Category Archives: Human Rights

Brother/Sister Can You Spare a Warm Shelter?

On the Streets

The tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to homelessness is what the average person sees on Newport’s streets – mostly men, some women, seeking a public or private building’s overhang to get out of the rain.

Many on the streets are disheveled, struggling with mental health issues and addiction. Others are not so easily identified as homeless people.

Creating a permanent warming shelter is one stop-gap measure the Newport (OR) Working Group on Homelessness has been grappling with for more than a year.

On Feb. 5, more than 20 people filled the cramped space in the Avery building (where DHS offices are co-located with other agencies) to move this group into achievable goals.

Outside the DHS office, fighting against the gale force rain, many of these house-less people were on the covered concrete pad that lead up to the offices housing SNAP and TANF DHS workers.

They were seeking a dry space and companionship.

I asked one fellow – he said he goes by Fred, age 47 — what he wants immediately as a homeless citizen.

“Look, I see families out there with kids in tents. That’s just not right. I am okay living in the woods, but even a dude like me wants something, some place, to get out or the rain and cold. Even some simple open carport like structure, man. Nothing fancy. They should be all over the place.”

We talked about portable toilets, even cold-water taps and sanitary soaps. “Look, with this virus over in China, coming here. . . you think the powers to be would think about sanitation. I guess the solution is to let us die off in the woods . . . or ship us off to come sort of camp.”

Paul looking for camps.

Task Force with Teeth?

Inside, a city council woman, the Lincoln County Sheriff, plethora of social services leaders, private citizens and others coalesced to try to come up with a plan and priorities. The agenda to create safe transitional housing, welcoming and effective car camping regulations, policies for tent camping areas, and siting a warming shelter is daunting. Also, on the agenda was the big slice of the pie – addressing health and health-related issues.

Newport Policewoman Jovita Ballentine and Sheriff Curtis Launders were among the group wondering “how all this money spent on services” for these so-called “frequent users” (of the ER) really helps people with mental health issues who spend their days hanging out at such places as the Newport Rec Center.

For Launders, mental illness and addiction are the root causes of the homeless police agencies run into on a daily basis.

For Samaritan House director Lola Jones, helping homeless get out of the elements and into programs to assist them into permanent housing are part of a bigger picture. She reiterated that the Task Force is not a panacea for all the underlying issues why people end up homeless.

Amanda Cherryholmes, Lincoln City manager for Communities Helping Addicts Negotiate Change Effectively (C.H.A.N.C.E.), was quick to push back on the myth that more homeless services in an area will bring more homeless into the community. Cherryholmes cited counterarguments to that belief.

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She also pointed out that car camping allowances and even some concerted effort to have designated spaces with port-a-potty’s and storage facilities don’t address the fact “most people can’t afford to keep their car running when temperatures hit the low thirties or below.”

Also, at the meeting was a board member of Grace Wins Haven. Betty Kamikawa, president of the board of directors, ramified the point many in Newport and Lincoln County profess: “Hotels are struggling because of Air B & B. The vacation rentals have caused so many people to become homeless.”

I met people at Grace Wins after the taskforce adjourned. For Betty and the Haven director, Tracie Flowers, the crisis of unhoused individuals in Lincoln County is growing out of proportion to the solutions.

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The US had a shortage of 7.8 million units of affordable housing for very low income (7.5 million) and homeless (400,000) households and individuals in 2017, according the National Low Income Housing Coalition using US Census data. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s count had number of homeless higher, at 550,000 on any given night. The US Department of Education reported that 1.5 million school children experienced a period of homelessness during 2017.

Shelter Us from the Storm

“We need more shelters first,” Tracie said. “Too many people think the homeless are one type of individual. They are not.” That belief creates huge conflicts within social services agencies, non-profits, religious organizations, and for the homeless themselves.

Amanda Cherryholmes wants a more robust assessment of people coming into shelters and transitional housing. “We need to figure out what services the individual needs. Each one has different needs.”

She militated against the idea just any individual should end up in a warming shelter or in car camping arrangements. “There are two distinct groups. Families and young people needing shelter. And then single men.”

She pointed out that having a sexual offender among a group of homeless in a communal setting is not a good idea.

There are some brighter horizons in the mix. Some churches are stepping up to the plate.

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Tiny Homes, Relaxing Zoning

Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Kelsey Ingalls, on her Feb. 2, 2020 church blog discusses one small effort to avail the housing shortage: six cottages at time on church property.

“We formed the Exploration Team which is undertaking a feasibility study to form a partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Lincoln County and other local service agencies to help meet the housing needs of homeless, single-parentfamiliesThe Exploration Team is looking into the idea of building six two-bedroom/one-bath cottages on the southeast corner of the Church campus.  We are proposing a circular village layout with front porches and a central common area. Supportive services would be provided by our local service agency partners.”

Before the task force convened, Blair Bobier, Regional Director of Legal Aid Services, sent out an email framing the impetus behind the Newport Working Group on Homeless:

“There are many service providers who agree that some form of a ‘coalition’ model is an important next step towards addressing homelessness in our community.  In other places, one form of this model included a regular meeting of elected officials and law enforcement, along with service providers, to ensure that there was sufficient coordination among involved parties.  As has been pointed out, here in Newport, the Lincoln County Affordable Housing Partners (AHP) is a great example of service providers coming together on a regular basis—along with developers, government officials and members of the faith community—to exchange information and work towards common goals.”

With this huge brain trust in one room, and the compassion and passionate solutions-driven people commenting on what needs to be prioritized, it’s clear Newport and Lincoln County at large have many hurdles to overcome as homelessness and housing precarious situations are growing.

Relaxing zoning laws, and rolling up of sleeves will help develop coordinated efforts to get people out of the cold, screen people through various social services resources, and begin to help coastal communities look at the long-range health of affordable housing in this coastal area.

“Over the two years’ operating, Grace Wins has had over 2,000 clients coming through. Some stay a while. The fact is by this September there will be no winter shelter as the Commons will be torn down. Nothing for the homeless and the farmer’s market,” Betty Kamikawa stated.

Since Housing and Urban Development (HUD) no longer funds states for shelters, the onus is on states, counties and municipalities to grapple with the steadily growing problem.

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Running a Permanent Shelter Costs Money

Without financial support, and without volunteers, a shelter is a pipe dream. “We have to have financial support,” Jones stated.

Cynthia Jacobi, Newport City Council, told me at a PFLAG event at OCCC Feb. 8 she is hopeful that HB – 4001 will spur serious discourse on what to do about the homeless population in relationship to cities having the tools to allow for shelters. House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, has introduced a $120 million proposal to allow cities to more easily site homeless shelters. Kotek also wants a statewide emergency declaration on the homeless problem.

Jacobi too sees the need for immediate mitigation and a shelter for this emergency-sized problem here in Newport.

Pastor Ingalls on her blog tells her congregation a chilling fact most social services agencies in Lincoln County also shudder to contemplate – There’s a 17% homeless rate in our local schools. How a community frames the idea that nearly 1 out of every 5 students don’t have stable housing while the county is home to many second home residents will be important.

Several compelling stories about people who are homeless dying exposed to the elements were discussed at the meeting: According to Kamikawa, an 87-year-old Lincoln County resident was found dead in her car. She had been in an apartment living with her disabled son. Electrical wires were eaten through by rats. She had no electricity. She was evicted. She had a stroke while living in her car with her son.

Putting a face on and a story behind each homeless person might get the average person to think about how he or she can support a shelter and permanent housing solution as well as volunteering some hours each month to stem the tide of tragedies like this one.

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Grilling Newport City Councilwoman

I decided to ask a Newport City Councilwoman some questions on homelessness and next steps.

Paul Haeder:  What role do you see citizens joining the Homeless Task Force?

Cynthia Jacobi: I’m the City Liaison to the Homeless Work Group/coalition.

PH:  What role do you see citizens joining the Homeless Task Force?

CJ: I see the role of citizens in the new homeless coalition work group (as yet without an official name or title) as coming forth with the best ideas tailored for our community. Social services, government entities, law-enforcement, interfaith community and concerned citizens can all have a Voice in shaping these policies.

PH:  Why are you involved?

CJ: I have always felt a strong sense of social justice.  I see Families with more than one parent working who still cannot afford safe and decent shelter. Sometimes the cost of an illness, a car repair, or other unexpected costs forces the choice between buying groceries or paying rent or utility bills. Children in unstable situations are especially vulnerable.

As a wealthy society, in good conscience we cannot say there is no room at the inn. We have the means to house all of our population.  With strong leadership and compassion, I know we can do this.

PH: Will the Task Force cover larger issues?

CJ: There are so many overlapping issues:

The new Oregon State House Bill 4001 which may be a game changer in zoning, and funding.

All coastal communities have been addressing the Short-Term Rentals impact on housing inventory for working folks.

It is a valid suggestion to have a study on the actual impact economically and socially of STRs. For example:   Does the room tax cover expenses of police and fire departments, wear on roads, etc.?  Who would finance this study?

The City of Newport has been instrumental in building Surfview, the 110-apartment complex for lower-income citizens. This will open by summer. This was accomplished with a complex partnership of public and private funds, and the leadership in local city and county government. Need to do more of this.

PH: What role do you see mental health services playing in this move to have both temporary homeless facilities (a night facility) and also a warming shelter?

CJ: My understanding is that the county mental health providers have formed out-reach teams Which will go directly to unsheltered people, assess their needs and provide services and contacts for assistance.

PH: Car camping at churches and non-profits and governmental parking areas WITH some sort of case management and oversight seems like a good first step in getting the housing insecure into a system of evaluation and moving ahead with housing options. Is this the biggest and easiest priority now?

CJ: I think the quickest way to make an impact is to allow safe, supervised car camping in Newport.  Newport Planning Commission is in the process of examining our ordinances to allow car camping in certain Defined areas.  Along with oversight, outreach teams, and case management, this is the easiest first step to create safe shelter areas. Women, children, and seniors living in their cars are especially vulnerable. At the very least, they need a safe place to stay at night. We can do this.

