Category Archives: Human Rights

In Denial: Australia, Human Rights and Climate Change

When the complaint was lodged in May 2019, there was a sense of the audacious about it.  Eight Torres Strait Islanders had taken the trouble to petition the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Committee, citing climate change and Australian violations as their main concern.  Australia, they claimed, had violated their fundamental rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Representing a group of islands between the tip of the Australian mainland at Cape York and Papua New Guinea, the complainants allege that Australia’s inadequate steps on combating climate change had violated Article 27 (the right to culture); Article 17 (the right to be free from arbitrary interference with privacy, family and home) and Article 6 (the right to life).  Australia had also failed to boost the islands’ coastal defences and implement “resilience measures”.  But most troubling of all, Canberra had failed to adopt a sufficient greenhouse gas mitigation strategy.

As a summary from Client Earth documents, legal representatives for the islanders “allege that the catastrophic nature of the predicted future impacts of climate change on the Torres Strait Islands, including the total submergence of ancestral homelands, is a sufficiently severe impact as to constitute a violation of the rights to culture, family and life.”

Sixth-generation Warraber man Kabay Tamu, one of the authors behind the complaint, saw a disturbing aspect of colonialism redux, a nightmare in the making.  “If climate change means we’re forced away and become climate change refugees in our country, I fear this will be colonisation all over again.  Because when you are colonised, you’re taken away from your land and you’re forced to stop using your language and stop practising your culture and traditions.”  Such reasoning is hard to fault.

Various calls are directed against Canberra, including greater funding for coastal defences against rising sea levels after consultation while also addressing Australia’s share of greenhouse gas emissions.  A reduction of at least 65% below 2005 levels by 2030 is demanded; and a promise to achieve net zero levels by 2050.  Thermal coal for both domestic and export markets is also to be phased out.

To date, the Australian government remains distinctly blasé about its commitments to reduce emissions in what is already a modest target: 26-28% by 2030.  Indeed, Australia has proven itself to be an enthusiastic saboteur of international efforts to decarbonise the global economy.  When the Islanders extended a personal invitation to Prime Minister Scott Morrison last September to visit the islands and see the relevant claims of damage, it was not taken up. A promise of $25 million was made instead, ostensibly to beef up emergency coastal defences.

The petitioners have ample evidence to draw upon.  A 2014 report from the Climate Council, self-advertised as “an independent crowd-funded organisation providing quality information on climate change to the Australian public” does not mince its words.  Australia, a continent marked by coastal cities, had the sort of infrastructure that had been designed in a vacuum of harmonious stability, “designed and built for a stable climate and known ranges of variability.”  Rising sea levels had dashed that vision.  The report makes specific reference to the vulnerability of the Torres Strait Island communities, located “on extremely low-lying areas” that “already experience flooding during high tides.”  Sea level data gathered by satellite from a location in Torres Strait between 1993-2010 notes a rise of 6 mm per annum – “more than twice the global average”. (The authors are careful to qualify this “single, relatively short dataset” and possible influences.)

The response from the Australian government is much in keeping with the earth digging vigilantes that make up the fossil-fuel lobby.  Do not speculate about what will happen; worry about the pressing immediacy of the now.  To that end, the Morrison government argues that the complaint should be dismissed.  As it concerns “future risks”, human rights impacts supposedly felt now cannot be proved.  They remain in the realm of the hypothetical.

The second ground for rejection, argue Australia’s lawyers, centres on the issue of greenhouse gas contributions.  As Australia is neither the main or only contributor to global warming, it cannot be held responsible for the effects of climate change on its citizens.

There is, to be sure, much on the climate change litigation plate, piling up with various actions seeking to compel a change in policy.  But no Australian case has yet made the link between human rights violations and climate change policies in the way done in the Dutch case of Urgenda Foundation v. Netherlands.  The Dutch Supreme Court accepted the argument that inadequate action in addressing climate change by the government posed a “risk of irreversible changes to the worldwide ecosystems and liveability our planet”; with that also came a “serious risk that the current generation of citizens will be confronted with loss of life and/or a disruption to family life… that the State has a duty to protect against.”  The European Convention of Human Rights proved to be the lynch pin in the case in stressing that the State’s obligation “to protect the life and the right to private and family life of its residents”.

