic governments, with structures, leaders and ideologies that militate against non-violence as a tactic.”

Waiting for Abbas to leave

But Khatib and others admit that change is likely to happen – some think rapidly – once 82-year-old Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas departs the scene.

Asad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University, said ending the factionalism, between Fatah and Hamas, was a precondition for turning the different parties into an effective vehicle of national struggle.

“There must be a unified national movement,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The PA has to stop being the security contractor for Israel. Then we can solve the real problems. We must demand an elected and unified leadership with a single platform.”

The biggest problem currently facing the Palestinian national movement, said Buttu, was that, despite its various institutions, it was dominated by one person in the figure of Abbas.

“Abbas has made all these institutions irrelevant, and they have allowed themselves to become irrelevant,” she said. “That has entirely marginalised other approaches, like boycotts and the one-state solution. It has ensured the alternatives can’t be effective.”

Hunger strike ignored

She noted that Abbas had all but ignored imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti during the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike last summer.

Barghouti is widely reported to be a student of non-violent strategies of resistance like those of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He is said to have found support among the jailed leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

“Look at the difference between the way the ANC [in South Africa] kept attention on Nelson Mandela while he was in jail,” said Buttu.

“They made sure people knew who he was. But Abbas has done his best to extinguish Barghouti, so young people barely know who he is after so many years behind bars.

“The prisoners are a hugely powerful and symbolic issue for Palestinians, and yet Abbas has preferred not to capitalise on it.”

More Ahed Tamimis

With Abbas gone, Thrall thinks Fatah and Hamas may be capable of adapting to new thinking. “But they will do so only if there is a groundswell of popular sentiment that forces them to,” he said.

He pointed to the decisions in January of the PLO’s Central Council to demand the ending of security cooperation with Israel, which Abbas has previously termed “sacred”, and to adopt the anti-apartheid-like struggle of the boycott (BDS) movement, even though it conflicts with Abbas’s strategy.

Thrall said the moves reflected pressure, in the case of security cooperation, from the Palestinian public and, in the case of BDS, from civil society organisations in the West Bank and Gaza.

Buttu noted that Palestinians were still conducting popular forms of struggle, despite the lack of institutional support.

“Look to the Ahed Tamimis,” she said, referring to the 17-year-old girl arrested and jailed for slapping an Israeli soldier who invaded her home.

“She isn’t choosing to be a teenager like her peers around the world. She chooses to resist, she is defiant like the rest of her village of Nabi Saleh. The same is true of those marching in Gaza.

“At the moment they have to operate as one-offs, because of the failure of the bigger political structures.”

Change could be rapid

Thrall observed that what happens in occupied East Jerusalem could prove decisive. Israel, he noted, was extremely concerned about large numbers of Palestinians there seeking Israeli citizenship and voting in city elections.

“If a majority starts applying for citizenship that could prove to be a deadly blow to a two-state solution, and it could happen very rapidly,” he said.

“Then the PA would no longer speak on behalf of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, which is supposed to be the future Palestinian capital.”

That might be the point at which other Palestinians were driven into mass protests for equal rights in a single state, along the lines of a civil rights or anti-apartheid struggle.

Buttu agreed that Israel could be gravely mistaken in thinking it has crushed Palestinian nationalism.

“I often wonder what it looked like in Algeria in the 1930s or 40s, or in South Africa in the early 1980s,” she said.

“The French in Algeria and apartheid’s leaders in South Africa thought they had the situation wrapped up, with a pretty ribbon on the package. They did not realise that in a few years everything would utterly change.”

• First published in Al-Jazeera

An Affront to History: Giro d’Italia’s ‘Sport-Washing’ of Israeli Apartheid

For the first time since its inception in 1909, the legendary Italian cycling race, Giro d’Italia kicked off outside Europe and, strangely enough, from the city of Jerusalem on May 4.

The inherent contradictions in that decision are inescapable. Italy is a country that has experienced a ruthless forging occupation and was ravaged by fascism and war. To be a party in Israel’s constant attempts at whitewashing or, in this case, “sport-washing’ its military occupation and daily violence against the Palestinian people is appalling.

Every attempt aimed at dissuading the race organizers from being part of Israel’s political propaganda has failed. The millions of dollars paid to the Giro d’Italia organizers, the RCS Sport, seemed far more compelling than shared cultural experiences, solidarity, human rights and international law.

Legendary Italian novelist, Dino Buzzati wrote various accounts in Italian newspapers in the 1940s, describing the symbolism of the race in the context of a battered nation resurrecting from the ashes of untold destruction.