I heard anecdotally that much of the seasonal help lives in their cars and rents small storage lockers for belongings.

PH: Do you know anyone personally or within a family circle who have been or are housing insecure, or homeless?

CJ: Personally, I have a few family members who have experienced bad luck, poor choices, and mental illness causing them to live in unstable conditions.

My husband, Gary, and I have volunteered at the overnight shelter.  We have met people displaced from their previous long-term housing, people who can’t afford rent, people who are disabled.

A common problem is affordability when working folks have to pay the first month, the last month, a damage deposit and utility hook ups. Before any of this can happen, there is background check costing $50 per adult for each application, even to be placed on a waiting list. While realizing that landlords must be protected, this situation seems unfair. How many working families can afford $2500 and more up front?

PH: What role do businesses and the chambers have in helping get some sort of affordable housing for the very people who clean the fish, serve the food, chop the veggies, clean the hotels, etc.? Can we get a round-table together, a charrette, where we bring a large brain trust together to attack the housing insecurity and the street homeless issues as a multi-pronged problem to solve?

CJ: As far as the responsibilities of businesses and chambers of commerce: Some businesses have stepped up to help their workers.  In particular, one of the fish plants has purchased motels and converted them to longer-term living quarters.

In the last few years, Newport has lost three large economy motels: one deteriorated and was bulldozed, one burned, and the fish plant bought another one. (or two?). These motels were often used as emergency shelters with vouchers by government agencies.

– The availability of housing related to jobs is affected by public transport access.

– Walkability and bicycle access are also important.

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Jacobi third from the right.

Duh, Jared! Who built the PA as a Police State?

Maybe something good will come out of the Trump plan, after all. By pushing the Middle East peace process to its logical conclusion, Donald Trump has made crystal clear something that was supposed to have been obscured: that no US administration has ever really seen peace as the objective of its “peacemaking”.

The current White House is no exception – it has just been far more incompetent at concealing its joint strategy with the Israelis. But that is what happens when a glorified used-car salesman, Donald Trump, and his sidekick son-in-law, the schoolboy-cum-businessman Jared Kushner, try selling us the “deal of the century”. Neither, it seems, has the political or diplomatic guile normally associated with those who rise to high office in Washington.

During an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria this week, Kushner dismally failed to cloak the fact that his “peace” plan was designed with one goal only: to screw the Palestinians over.

The real aim is so transparent that even Zakaria couldn’t stop himself from pointing it out. In CNN’s words, he noted that “no Arab country currently satisfies the requirements Palestinians are being expected to meet in the next four years – including ensuring freedom of press, free and fair elections, respect for human rights for its citizens, and an independent judiciary.”

Trump’s senior adviser suddenly found himself confronted with the kind of deadly, unassailable logic usually overlooked in CNN coverage. Zakaria observed:

Isn’t this just a way of telling the Palestinians you’re never actually going to get a state because … if no Arab countries today [are] in a position that you are demanding of the Palestinians before they can be made a state, effectively, it’s a killer amendment?

Indeed it is.

In fact, the “Peace to Prosperity” document unveiled last week by the White House is no more than a list of impossible preconditions the Palestinians must meet to be allowed to sit down with the Israelis at the negotiating table. If they don’t do so within four years, and quickly reach a deal, the very last slivers of their historic homeland – the parts not already seized by Israel – can be grabbed too, with US blessing.

Preposterous conditions

Admittedly, all Middle East peace plans in living memory have foisted these kinds of prejudicial conditions on the Palestinians. But this time many of the preconditions are so patently preposterous – contradictory even – that the usually pliable corporate press corps are embarrassed to be seen ignoring the glaring inconsistencies.

The CNN exchange was so revealing in part because Kushner was triggered by Zakaria’s observation that the Palestinians had to become a model democracy – a kind of idealised Switzerland, while still under belligerent Israeli occupation – before they could be considered responsible enough for statehood.

How was that plausible, Zakaria hinted, when Saudi Arabia, despite its appalling  human rights abuses, nonetheless remains a close strategic US ally, and Saudi leaders continue to be intimates of the Trump business empire? No one in Washington is seriously contemplating removing US recognition of Saudi Arabia because it is a head-chopping, women-hating, journalist-killing religious fundamentalist state.

But Zakaria could have made an even more telling point – was he not answerable to CNN executives. There are also hardly any western states that would pass the democratic, human rights-respecting threshold set by the Trump plan for the Palestinians.

Think of Britain’s flouting last year of a ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague that the Chagos Islanders must be allowed to return home decades after the UK expelled them so the US could build a military base on their land. Or the Windrush scandal, when it was revealed that a UK government “hostile environment” policy was used to illegally deport British citizens to the Caribbean because of the colour of their skin.

Or what about the US evading due process by holding prisoners offshore at Guantanamo? Or its use of torture against Iraqi prisoners, or its reliance on extraordinary rendition, or its extrajudicial assassinations using drones overseas, including against its own citizens?

Or for that matter, its jailing and extortionate fining of whistleblower Chelsea Manning, despite the Obama administration granting her clemency. US officials want to force her to testify against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for his role in publishing leaks of US war crimes committed in Iraq, including the shocking Collateral Murder video.

And while we’re talking about Assange and about Iraq…

Would the records of either the US or UK stand up to scrutiny if they were subjected to the same standards now required of the Palestinian leadership.

Impertinent questions

But let’s fast forward to the heart of the matter. Angered by Zakaria’s impertinence at mildly questioning the logic of the Trump plan, Kushner let rip.

He called the Palestinian Authority a “police state” and one that is “not exactly a thriving democracy”. It would be impossible, he added, for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians until the Palestinians, not Israel’s occupying army, changed its ways. It was time for the Palestinians to prioritise human rights and democracy, while at the same time submitting completely to Israel’s belligerent, half-century occupation that violates their rights and undermines any claims Israel might have to being a democracy.

Kushner said:

If they [the Palestinians] don’t think that they can uphold these standards, then I don’t think we can get Israel to take the risk to recognize them as a state, to allow them to take control of themselves, because the only thing more dangerous than what we have now is a failed state.

Let’s take a moment to unpack that short statement to examine its many conceptual confusions.

First, there’s the very obvious point that “police states” and dictatorships are not “failed states”. Not by a long shot. In fact, police states and dictatorships are usually the very opposite of failed states. Iraq was an extremely able state under Saddam Hussein, in terms both of its ability to provide welfare and educational services and of its ruthless, brutal efficiency in crushing dissent.

Iraq only became a failed state when the US illegally invaded and executed Saddam, leaving a local leadership vacuum that sucked in an array of competing actors who quickly made Iraq ungovernable.

Oppressive by design

Second, as should hardly need pointing out, the PA can’t be a police state when it isn’t even a state. After all, that’s where the Palestinians are trying to get to, and Israel and the US are blocking the way. It is obviously something else. What that “something else” is brings us to the third point.

Kushner is right that the PA is increasingly authoritarian and uses its security forces in oppressive ways – because that’s exactly what it was set up to do by Israel and the US.

Palestinians had assumed that the Oslo accords of the mid-1990s would lead to the creation of a sovereign state at the completion of that five-year peace process. But that never happened. Denied statehood ever since, the PA now amounts to nothing more than a security contractor for the Israelis. Its unspoken job is to make the Palestinian people submit to their permanent occupation by Israel.

The self-defeating deal contained in Oslo’s “land for peace” formula was this: the PA would build Israeli trust by crushing all resistance to the occupation, and in return Israel would agree to hand over more territory and security powers to the PA.

Bound by its legal obligations, the PA had two possible paths ahead of it: either it would become a state under Israeli licence, or it would serve as a Vichy-like regime suppressing Palestinian aspirations for national liberation. Once the US and Israel made clear they would deny the Palestinians statehood at every turn, the PA’s fate was sealed.

Put another way, the point of Oslo from the point of view of the US and Israel was to make the PA an efficient, permanent police state-in-waiting, and one that lacked the tools to threaten Israel.

And that’s exactly what was engineered. Israel refused to let the Palestinians have a proper army in case, bidding to gain statehood, that army turned its firepower on Israel. Instead a US army general, Keith Dayton, was appointed to oversee the training of the Palestinian police forces – to help the PA better repress those Palestinians who tried to exercise their right in international law to resist Israel’s belligerent occupation.

Presumably, it is a sign of that US programme’s success that Kushner can now describe the PA as a police state.

Freudian slip

In his CNN interview, Kushner inadvertently highlighted the Catch-22 created for the Palestinians. The Trump “peace” process penalises the Palestinian leadership for their very success in achieving the targets laid out for them in the Oslo “peace” process.

Resist Israel’s efforts to deprive the Palestinians of statehood and the PA is classified as a terrorist entity and denied statehood. Submit to Israel’s dictates and oppress the Palestinian people to prevent them demanding statehood and the PA is classified as a police state and denied statehood. Either way, statehood is unattainable. Heads I win, tails you lose.

Kushner’s use of the term “failed state” is revealing too, in a Freudian slip kind of way. Israel doesn’t just want to steal some Palestinian land before it creates a small, impotent Palestinian state. Ultimately, what Israel envisions for the Palestinians is no statehood at all, not even of the compromised, collaborationist kind currently embodied by the PA.

An unabashed partisan

Kushner, however, has done us a favour inadvertently. He has given away the nature of the US bait-and-switch game towards the Palestinians. Unlike Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk and Aaron David Miller – previous American Jewish diplomats overseeing US “peace efforts” – Kushner is not pretending to be an “honest broker”. He is transparently, unabashedly partisan.

In an earlier CNN interview, one last week with Christiane Amanpour, Kushner showed just how personal is his antipathy towards the Palestinians and their efforts to achieve even the most minimal kind of statehood in a tiny fraction of their historic homeland.

He sounded more like a jilted lover, or an irate spouse forced into couples therapy, than a diplomat in charge of a complex and incendiary peace process. He struggled to contain his bitterness as he extemporised a well-worn but demonstrably false Israeli talking-point that the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.

He told Amanpour: “They’re going to screw up another opportunity, like they’ve screwed up every other opportunity that they’ve ever had in their existence.”

The reality is that Kushner, like the real author of the Trump plan, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would prefer that the Palestinians had never existed. He would rather this endless peace charade could be discarded, freeing him to get on with enriching himself with his Saudi pals.

And if the Trump plan can be made to work, he and Netanyahu might finally get their way.

The Assange Extradition Case Drags on

It is being increasingly larded with heavy twists and turns, a form of state oppression in slow motion, but the Julian Assange extradition case now looks like it may well move into the middle of the year, dragged out, ironically enough, by the prosecution. Curiously, this is a point that both the prosecutors, fronted by the US imperium, and the WikiLeaks defence team, seem to have found some inadvertent agreement with. This is the biggest case of its kind, and will determine, for an era, how journalism and the publication of nationally classified information is treated. Neither wish to misstep in this regard.

The last procedural hearing ahead of the full extradition trial of Assange over 17 counts of espionage and one of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion was trained on the issue of logistics. The prosecutors seemed to be bellyaching in their discontent, lamenting matters of availability for their staff. One striking example concerned the US government’s chief barrister, James Lewis, who would be taken up with a trial in Northern Ireland of “a great deal of substance and importance.” This would make him unavailable for up to three months after the commencement of the extradition case.

Clair Dobbin, representing the US, was the first to make an application that the substantive hearing be split. Various legal rulings, she argued, would have to be made subsequent to the full February proceedings, including the ticklish issue of whether certain witnesses were to remain anonymous or not. WikiLeaks wishes that they remain so; the prosecution would like that cloak removed.

Despite already furnishing the court with a meaty affidavit, Dobbin claimed that more needed to be done in responding to the defence evidence. (Good of them to give a sense of formality that they are doing so.) Besides all that, experts sought by the prosecution were “extremely busy practitioners and academics with very full diaries”, many still chewing over the issue of where Assange fitted in the security paradigm. This statement of itself is odd, as is so much of the entire effort against the WikiLeaks publisher.

Procedural dragging was also a matter of importance for the Assange team. Despite working with manic dedication over Christmas, the issue of access remains crippling for the defence. “We simply cannot get in as we require to see Mr Assange and to take his instruction,” argued one of Assange’s lawyers, Edward Fitzgerald. “Frankly, we require more time before calling the main body of our evidence.”

The point of journalism, and its legitimate pursuit in this nasty, brutish and rather long encounter, lies at the heart of the battle. The framing of the US indictment purports to negate journalism as a factor in the case, with the prosecutors honing in on the issue of espionage and hacking. Spies cannot be journalists, so goes the claim; espionage and publication should not be seen as comparable or even linked matters. This very claim suggests that any form of national security journalism, the sort that exposes abuses of power, is illegal.

This round of submissions merely confirmed the point, though it is one sharpened to specifically exclude foreigners. In other words, press protections enshrined by the First Amendment of the US Constitution cannot apply to non-US nationals, a daringly dangerous assertion.

As WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson crisply put it, “We have now learned from submissions and affidavits presented by the United States to the court that they do not consider foreign nationals to have a first amendment protection.” To the AAP, he surmised that the US had also “decided that they can go after journalists wherever they are residing in the world, they have universal jurisdiction, and demand extradition like they are doing by trying to get an Australian national from the UK from publishing that took place outside US borders.”

The US case also insists that, should the extradition be successful, Assange will be subject to that troubling euphemism of “special administrative measures”. Even in a bureaucratic penal system, such language entails a formal and legal disappearance of the subject.

Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi suggests with understandable gloominess that “Pandora’s box will open” if the prosecutors make their case fly in court. The extradition of an Australian or Italian journalist by the US would just as easily justify the same action by Saudi Arabia and Russia. This terrifying precedent is reiterated as a distinct possibility across the spectrum of commentary, an extra-territorial extension of US power to punish the world’s scribblers, bloggers and publishers.

The outcome of this set of stuttered proceedings seemed to irritate District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who conceded to the split, but sternly spoke of disfavour regarding any other requests for moving dates. She did relent to another case management hearing scheduled for February 19. The full extradition hearing is now set to open on February 24 at London’s Woolwich Crown Court, adjourning after one week, then continuing in May 18 with a three-week hearing. The chess pieces in this critical encounter have again been moved.

In this dark turn, a smattering of light seemed to shine through. Having been held in withering solitary confinement in the prison medical wing of Belmarsh, news came that Assange will be moved to an area with other inmates. Joseph Farrell of WikiLeaks described it as “a dramatic climbdown,” “a huge victory for Assange’s legal team and for campaigners, who have been insisting for weeks that the prison authorities end the punitive treatment of Assange.” The same could not be said about legal and medical access, both of which have been sorely lacking.

The decision to initiate the move seems to have sprung from prisoners within Belmarsh itself. The prison governor has been petitioned on no less than three occasions by a group of convicts insisting that the treatment being afforded Assange smacked of injustice. Human rights activist Craig Murray subsequently reflected on this “small victory for basic humanity – and it took criminals to teach it to the British state.”

Such victories in penal terms do tend to be mixed. Assange will hope that those inmates he keeps company remain sympathetic to his cause. The new quarters will house some 40 of them, and the risks to his being remain. Even in prison, Assange’s case and plight never ceases to astonish.

Bit by bit Israel aims to squeeze out the Palestinian Christians

Gaza’s minuscule community of Christians will spend this Christmas feeling even more under siege than normal. The Israeli military authorities have denied the vast majority of the enclave’s 1,100 Christians a permit to exit the Palestinian territory for the holiday season.

Unlike previous years, none will be allowed to join relatives in Bethlehem, Jerusalem or Nazareth, or visit their holy places in the West Bank and Israeli cities. Alongside the enclave’s nearly two million Muslims, they will be forced to celebrate Christmas in what is dubbed by locals as “the world’s largest open-air prison”.

Israel has issued 100 permits for travel abroad, via Jordan, but even those are mostly useless because only one or two members of each family have been approved. No parent is likely to choose to enjoy Christmas away from their children.

As ever, Israeli authorities have justified their decision on security grounds. But no one really believes this tiny, vulnerable minority poses any kind of threat to Israel’s giant military and intelligence-gathering machine.

For decades Israel has pointed to the steady decline of the Palestinian Christian community as proof of a supposed clash of civilisations in which it is on the right side. The gradual exodus of Christians, it argues, is evidence of the oppression they suffer at the hands of the Palestinians’ Muslim majority. Claiming to represent Judeo-Christian values, Israel supposedly stands as their sole protector.

In fact, the fall in Palestinian Christian numbers relates chiefly to other factors.

A lower fertility rate than Muslims means Christians have been shrinking as a proportion of the overall population. More significantly, however, Christians have been fleeing oppression – not by Muslims, but by Israel.

That began with the country’s creation in 1948 and the events Palestinians call their Nakba, or Catastrophe. Christians, who lived historically in Palestine’s main cities, were among the first targets of the new Israeli army’s ethnic cleansing operations.

Since then, those in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza have sought to escape from decades of occupation, while those belonging to a Palestinian minority living as citizens in Israel have tried to break free from the institutionalised discrimination they face in a self-declared Jewish state.

Christians have enjoyed greater success than Muslims in bolting the region because of their historic connections to international churches. The legacy of missionary activity – church-founded schools and hospitals in the region – have offered a gateway to the West and a new life.

The current treatment of Gaza’s Christians hints at the lie in Israel’s claim that it protects Christians. It has denied them permits for two reasons unrelated to security.

First, in violation of its commitments under the Oslo accords, it has been reinforcing the complete physical separation of the West Bank and Gaza.

The Christians of Gaza, with family ties to Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel, are a reminder that all belong to the same Palestinian people, forcibly dispersed by Israel 71 years ago and then imprisoned in different ghettos. Rather than view Gaza and the West Bank as two territories integral to an emerging Palestinian state, Israel has been carefully fashioning a narrative of division that dominates in the West.

Gaza is presented as an abhorrent, Islamic terrorist entity on Israel’s doorstep, which would exterminate its Jewish neighbours given half the chance. The occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, meanwhile, have been depicted as the epicentre of the Jewish people’s national revival.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the settler-right are gripped by a fear that their chauvinist, exclusivist approach might be subverted by a Christian counter-narrative. That is, in part, why the West Bank’s Christians and holy sites in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem are as besieged – by concrete walls – as Gaza’s own Christians.

Far from respecting and nurturing Palestinian Christians, Israel has treated them as a grave threat to its self-serving, contorted narrative of a clash of civilisations.

Second, the blanket denial of permits is a reaction to previous years in which a proportion of Christians failed to return to Gaza at the end of the holiday break. They disappeared into the West Bank cities, given shelter by relatives. From there, some left for a new life in the US, Latin America or Europe.

In other words, Christians have taken advantage of the chance to escape Gaza for the West Bank, where Israel’s chokehold is a little looser and its military footprint a little less menacing and lethal.

The family members denied permits this year are being held ransom, an insurance policy ensuring that those few allowed out return.

The reasons why Gaza’s Christians would want to flee are manifold. Like their Muslims neighbours, most are desperate to find release from a blockade entering its 14th year.

We are only days away from the year 2020, which the United Nations warned several years ago would mark the moment when Gaza would become “uninhabitable” – were Israel not to change course.

That prediction was not wrong. Unemployment and poverty are rife; schools overcrowded to bursting point; hospitals lack medicines and their equipment is failing; power supplies are intermittent; rivers of sewage bubble up into the streets after heavy winter rains; and drinking water is so polluted as to be dangerous to human health.

Infrastructure and many homes are in ruins or crumbling after waves of Israeli military attacks.