Just after WWII had ended, Giro d’Italia organizers found themselves contending with the seemingly impossible task of organizing a race with a few bicycles and even fewer athletes. The roads were disfigured and destroyed in the war, but the determination to triumph was stronger.

The 1946 Giro D’Italia, especially the legendary competition between Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, became a metaphor of a country rising from the horrors of war, reanimating its national identity, symbolized in the final struggle between heroic athletes pedaling through the torturous mountainous roads to reach the finish line.

Understanding this history, Israel exploited it in every possible way. In fact, the Israeli government recently gave the late Gino Bartali an honorary Israeli citizenship. The decision was made as an acknowledgment of the Italian athlete’s anti-Nazi legacy. The irony, of course, is that the Israeli practices against Palestinians – military Occupation, racism, Apartheid and abhorring violence –  is reminiscent of the very reality that Bartali and millions of Italians fought against for years.

When Israeli officials announced last September that Giro D’Italia would start in Jerusalem, they labored to link the decision with Israel’s celebration of 70 years of independence.

Also, 70 years ago, Palestinians were dispossessed from their homeland by Zionist militias, leading to the Nakba, the catastrophic destruction of Palestine and the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state. It was then that West Jerusalem became part of Israel, and the rest of the Holy City, East Jerusalem, was also conquered through war in 1967, before it was officially, but illegally, annexed in 1981, in defiance of international law.

RCS Sport cannot claim ignorance regarding how their decision to engage and validate Israeli Apartheid will forever scar the history of the race. When their website announced that the race would kick off from ‘West Jerusalem’, the Israeli response was swift and furious. Israeli Sports Minister, Miri Regev and Tourism Minister, Yariv Levi, threatened to end their partnership with the race, claiming that “in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, there is no East or West. There is one unified Jerusalem.”

Alas, Giro d’Italia organizers publicly apologized before removing the word ‘West’ from their website and press releases.

According to international law, East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian city. This fact has been stated time and again through United Nations resolutions, including the most recent Resolution 2334, adopted on December 23, 2016. It condemns Israel’s illegal settlement constructions in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem.

This reality stands as a stark contradiction to the claims made by Giro d’Italia organizers that their race is a celebration of peace. In truth, it is an endorsement of Apartheid, violence and war crimes.

The fact that the race was held according to plan, despite the ongoing killing of Palestinian protesters in Gaza, also underlines the degree of moral corruption by those behind the effort. Over 50 unarmed Palestinians have been killed since the start of the peaceful protests at the Gaza border, known as the ‘Great March of Return’ on March 30. Over 7,000 were wounded, among them 30 athletes, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Youth and Sports.

One of those wounded is Alaa al-Dali, a 21-years-old cyclist whose leg was amputated after being shot on the first day of protests.

‘Canadian-Jewish philanthropist’, Sylvan Adams, one of the biggest funders of the race, claimed that his contribution is motivated by his desire to promote Israel and to support cycling as a ‘bridge between nations.’

Palestinians, like Alaa, whose cycling career is over, are, of course, excluded from that lofty, and selective definition. Was the 12 million dollars received by the organizers from Israel and its supporters a worthy price to ignore the suffering of Palestinians and to help normalize Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people?

Sadly, for the RSC Sport, the answer is ‘yes’.

Many Italians, and more around the world, of course, disagree. Despite Italian media’s partaking in Israel’s ‘sport-washing’, hundreds of Italians protested at various stages of the race.

The fourth stage of Giro d’Italia, which was held in Catania, Sicily, was delayed by a protest, against a race which is “stained with the blood of Palestinians”, in the words of activist, Simone Di Stefano.

Renzo Ulivieri, the head of the Italian Football Managers Association, was one of prominent Italian voices that objected to the decision to hold the race in Israel. “I could have remained indifferent, but I fear I would have been despised by the people I respect. Viva the Palestinian people, free in their land,” he wrote in Facebook post.

The RCS Sport has done the ‘Giro’ race, sport cycling and the Italian people an unforgivable disservice for the sake of a few million dollars. By agreeing to start the race in a country that is guilty of apartheid practices and a protracted military occupation, they will stain the race forever.

However, the general wave of indignation caused by this reckless decision seems to indicate that Israel’s efforts at normalizing its crimes against Palestinians are failing to alter public opinion and perception of Israel as an occupying power – that deserves to be boycotted, not embraced.

• Romana Rubeo, an Italian writer, contributed to this article.