For Gaza’s unemployed young, Christian and Muslim alike, the future looks bleaker still. Families unable to raise a dowry or build a home have little hope of persuading another family to give their daughter’s hand away. Most of the next generation are unlikely ever to be in a position to support a family of their own.

Back in 2006, an adviser to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon explained that the aim of the blockade – a policy then being formulated – was to engineer the population’s chronic starvation. “The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die,” Dov Weissglass said.

Nearly 14 years later, Gaza’s population is increasingly emaciated – physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually. It is the outcome of a policy devised by army generals and politicians to immiserate Palestinians, to inject into their lives a gnawing fear and to force them to focus exclusively on daily survival.

The decision to trap Christians in Gaza this Christmas is only a prelude to a larger, seemingly contradictory longer-term plan.

The choking blockade is designed to sap the people of the will to stay and struggle for what is theirs. Rumours in the media and elsewhere have suggested for some time that both Israel and the US ultimately want to push the Palestinians into the neighbouring Sinai peninsula, if Egypt can be arm-twisted into agreeing.

By keeping all of Gaza’s population under siege this Christmas, Israel hopes that a few Christmases hence it will receive the gift it craves most: the permanent exodus of most of the enclave’s Palestinians, to make them someone else’s problem.

• First published in The National

Rebellion is the Only Way to Stop the Ruling Elitists

Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, October 2011

Clearing the FOG cohosts, Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese, interviewed journalist and author Chris Hedges about the significant events of 2019 and what activists must prepare for in 2020 and beyond. Hedges covered uprisings and wars in the Middle East, Balkans, and Central America for twenty years as a foreign correspondent. He has studied and written books about sacrifice zones, the failures of the liberal class and the rise of the right in the United States. He shares the wisdom he has gained from his experiences watching governments fall to inform us about what to expect and how to build power. You can listen to the full interview plus current news and analysis on Clearing the FOG.

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Clearing the FOG (CtF): What were some of the events in 2019 that you thought were of importance?

Chris Hedges (CH): I would say there are two. The failure to address the climate emergency, which is seeing an acceleration of the deterioration and destruction of the ecosystem that is quite dramatic and pronounced in California and Australia, would be number one. Even if we stopped all carbon emissions today, which again the ruling elites utterly betrayed and failed us in Madrid, we’re still going to deal with catastrophic climate change. The other was the failure on the part of the Democratic Party to address the rupture of social bonds and deep social inequality that has torn apart the country and resulted in the election of Donald Trump.

At the end of the year, after the complete failure of the Mueller report, which was hyped by all sorts of media organizations, not only Rachel Maddow and MSNBC but also the New York Times, we got this kind of mind-numbing spectacle of the impeachment with that very cloying and repugnant moral posturing on the part of the Democratic Party. What they did was selective. They charged Trump not with all of the most egregious impeachable offenses and constitutional violations that he carried out, but with the most trivial. That’s contempt for Congress and the attempt to get the Ukrainian President Zelensky to open an investigation of Biden and his son in exchange for about 400 million in US aid and allowing Zelenski to visit the White House.

If the Democratic Party was committed to actually defending the Constitution, then they would have to go back and impeach Trump for a series of violations that both George W. Bush and Barack Obama routinely committed. They don’t want to do that. So when I hear them talking about the restoration of the rule of law and see that they ignored the most serious Constitutional violations, which have now been normalized by both parties, it’s an example of at best self-delusion and probably very cynical manipulation.

I can run through a few. Bush launches two illegal wars that are never declared by Congress as demanded by the Constitution. He places the entire US public under government surveillance that’s violating the Fourth Amendment. He authorizes torture and kidnapping of foreign nationals who are not even US citizens and holds them where they’re tortured in black sites and offshore penal colonies around the world. Obama expands the illegal wars, which are now up to 11 if we count Yemen. Edward Snowden reveals that intelligence agencies are monitoring and spying on all of us, downloading all of our data and metrics into government computers where they’re stored for in perpetuity and nothing is done. Obama misuses the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force act to erase due process. That’s when he argues that the executive branch has the right to assassinate US citizens starting with a radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki and two weeks later his 16-year-old son, in essence, serving as judge, jury, and executioner. And then, of course, he signs into law section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which overturns the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act that prohibits the use of the military as a domestic police force. I sued him in federal court over that. And then there are other again bipartisan constitutional violations, including violating treaty clauses that are supposed to be ratified by the Senate, violating the appointments clause where you need Senate confirmation and the routine abuse of executive orders.

Watching the impeachment process was a very depressing spectacle for me because it was about the pretense of the rule of law. It again exposed the fact that the Democratic Party will refuse to be self-reflective and refuse to confront its complicity in neoliberalism, deindustrialization, programs of austerity, massive expansion of our prison system and militarizing of our police. It tries to personalize all of our problems in the figure of Trump.

CtF: You have written that the right-wing has picked up revolutionary rhetoric because people in the United States and around the world see the corruption of the elites. Now with these right-wing, fascists rising, do you see any possibility of the Left being able to pick up that need for a revolutionary vision and plan?

CH: Well, I do see the need but I don’t see it happening. I think that is driven by fear. Especially at every presidential election cycle, the Left, the liberal class just crumbles.

The attraction of Trump is that he rightly attacks the Deep State, which is real. But what is the Deep State? The Deep State is the generals, the war industry, the bankers, the lobbyists, the corporatists, the intelligence agencies, the government bureaucrats and the technocrats who actually run both domestic and international policy. The fact is we don’t control our own economy. It’s controlled by Goldman Sachs and Citibank and JP Morgan Chase.

The Washington Post when it released the Afghanistan Papers recently, the roughly more than 2,000 pages of internal government documents about the war in Afghanistan, which they obtained through a three-year legal battle, exposed exactly the bipartisan lies, fraud, deceit, corruption, waste and mismanagement during the 18-year conflict that was carried out by the ruling elites, by the Deep State, the Deep state that so many Trump supporters have been betrayed by and turned on with a vengeance. Trump’s attraction is that he calls them out often in very vulgar and crude terms.

The Democratic Party in pushing Biden, because he’s been anointed by the Democratic Party donor class, is seeking to perpetuate a system that at least half or more of the country wants to get rid of. And the Left has not embraced or understood that the whole ideology of the ruling elite – neoliberalism and imperialism – just doesn’t resonate anymore. They’re bound to this ideology because the people funding the party recognize quite correctly that if they don’t have that kind of corporate money and corporate backing, they will lose power. And so they’d rather take the whole system down, which is what they’re doing.

This is the problem of the Left. It has misread power. I’m a strong supporter of Extinction Rebellion because I think they’ve correctly read power. We can go back for the last four decades, carbon admissions have exponentially risen. All of the attempts to work within the system, this is 350.org and others, have been an utter and complete failure. And the Left, partly because we were so knocked off balance over the last few decades, our organizations were either co-opted or destroyed, is just not willing to face this reality.

CtF: Putting aside the Democratic Party, how do you see the potential for the Left movement awakening to anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist thinking?

CH: I don’t know that the Left is organized. I don’t know that it has yet offered a strong alternative vision to the mainstream. I think it’s often divided by identity politics without grasping that the fundamental issue is class. This is class warfare and as Warren Buffett has correctly said, his side is winning.

We also have to make it clear that they have not only marginalized us but cut down the spaces by which we can communicate. That’s why I’m on RT. What I do on RT should be on a functioning public broadcasting system, but the public broadcasting system, in particular PBS, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Koch brothers.

If you go back to the 70s, you could see Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Angela Davis, and all sorts of people who were not beholden to institutions or to corporations offering a critique of power. The last national show that we had that critiqued power is Bill Moyers’ show, which is now off the air and in the end, was funded through a private foundation.

All of those sentiments are on the rise, but it is yet to be translated into a political movement. And if there are uprisings without that kind of vision and focus, then the ruling elites can easily decapitate them.

CtF: You worked with us back when we were organizing the occupation in Washington DC throughout 2011 and that was a time of a lot of uprisings around the world. The Occupy Movement really took off in the United States. Now we’re seeing a rise again around the world against corruption and neoliberal capitalism. Do you think that has the potential to come back to the United States in another wave and what do we need to do to be prepared for that if it does?

CH: I covered uprisings for 20 years as a foreign correspondent all around the globe, the Palestinian uprisings, most of the revolutions in Eastern Europe, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and the street demonstrations that brought down Slobodan Milosevic. What’s fascinating is that what ignites it, no one can predict. Even purported leaders of the opposition don’t know what pushes people over the edge, which is usually something very relatively in and of itself minor and even banal.

Neoliberalism or global capitalism is a global phenomenon. It has affected people in the same way.  One of the things we don’t hear about the protests in Hong Kong is that especially the young are without work and social inequality is very pronounced. I think that economic tyranny lies at the root of the uprisings that we’ve seen not only in Hong Kong, but in India, Chile, and France, and in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon. But it also lies at the root of the rise of these right-wing demagogues as we just saw in Britain with Boris Johnson, Narendra Modi in India, and Trump in the United States.

And so, yes, I think that we’re not immune to this kind of social unrest and this kind of upheaval, especially as the forces that created it have no regulation and no restraint – student debt, personal debt, national debt. We’re about to watch the Republican Party again take an axe and slash social services and food stamps. These corporatists know only one word and that’s more and they won’t stop until there’s blowback. The problem is that if that blowback is just kind of a release in the streets of anger and frustration and rage, all legitimate, without an alternative vision and without alternative structures to begin to challenge power, then it can be crushed.

CtF: When we were involved in Occupy, it was a different phase of the movement’s development. Occupy was an eruption of anger, the 99% versus the 1%. Since Occupy, there has been a lot of work done by various groups on new economy ideas, whether it’s participatory budgeting or worker-owned businesses, cooperatives or public banks. California is the first state to do a public bank since North Dakota in 1919-20. We’re seeing some movement toward the beginning I think of a vision that you’re describing and I think that’s a potential positive.

The other thing that’s a challenge in the United States is the electoral system because right now so many activists are getting pulled into the 2020 election particularly through the Sanders campaign and a little bit through the Warren campaign and somewhat in the Green efforts, but those are so squashed in the United States that they are hardly visible. We see the election system as a kind of a mirage democracy. It’s molded, manipulated and in the end, never quenches people’s needs.

Sanders is interesting because if he loses because of a Democratic primary violation, that could create an eruption itself. If he wins, then you have someone in office you can actually push to try to get things done. That may cause an eruption. Can the Sanders campaign have that kind of an impact?

CH: I think you could make a strong case that the nomination was stolen from Sanders in 2016. People walked out of the Democratic National Convention, but it didn’t have that impact.

The New York Times has run more than one story where they are interviewing anonymous Democratic Party donors who are already organizing to make sure neither Sanders nor Warren, and I don’t trust Warren too much, get the nomination. It is the question of whether you can work from within. I have long argued that the Democratic Party is not salvageable. It’s not reformable. It is not in any sense a real political party in that the base has any real say.

Maybe the Sanders campaign will prove me wrong. I hope they do prove me wrong, but I don’t think so. And if Sanders did get the nomination, these rich donors who find Trump an embarrassment and repugnant and vulgar and inept have made it clear they will support Trump.

If Sanders had won in 2016, we would have had complete paralysis because Sanders would have never had the base within either the Republican or the Democratic Party to push through the kinds of reforms he says he wants to institute. I just don’t think at this point our system of what Sheldon Wolin called “inverted totalitarianism” is reformable or salvageable. Nor do I think that electoral politics are going to bring about the kinds of radical reforms, especially in terms of our addiction to fossil fuels, that are urgently needed.

CtF: What’s happening in Chile is really interesting because it is stronger than what anyone predicted. Piñera just announced that in April he will put forward discussions and planning to talk about developing a new constitution, which is one of the major demands of the protesters. What are your thoughts on what’s happening down there?

CH: The examples of Chile, Hong Kong, and Lebanon are important because these people have taken to the streets to put pressure on the ruling elites, which is what we have to do. That Constitution was written as soon as Pinochet took power by the so-called Chicago School, the global corporatist and neo-liberal, Milton Friedman-type economists on behalf of the world’s ruling elites. And the hands of any Chilean government have been effectively tied because of that Constitution.

There’s nothing at this point that has proved to be an impediment to the further concentration of wealth in the hands of this global oligarchic elite. Eight families now hold as much wealth as 50 percent of the world’s population. We’re certainly seeing during the Trump administration an acceleration of the demolition of government controls and regulations, the further privatizing of public lands, and public services, the assault on labor unions, the ability of global speculators to use trillions of dollars lent to them of government money at virtually zero percent interest to do things like buy back their own stock to swell their own compensation packages.

The corporations are back to doing exactly what they were doing before 2008 with structured asset destruction through inflation, stripping assets through mergers and acquisitions and raising levels of debt incumbency, which has created this huge debt peonage on the public. Jamie Dimon has been indicted along with JPMorgan Chase more than any other bank in American history for this kind of fraud. I mean really sleazy stuff like having veterans sign mortgage loans and then jacking those loans up to amounts that they can’t pay.

We’ve created another bubble. The Ponzi schemes are back in business. In addition to creating income inequality and monopoly power, that is going to create another financial collapse. When it comes, I don’t know what will trigger it, but it’s not a sustainable system and what will happen then? Will they go back and demand more money, trillions of dollars from the US Treasury? How will people react?

Certainly, people will react with a kind of outrage and anger. But we’re headed for an extremely difficult period especially because they have stripped us of all of our rights: privacy, due process, habeas corpus. And now under Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, they can deploy the military into the streets. And they’ll use everything within their power. They will not shrink from using coercion and force to maintain control. And it could get pretty ugly. I mean, we have a thousand of our citizens right now who are shot dead by police, almost all of them unarmed, almost all poor people of color in American cities. That’s one every eight hours.

CtF: One of the challenges on the Left is understanding what’s happening around the world. The United States is getting more aggressive and somewhat more sophisticated in its regime-change campaigns. There are so many reasons for people in Hong Kong to protest. It’s a neoliberal capitalist paradise where there’s almost no enforcement of business or finance crimes and people have a very wide wealth divide and inequality, expensive housing, and low paying jobs with no future. It’s just a really hard situation for the vast majority of people in Hong Kong so it’s understandable that it’s a big uprising.

Then it’s interesting to see the National Endowment for Democracy’s role in Hong Kong. They are spending more than a million dollars a year. They have been funding anti-China movements in Hong Kong since before the turnover of Hong Kong to China. These Hong Kong protests are turning into “Trump save us” or anti-China stuff, singing the Star-Spangled Banner or putting up the UK flag in the legislature, saying “bring us back to colonialism.” This is really the US targeting China.

CH: Right, but it was Lord Salisbury who said there are no permanent allies, there’s only permanent power. So if you look at the whole human rights drive going back to Charter 77 founded by Václav Havel in Czechoslovakia, he was a non-person within Czechoslovakia. The only way you could hear Václav Havel’s voice was over Voice of America. I knew Havel and Havel was not a supporter of US imperialism. He was a socialist.

In repressive situations, we’ll often make alliances. All the points you make are true. I’m not arguing them. But the idea that any resistance movement is somehow untainted is wrong. In the whole Cold War, the Soviet Union, which you know had a very deeply repressive, anti-democratic system, backed revolutionary socialist governments, such as the Cuban government, which I would support. In terms of foreign affairs, there often are contradictions, moral contradictions as you correctly pointed out, but I don’t think that invalidates the uprisings themselves.

CtF: The 2020s are going to be a time when major crises are culminating, the climate crisis, economic crisis, militarism, and repression. What would be your advice to activists to where they should put their focus or things that they should be preparing for?

CH: Well, I think Extinction Rebellion, which is this radical climate group that just organized thousands of people to shut down city centers in about 60 cities around the globe has got it. It’s nonviolent occupation of bridges and roads and roundabouts to paralyze commerce and to begin to force the ruling elites to respond to the climate emergency. Extinction Rebellion is quite clear that they’re not interested in reform. They’re interested in rebellion. They are interested in removing the ruling elites from power. They will do that by breaking the law and by going to jail. Over a thousand people were arrested in London.

That’s where we really have to go. We have to use our numbers to paralyze the system. That’s the only hope that we have. And I think that’s what we have been seeing in countries like Lebanon, Chile, and Hong Kong. I think, especially if we talk about the climate emergency alone, that is the only mechanism left to save us.

CtF: Thank you, Chris. You can read Chris on Truthdig and watch him on RT.

Anglophone vs Francophone in Cameroon

On an ugliness scale of one to ten, if the U.S. Guantanamo prison is 7, the French military in Algeria 8, Pinochet’s controls of Chile 9, and the Inquisition 10, the severity, scale and number of Cameroon military human rights violations is possibly 4 and a half. Still, is the suffering of any victim ever forgotten.

The Republic of Cameroon continues to endure a low intensity conflict with its English minority. After Anglophone attorneys struck for better legal and civil rights in 2016 and were joined by teachers and students, there were arrests and some expectable government-initiated violence. The movement rekindled historical grievances and spread. In Anglophone regions armed militia began attacking government facilities and closing schools, kidnapping uncooperative teachers and students while the government military responded as militaries do. There are alleged war crimes by both sides.

English and French are languages imposed by colonial rule and an addition to the peoples’ tribal languages and vernacular pidgeon. The conflict of “English” and “French” concerns who controls the money, jobs, schools, laws. To some degree it is a conflict between power elites. It’s certainly of no help at all to the half a million Anglophones who have fled from their homes and are internally displaced. This is not a freedom struggle.

With the world public aware of the military’s human rights violations Cameroon’s President Biya (democratically elected by a substantial majority), was persuaded to negotiate with the Anglophone leaders. Anglophone militant leaders finding support outside the country speak with an authority that exceeds the power and numbers of their constituencies. An Anglophone secessionist state of “Ambazonia” has been declared on the border of Nigeria and includes Cameroon’s only oil refinery which is currently inoperable. The local militias do not want “their” oil sold by the state. Ambazonia’s militias and enforcers, the “Amba boys” are generally feared. A diverse rebel military is at war with Cameroon’s military.

Ambazonia is also likely to include the Bakassi peninsula oilfields, a resource rich section of coast abutting Nigeria assigned to Cameroon by the International Court of Justice in 2002 and with its own history of attempted secession (“The Republic of Bakassi”). The Peninsula had its own armed resistance movements. Negotiations between Nigeria and Cameroon were able to avoid war in 2006. The Peninsula’s Anglophone fishing people remain Nigerians but under the caretaking of Cameroon. Cameroon’s exploration and development of the Bakassi oilfields relied on the use of the country’s only oil refinery (Cameroon is the 12th largest African oil producer, Nigeria the first) it is quite possible that the current struggle for Anglophone rights has more to do with international oil interests than Cameroon’s languages.

President Biya’s efforts to appease the Anglophone cause include freeing many political prisoners as well as a willingness to negotiate anything but the breakup of the country. He has encouraged negotiations in preference to using military force. But the twenty percent Anglophone minority leadership is increasingly intransigent. Militant Anglophone forces have refused to negotiate without additional conditions, the freeing of leading political prisoners and withdrawal of Cameroon’s military forces from their regions. Now the government has passed legislation assigning the two predominantly Anglophone regions of the country “special status,” addressing issues of the judicial and educational systems raised by the strike, placing these and control of the regions’ cultural life in Anglophone hands. Anglophone militant leadership rejects the new plans saying it wants nothing less than full independence as initially represented by the declared state of “Ambazonia.” This would grant it control of and profit from sale of oil. This position makes negotiations difficult and is only tenable with foreign country support.

To the far North the Cameroon military tries to improve its response time as villages are attacked by Boko Haram raiders, from Nigeria usually. Following the killing of New Testament translator Angus Fung in Wum last September, Benjamin Tem was killed in his home October 20. Both were involved in the project of translating the New Testament into the northern Cameroon language of Aghem.1 In December by the 17th, Boko Haram killed seven Camerounais Christians and took twenty-one boys and girls age 12 to 21 prisoner.2 Last November 6, Boko Haram attacked a Christian church in Moskota killing a former pastor and a deaf child. Others escaped as the church was destroyed. Much of the village was burned after its food supplies were removed. The motive for the Boko Haram attacks is guessed to be part of a program to eliminate Christians and so move the region toward the rebirth of the Sokoto Caliphate which the British destroyed some centuries ago.3 Boko Haram is also attacking Christians in neighboring Nigeria and Chad.

Christians in the region are under a threat of genocide which NGO reports on human rights violations in Cameroon strangely but consistently ignore. Fortunately the government is making some effort to protect Christian villages. And there is a U.N. presence. Despite Anglophone leadership’s orders to close schools, UNICEF reports that school attendance for students in the Northwest and Southwest (Anglophone) regions increased from 4% last September to a current 38.49%, while teachers working rose from 2% to 30%.4

The gears of very large machinery are turning but risk crushing the lives of the Anglophone community.

To remember accounts of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, General Romeo Dallaire would write of the “third force” moving among the catastrophic events. There are accounts of militia away from the cities, young men with new cellphones, modern communications and functioning cellphone services.

Several other things seem strange or out of place here. The Anglophone diaspora’s representatives are well connected. With exception the wealthy and privileged are allowed to become the diaspora while a low income and oppressed population stays at home or joins the half a million current refugees in Cameroon.

The human rights atrocities of the Eastern Congo took many years to be noticed by the world public while millions died. In Cameroon alleged human rights violations have been raised repeatedly with a death toll of three thousand since the attorney strike of 2016. The U.S. cut military aid to Cameroon’s armed forces due to reports of human rights abuses. This may have simply been an excuse as part of the professed U.S. policy change to withdraw troops throughout the continent. Some Anglophones attempt to blame government forces for the destruction of government built hospitals and schools. In poor communities people are not likely to burn their own hospitals, or schools, or community centers. These policies are made by the elite. Anglophone leadership has forbidden state education to proceed and so closed down regional schools damaging a generation of Anglophone youth. Any teachers and students standing for their right to education are endangered.

When a government hospital serving an Anglophone region is burned down, the report goes into a file collected by a University of Toronto’s “Database of Atrocities on Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis,” as in the instance of the burning of Muyuka District Hospital at the end of March5: the event is verified by the database which avoids assessing responsibility for this attack. The report’s material unrealistically accuses the “terrorist Republic of Cameroun military.” Reports of atrocities are submitted anonymously. Toronto teams in this effort with a variety of English, U.S. and former Commonwealth universities. Not one of them is Francophone.

This kind of information collection is usually the domain of the United Nations. It is unclear just who will control or censor the data collected by the University of Toronto. The public will have access to news reports from global media sources such as Deutsch Welle and Voice of America. For instance, currently the Separatists are kidnapping election candidates for government positions in Anglophone areas.6 Neither corporate media nor NGOs point out that there is no indication at all of consensus or democracy in the management of the Anglophone policies.

An important information source for troubles in Cameroon is the International Crisis Group,7 providing verifiable information with good depth, continuity and minimal slanting, except in the areas it neglects, such as tribal identifications or factors of income. Its faults as an information source reflect the wealth of its donors (such as Canada, France, the Henry Luce Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund etc.), and lack of noticeable African representation.

In a previous essay,8 I’ve noted the extensive joint report of Canada’s Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa & Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.9 The report discusses the crisis in Cameroon as if unaware of the country’s war with ISIS and the government’s attempts to protect the Christian villagers from slaughters by foreign forces. The report provides a source for the International Crisis Group as well as Lawyers Rights Watch Canada which I’ve resigned from to maintain impartiality. The CHRDA founder, an attorney among those initiating the Cameroon Anglophone lawyers strike of 2016 which precipitated the current struggle for Anglophone Independence in Cameroon, spoke for Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, in General Debate at the UN Human Rights Council, September 13, 2019.

I find LRWC’s recent “Cameroon: Open Letter to President Macron about Human Rights Abuses in Cameroon” unwise in attributing to France the power to arrange Cameroon’s submission to Swiss-led talks. It denigrates African independence and is a disingenuous request since objections to any serious negotiations rest with the Anglophone leaders. A line — “We trust that France does not want to be complicit in another genocide in Africa after Rwanda” — is ominous. The letter is signed by fifty primarily Anglophone experts on genocide and human rights, and NGOs, of various stature and weight including Lawyers Rights Watch Canada.

The difference of language is being used to remind groups of their difference, to insist on their difference, to occasion casualties and destruction of the social fabric, for more casualties, and I worry for the survival of the Anglophone community in Cameroon.

With a thought to history, in the 1961 UN administered plebiscite of British Cameroons the south voted to join what is now the Republic of Cameroon. The north which was heavily Muslim, voted to join Nigeria. Some attributed the vote in the south to the people’s difficulties in getting along with the Igbo peoples who lived on the Nigerian side of the border. In the late Sixties, the forced or contrived secession from Nigeria of the Igbo state of Biafra was attempted, right across the border from the Anglophones’ current creation of “Ambazonia.” Biafra’s formation and secession as an independent state led to the deaths of possibly two million Biafrans by the extremes of starvation. The British as primary supporters of the victorious Nigerian government were vulnerable to charges of genocide. France’s interests generally supported Biafra. I think the Anglophone minority in Cameroon is much too small a minority to risk such adamant stands — without substantial foreign support. So this attempt at secession should be looked at very carefully. If you consider what the ‘game plan’ of the major powers is with yet another resource-rich sliver of Africa, and what the independence of an Anglophone region could mean for the lives of its people, the amount of pure hatred for Africans is astounding.

A genocide warning continues then for the Anglophone population of Cameroon. Their adversary isn’t necessarily the Francophone government but rather a consensus of non-African states, corporations, individuals, motivated by greed or the arrogance of technological superiority (perhaps these have become the same), who have openly and covertly managed country after African country into the abyss of insecurity, conflict, loss of life, to be followed by corporate pillage.

  1. “Second Bible Translator Killed in Northern Cameroon,” October 24, 2019, Persecution.
  2. “Boko Haram Targets Cameroonian Christians,” Decmber 17, 2019, Persecution.
  3. Retired Pioneer Pastor and Others Killed in Latest Boko Haram Attacks,” November 16, 2019, Persecution.
  4. “UNICEF Cameroon Humanitarian Situation Report, November 2019,” UN Childrens Fund, reliefweb.
  5. Breaking News-Muyuka Hospital Burnt Down by LRC Thugs after that of Kumba,” YouTube: Top10News, March 30/31, 2019, Open Source Investigations Lab, Human Rights Center, UC Berkeley School of Law; “Universities to track atrocities in Anglophone Cameroon,” December 11, 2019, DW; “A Household Name in Cameroon,” April 24, 2019, International Crisis Group.
  6. “Cameroon: Separatists Kidnap Candidates to Protest Election,” Moki Edwin Kindzeka, December 17, 2019, VOA.
  7. “A Household Name in Cameroon,” April 24, 2019, International Crisis Group.
  8. Genocide Warnings for Three African States,” J.B.Gerald, September 17, 2019, nightslantern.ca.
  9. “Cameroon’s Unfolding Catastrophe, Evidence of Human Rights Violations and Crimes against Humanity,” June 3, 2019, Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa & Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

“Elected by Donors”: The University of Cape Town Fails Palestine, Embraces Israel

It was a scandal of the highest caliber. On November 23, the Senate of the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa was practically bullied to reverse an earlier decision that called for the academic boycott of Israel. While the story may seem relevant in South Africa’s political and academic contexts, in reality, it exemplifies the nature of a brewing war between supporters of Palestinian rights and Israeli interests, worldwide.

In fact, the UCT scandal began much earlier.

Calls for South African universities to join the academic boycott of apartheid Israel were first answered by the University of Johannesburg on September 29, 2010. Decisive action taken by the Faculty Senate at the university sent a clear message to Israel’s academic institutions that South African academics would no longer accommodate Israeli crimes, including the crime of apartheid, in the name of scientific cooperation or “academic freedom”.

The severing of ties between the University of Johannesburg and Israel’s Ben Gurion University sounded the alarm among Israel’s supporters in South Africa, under the leadership of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), which fanned out throughout the country warning of the supposed rise of anti-Semitism.

However, the successful campaign in Johannesburg inspired other student groups across the country to carry on with their mission of holding the Israeli state accountable for its racism, apartheid and military occupation. In August 2012, the Student Representative Council at the University of Witwatersrand adopted a resolution that called for a full academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

Support for Palestine continued. In response to the deadly Israeli war on Gaza in the summer of 2014, more than 300 members of Rhodes University in Grahamstown, including the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Sizwe Maisel, condemned Israeli violence targeting the besieged Strip.

In August 2014, the University of Cape Town’s Student Representative Council (UCT SRC) began its campaign aimed at cutting ties between UCT and Israel in response to a memorandum introduced by the Palestine Solidarity Forum (PSF). The students had courageously and “unconditionally” declared Israel an apartheid state, calling for the boycott of Israeli products, and demanding the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador to the country.

UCT students have so much to be proud of, as their efforts, combined with a massive grassroots movement throughout South Africa, did, in fact, push the government to rethink its ties with Israel. In May 2018, Pretoria recalled its ambassador to Israel to protest the Israeli army killing of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza.

The UCT student efforts began paying dividends on March 15, 2019, when the University Senate passed a resolution that called on the university not to engage with any Israeli academic institutions, whether those operating within the occupied Palestinian territories or any others that contribute to Israel’s gross human rights violations in Palestine.

Considering the importance of UCT as Africa’s top academic institution, and the democratic nature of its Senate, which includes 363 representatives, the pro-Palestine resolution was too much for Israel’s supporters to bear.

On March 19, the SAJBD and the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) called on the UCT’S Council to reject the resolution. At the time, an influential SAJBD member told the right-wing Israeli newspaper, the Jerusalem Post, that the Senate had “shamefully caved in to pressure from radical anti-Israel lobby groups”.

Wary of outside pressures, yet careful not to lose all credibility within the Senate, the 30-member UCT’s Council, which includes representatives who have been “elected by donors”, attempted to exert pressure at the Senate without rejecting the resolution outright.  On March 30, the Council sent the resolution back to the Senate to “reconsider”.

Since then, a battle of wills ensued, involving, on the one hand, student groups and their supporters in the Senate and, on the other, the Council and the many pressure groups, leading among them SAJBD and SAZF.

Weighing in on the matter, 65 distinguished Jewish scholars signed a letter addressed to UCT, “to preserve (its previous) resolution and safeguard the University’s academic freedom and autonomy.”

The March resolution, the letter argued, “establishes UCT as an adherent to international law and affirms the university as a partner in the struggle for human rights in Israel/Palestine.”

The following passage highlighted the nature of the ugly opposition that the resolution had inspired, which culminated in the unfortunate decision of the Senate in November to strike down its own previous commitment:

“Over the past six months, opponents of this resolution have used backdoor fear-mongering about the withdrawal of private funding to cripple the institution thereby undermining the academic freedom of the UCT Senate members.”

Sadly, even such a candid and passionate call failed to dissuade the Council from pressuring the Senate, which led to the November 23 vote and the reversal of the March resolution.

Israel’s friends in South Africa are now gloating, welcoming the badly needed respite from Israel’s political misfortunes in the country.

While, indeed, the UCT Senate decision is a regrettable setback, it is most likely to invigorate pro-Palestine campaigners in South Africa, so that they may take the academic boycott movement to every academic institution in the country that engages with and validates human rights violators in Israel, Palestine or anywhere else in the world.

I visited South Africa for the third time in September. My speaking tour in that beautiful and ever-inspiring country has taken me to several universities, government and civil society offices, and other intellectual and community forums. Certainly, in all of my travels I have never experienced such harmony between politicians, academics, and civil society activists regarding the rights of the Palestinian people and the insistence on holding Israeli criminals to account.

The boycott of Israel, as championed by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, is hardly on the decline, as the recent decision by the US Brown University committee on corporate responsibility to divest from Israeli companies amply demonstrates.

However, it behooves the University of Cape Town to rethink its priorities and to choose between its commitment to those “elected by donors” and the democratic ideals as championed by post-Apartheid South Africa.

How can the U.S. dare lecturing China about Rights of the Muslims?

In 2019, I have written a long analysis about “the Uygur issue”; analysis which will be soon published as a book.

For some time, I have been warning the world that the West, and the United States in particular, are helping to radicalize the Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province and outside.

And not only that: I clearly mapped movement of the Uyghur radicals through some countries like Indonesia, towards Turkey, from where they are then injected into brutal war zones like Idlib in Syria. I worked in Idlib area, with the Syrian commanders, and I spoke at length with the Syrian internally displaced people; victims of the Uyghur genocidal attacks.

The majority of Uyghur people are Muslims. They have their own, ancient, specific culture and most of them are, of course, very decent human beings. Northwest China is their home.

The “problem” is that Urumqi, Xinjiang, are located on the main branch of BRI (The Belt and Road Initiative) – an extremely optimistic, internationalist project which is ready to connect billions of people on all continents. The BRI is infrastructural as well as cultural project, which will soon pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and under-development.

Washington is horrified that China is taking a lead in building a much brighter future for humanity. It is because, if China succeeds, it could be the end of Western imperialism and neo-colonialism, leading to real freedom and independence for dozens of until now suffering nations.

Therefore, Washington has decided to act, in order to preserve the status quo and its dominance over the world.

Step one: to antagonize, provoke and to smear China by all means, be it over Hong Kong, Taiwan, South China Sea or, above mentioned “Uygur Issue”.

Step two: to try to turn a part of China’s constitutionally-recognized national minority – Uyghurs – into “rebels”, or more precisely, terrorists.

Turkey, a member of NATO, offered the U.S. a helping hand. Uyghurs were flown with their families to Istanbul, with Turkish passports, through hubs in Southeast Asia. Then, their passports were confiscated in Istanbul. Many Uyghurs were recruited, trained, and then transported into war-torn Syria. Smaller group stayed in places like Indonesia, joining jihadi cadres there. When terrorist groups in Syria were almost thoroughly defeated, some Uyghurs were moved to Afghanistan, where I also used to work, and investigated.

Needless to say, Afghanistan has a short but important border with China.

Why all this complex operation? The answer is simple: NATO/Washington/West hope that the hardened, well-trained Uyghur jihadi fighters will eventually return home to Xinjiang. There, they would start to fight for “independence”, and while doing that, they would sabotage the BRI.

This way, China would be injured, and its most powerful global project (BRI) would be disrupted.

The Chinese government is, naturally, alarmed. It is clear that the West has prepared a brilliant trap: 1) If China does nothing, it will have to face an extremely dangerous terrorist threat on its own territory (remember Soviet Union being dragged into Afghanistan, and mortally injured by Western trained, financed and supported Mujahedeen? The West has long history of using Islam for its Machiavellian designs). 2) If China does something to protect itself, it will get attacked by the Western media and politicians. Precisely this is what is happening now.

Everything is ready, prepared.

On 12 September 2019, South China Morning Post, reported:

“US Senate passes Uygur Human Rights Policy Act calling for sanctions on Chinese officials over Xinjiang camps

  • Bill also urges Trump administration to prohibit export of goods and services to state agents in Chinese region where upwards of 1 million Uygurs are being held
  • Beijing describes move as a ‘gross interference in China’s internal affairs’”

Naturally, the so-called rights act to interfere in Xinjiang’s affairs is one great exercise in hypocrisy and intimidation.

Let us not forget that the United States is treating Muslim people with absolute spite. It even bans them from entering the country, if they happened to live in certain nations. It arbitrarily bombs them in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, worrying nothing about the loss of civilian lives. It tortures Muslims, and it humiliates them at home and even in their own countries.

And frankly: by trying to trigger the Uyghur insurgency in China, Washington is clearly doing a great harm to the Uyghurs themselves, and actually to all people of Northwest China. It is not just wrong; the United States is committing crime against humanity.

*****

China is a multi-national, multi-cultural country. The Muslim culture is part of PRC’s identity. I suggest anyone who doubts that to travel to Xi’an, one of three ancient capital cities of China.

Xi’an is where the old great Silk Road originated (ancient BRI, one could argue). Until now it is proud of its tremendous Muslim monuments, as well as of wonderful Muslim food and music. Every year, tens of millions of Chinese visitors travel to Xi’an, to understand its legacy, and enjoy its culture. The city is loved and appreciated, mainly because of its vibrant Muslim identity.

It is thorough nonsense that China is ‘anti-Muslim’. Both China (and Russia) are much more tolerant towards Islam than the West. Historically, and currently.

The same nonsense is to claim that China is building “concentration camps” in Xinjiang.

China’s position is clear: what the West describes as camps, are “vocational training centers” where “trainees” can learn Chinese and gain job skills to stop them becoming victims of “terrorism and religious extremism”. A group of Muslim Indonesian leaders, which gained access to these so-called ‘camps’ in Xinjiang, recently told my colleague, that people who spend some time in these institutions can actually sleep at home, at night.

Hardly a Guantanamo Bay, frankly speaking.

The self-proclaimed “judge”- the United States – has hundreds of high-security prisons, scattered all over the country. It is well known fact that throwing often innocent people to jail is big (privatized) business there, already for long decades. Millions of people are locked in for nothing. How can a country with one of the greatest number of prisoners on earth (on per capita basis) dare to preach anyone about justice? It is actually a great mystery.

*****

What is the true purpose of such acts?

The answer is easy to define: It is that the determined unwillingness of the U.S. to share influence on the world, with other, much more humanistic countries, such as China; it is its unwillingness to compete on the basis of great ideas and goodwill.

The more nihilist the U.S. foreign policy becomes, the more it accuses others of ‘murder’.

The way things function is simple: Washington creates some terrible conflict, somewhere. When the victim-country tries to resolve the conflict, and so-to speak ‘extinguish fire’, it is accused of ‘violating rights’ and gets slammed by sanctions.

All this has to stop at some point soon. This policy of Washington turns millions of human lives into agony.

• First, in shorter version, published by the China Daily

How can the U.S. dare lecturing China about Rights of the Muslims?

In 2019, I have written a long analysis about “the Uygur issue”; analysis which will be soon published as a book.

For some time, I have been warning the world that the West, and the United States in particular, are helping to radicalize the Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province and outside.

And not only that: I clearly mapped movement of the Uyghur radicals through some countries like Indonesia, towards Turkey, from where they are then injected into brutal war zones like Idlib in Syria. I worked in Idlib area, with the Syrian commanders, and I spoke at length with the Syrian internally displaced people; victims of the Uyghur genocidal attacks.

The majority of Uyghur people are Muslims. They have their own, ancient, specific culture and most of them are, of course, very decent human beings. Northwest China is their home.

The “problem” is that Urumqi, Xinjiang, are located on the main branch of BRI (The Belt and Road Initiative) – an extremely optimistic, internationalist project which is ready to connect billions of people on all continents. The BRI is infrastructural as well as cultural project, which will soon pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and under-development.

Washington is horrified that China is taking a lead in building a much brighter future for humanity. It is because, if China succeeds, it could be the end of Western imperialism and neo-colonialism, leading to real freedom and independence for dozens of until now suffering nations.

Therefore, Washington has decided to act, in order to preserve the status quo and its dominance over the world.

Step one: to antagonize, provoke and to smear China by all means, be it over Hong Kong, Taiwan, South China Sea or, above mentioned “Uygur Issue”.

Step two: to try to turn a part of China’s constitutionally-recognized national minority – Uyghurs – into “rebels”, or more precisely, terrorists.

Turkey, a member of NATO, offered the U.S. a helping hand. Uyghurs were flown with their families to Istanbul, with Turkish passports, through hubs in Southeast Asia. Then, their passports were confiscated in Istanbul. Many Uyghurs were recruited, trained, and then transported into war-torn Syria. Smaller group stayed in places like Indonesia, joining jihadi cadres there. When terrorist groups in Syria were almost thoroughly defeated, some Uyghurs were moved to Afghanistan, where I also used to work, and investigated.

Needless to say, Afghanistan has a short but important border with China.

Why all this complex operation? The answer is simple: NATO/Washington/West hope that the hardened, well-trained Uyghur jihadi fighters will eventually return home to Xinjiang. There, they would start to fight for “independence”, and while doing that, they would sabotage the BRI.

This way, China would be injured, and its most powerful global project (BRI) would be disrupted.

The Chinese government is, naturally, alarmed. It is clear that the West has prepared a brilliant trap: 1) If China does nothing, it will have to face an extremely dangerous terrorist threat on its own territory (remember Soviet Union being dragged into Afghanistan, and mortally injured by Western trained, financed and supported Mujahedeen? The West has long history of using Islam for its Machiavellian designs). 2) If China does something to protect itself, it will get attacked by the Western media and politicians. Precisely this is what is happening now.

Everything is ready, prepared.

On 12 September 2019, South China Morning Post, reported:

“US Senate passes Uygur Human Rights Policy Act calling for sanctions on Chinese officials over Xinjiang camps

  • Bill also urges Trump administration to prohibit export of goods and services to state agents in Chinese region where upwards of 1 million Uygurs are being held
  • Beijing describes move as a ‘gross interference in China’s internal affairs’”

Naturally, the so-called rights act to interfere in Xinjiang’s affairs is one great exercise in hypocrisy and intimidation.

Let us not forget that the United States is treating Muslim people with absolute spite. It even bans them from entering the country, if they happened to live in certain nations. It arbitrarily bombs them in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, worrying nothing about the loss of civilian lives. It tortures Muslims, and it humiliates them at home and even in their own countries.

And frankly: by trying to trigger the Uyghur insurgency in China, Washington is clearly doing a great harm to the Uyghurs themselves, and actually to all people of Northwest China. It is not just wrong; the United States is committing crime against humanity.

*****

China is a multi-national, multi-cultural country. The Muslim culture is part of PRC’s identity. I suggest anyone who doubts that to travel to Xi’an, one of three ancient capital cities of China.

Xi’an is where the old great Silk Road originated (ancient BRI, one could argue). Until now it is proud of its tremendous Muslim monuments, as well as of wonderful Muslim food and music. Every year, tens of millions of Chinese visitors travel to Xi’an, to understand its legacy, and enjoy its culture. The city is loved and appreciated, mainly because of its vibrant Muslim identity.

It is thorough nonsense that China is ‘anti-Muslim’. Both China (and Russia) are much more tolerant towards Islam than the West. Historically, and currently.

The same nonsense is to claim that China is building “concentration camps” in Xinjiang.

China’s position is clear: what the West describes as camps, are “vocational training centers” where “trainees” can learn Chinese and gain job skills to stop them becoming victims of “terrorism and religious extremism”. A group of Muslim Indonesian leaders, which gained access to these so-called ‘camps’ in Xinjiang, recently told my colleague, that people who spend some time in these institutions can actually sleep at home, at night.

Hardly a Guantanamo Bay, frankly speaking.

The self-proclaimed “judge”- the United States – has hundreds of high-security prisons, scattered all over the country. It is well known fact that throwing often innocent people to jail is big (privatized) business there, already for long decades. Millions of people are locked in for nothing. How can a country with one of the greatest number of prisoners on earth (on per capita basis) dare to preach anyone about justice? It is actually a great mystery.

*****

What is the true purpose of such acts?

The answer is easy to define: It is that the determined unwillingness of the U.S. to share influence on the world, with other, much more humanistic countries, such as China; it is its unwillingness to compete on the basis of great ideas and goodwill.

The more nihilist the U.S. foreign policy becomes, the more it accuses others of ‘murder’.

The way things function is simple: Washington creates some terrible conflict, somewhere. When the victim-country tries to resolve the conflict, and so-to speak ‘extinguish fire’, it is accused of ‘violating rights’ and gets slammed by sanctions.

All this has to stop at some point soon. This policy of Washington turns millions of human lives into agony.

• First, in shorter version, published by the China Daily

Hebron Plan is Israel’s Reminder to Palestinians that Settler Power knows no Limits

US President Donald Trump told thousands of Israel’s supporters at a rally in Florida at the weekend that some American Jews “don’t love Israel enough”. It is certainly troubling that a US president insists a section of his country’s citizens – the Jewish population – be required to love a foreign state. But then Trump went further, muddying the waters about what constitutes “Israel”.

Echoing remarks made last month by Mike Pompeo, his secretary of state, he described the Jewish settlements in the West Bank as legal – thereby subverting a long-established principle of international law.

US Jews – and the rest of us, it seems – are expected not only to love Israel inside its internationally recognised borders but also to love the Jewish settlements that international law designates as a war crime. Those are the same settlements eating up ever more of the territory supposed to form the basis of a Palestinian state.

When Trump, like his predecessors, told his weekend audience that the US shared an “unbreakable” bond with Israel, what exactly was the “Israel” he referred to? Both the US and Israel have implied in recent declarations and actions that a central plank of the long-delayed Trump peace plan will be Israel’s annexation of the settlements – and with them most of the West Bank.

“Loving Israel” now is meant to include abandoning any hope of Palestinian statehood and accepting that Palestinians will live permanently under an Israeli version of apartheid, with inferior rights to Jews.

The Trump administration seems keen to press ahead with the peace plan – and annexation – but is being hampered by political chaos in Israel.

Mired in corruption scandals and having staged two inconclusive elections this year, Benjamin Netanyahu, the caretaker prime minister, is unable to cobble together a coalition to keep himself in power. The impasse is not over the occupation or the settlements but about who gets to dominate the next government: far-right religious settlers led by Netanyahu or right-wing, secular former army generals?

Nonetheless, Netanyahu is behaving as if Washington has given its blessing to annexation – even without a US peace plan.

That was what Pompeo’s statement last month backing the settlements amounted to. He offered one paltry safeguard, investing responsibility for monitoring and limiting settlement expansion in Israel’s supreme court. But this is the same court that has consistently failed to block settlement growth over five decades. It now includes two judges who actually live in settlements, as well as others who sympathise politically with the settlement project.

Meanwhile, in preparation for a likely third election campaign, the interim Netanyahu government has announced a splurge of new settlement building and boosted settler budgets.

In another fillip for the settlers last month, Netanyahu appointed one of their leaders, Naftali Bennett, to the sensitive role of defence minister. Bennett lost no time in unveiling his latest settlement plan last week, selecting an incendiary spot greatly prized by the settlers: the middle of Hebron, the West Bank’s largest Palestinian city.

For decades, life for Hebron’s 230,000 Palestinians has been forced to a virtual standstill by a few hundred Jewish religious extremists who have taken over the city centre, backed by more than 1,000 Israeli soldiers. Their ultimate goal is to wrestle away the city’s Ibrahimi mosque, the reputed burial site of Abraham, father of the world’s three main monotheistic religions.

After Baruch Goldstein, a settler, shot dead and wounded some 150 Muslim worshippers in 1994, Israel rewarded the settlers twice over.

First, it segregated the mosque site, splitting it into two. Half is now the Jewish Tomb of the Patriarchs. But in practice the Israeli army enjoys absolute control over who can pray there.

And next, Israel declared the surrounding area, including Hebron’s main commercial market, a closed military zone, thereby forcing the Palestinian merchants out. It has been a ghost town ever since, serving as a passageway between the settlement enclaves and the mosque.

For years, the closed market has stood as a potent, silent symbol of the way Israel has been tearing the city apart.

In February, Netanyahu gave the settlers another boost. He shuttered the international observer mission in Hebron, there to witness and record the abuse of Palestinians, especially at the checkpoints that litter the city centre. But still the settlers were not satisfied. They have long wanted to take over the Hebron market for themselves, to expand their enclaves.

So last week, Bennett granted their wish. He announced plans to destroy the market to make way for a settlement serving effectively as a bridge between the existing enclaves and the mosque site. The plan will double the number of settlers in Hebron and complete a wall of Jewish settlement dividing the city in two. This week Palestinian leaders called a citywide strike in protest.

As ever, the Israeli government has tried to put a surreal legal gloss on its criminality, apparently to spare the blushes of its US and European allies. Bennett’s advisers have insisted that Israel has legal title to the air above the roofs of the empty shops. This is where the settlers will supposedly be housed, after the shops have been demolished and rebuilt to support the new apartment blocks.

It emerged this week that Bennett had threatened Hebron’s municipality, warning it would lose property rights to the shops area too if it did not consent to the settler homes above.

Israel is reminding Palestinians that there are now no limits – military, legal, moral or diplomatic – to the settlers’ power. Israel will annex land where it chooses and deceptively refashion the resulting apartheid system as the rule of law.

The material losses to the Palestinians from Israel’s ever-growing settlement enterprise are devastating enough. This month, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development issued a report estimating conservatively that the past 17 years of occupation alone had cost the Palestinians a whopping $48 billion – three times the current size of its economy.

That income would have generated two million job opportunities, freeing Palestinians from a miserable choice between life without work and, if they are issued a permit by Israel, precarious, exploitative casual labour in Israel or the settlements.

Equally significantly, the ever-expanding settlements have stripped Palestinians of their most basic freedoms, such as movement, and undermined their security and right to be treated with dignity.

And no one ought to love that.

• First published in The National