The Federal Court lawsuit launched by university student Katta O’Donnell last July on sovereign bonds has less to do with human rights than a green commercial sensibility: when investors lend money to the government, they are entitled to be appraised of climate change risks.  A failure to disclose such risks, her lawyers argue, amount to misrepresentation and deception.

The arguments of the Torres Strait Islanders is far more on the theme of Urgenda Foundation.  “States like Australia,” claims Sophie Marjanac, lawyer acting for the complainants, “have legal duties to protect the human rights of their citizens.”  To date, these duties remain spectral, at least to the Canberra set mired in denial and complicity.

Covid-19: past, present and future

The current pandemic continues to have a large negative impact on most aspects of our lives. Over 20.6 million have been infected and almost 750,000 have died worldwide (about 5.3 million infections and over 168,00 deaths in the US) due to this pandemic. Besides these horrific impacts, this pandemic has also made clearer the failure of the bipartisan neoliberal economic approach that puts profit before people and planet.

Pre-pandemic

Before the pandemic, the world was already nearing a climate catastrophe and ecological collapse. In addition, under its neoliberal approach, the US already had a shamefully large number of homeless, tens of millions underinsured or without health insurance, millions experiencing hunger, millions without jobs, millions more facing huge debts, and an appalling wealth and income inequality. Politicians, operating in a system of legalized bribery, continued to fund the military wildly beyond its needs. This wasteful spending clearly didn’t make us secure and took money from the far more needed and productive domestic spending. In addition, systemic racism, especially in the US ‘injustice’ system, greatly harmed minorities. This was hardly an ideal world.

During the pandemic

Due to the Trump administration’s scandalous lack of preparedness and its failure to promptly implement public health measures, many municipalities instituted total lockdowns in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19. These lockdowns led to the closing of many businesses (especially small businesses) and tens of millions filed for unemployment. These job losses resulted in millions more: 1) losing their health insurance; 2) facing the loss of their housing; and 3) experiencing severe hunger. In addition, due to systemic racism, minorities were disproportionately more susceptible to the disease than whites.

So far, the Trump administration and Congress have enacted relief packages that primarily benefited the already obscenely wealthy while providing only minimal short-term aid to the rest of us. In contrast, several other nations demonstrated real concern about their people and their businesses by funding 70% or more of the business payrolls. As a result, they didn’t experience large job losses or bankruptcies.

My hopes

My hopes are that the politicians would finally live up to the ideas in: 1) the Second Bill of Rights (an economic bill of rights) that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed in 1944; and 2) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), including the rights of women, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948.

Roosevelt said: In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment; and,
  • The right to a good education.

Unfortunately, the US doesn’t recognize these rights and some others in the UDHR that are accepted by many other wealthy nations. As a result, tens of millions of our population unnecessarily suffer tremendous harm.

In addition, my hopes include a major overhaul in our imperialistic foreign policy. We must rejoin the family of nations and rely on diplomacy instead of military power and economic coercion. The global threats of nuclear war and the looming climate catastrophe require nations to work together.

Some vital changes

Unless the Trump administration and Congress quickly enact bills that:

1) fill shortfalls in the budgets of the Post Office and state and local governments;

2) provide aid to true small businesses;

3) provide long-term funding directly to the population;

4) declare a jubilee on debts owed to predatory lenders;

5) support a green new deal;

6) provide healthcare for all;

7) drastically reduce the military budget; and especially

8) fully protect the rights of minorities,

I fear the US is likely to fall into a long-lasting depression and risk societal collapse.

Update

President Trump and the Republican-led Senate dithered around for two months after the House proposed its major relief bill instead of getting a new relief bill enacted. This ineptitude and callous attitude towards the desperation and suffering of many Americans is incredible. Making matters maddeningly worse, the US is still ill prepared to deal with this crisis, a crisis that is likely to worsen upon the return of inadequately protected teachers and students to school.

Unfortunately, these updates reinforce my fears about the future.

Human Rights Defenders: Palestinian Eyewitness Testimony of the Execution of Abdul Fattah al-Sharif by Israeli Soldier, Elor Azaria

As illegal Jewish settlers increase their attacks on Palestinian civilians in the occupied city of Al Khalil (Hebron), the people of the Palestinian city continue to mount a campaign of popular resistance.

One of the channels of resistance is Human Rights Defenders, “a grass-roots, non-partisan Palestinian organization, working to support nonviolent popular resistance through popular direct action and documentation of human rights violations committed by the Occupation.”

To understand the situation in Hebron better, I spoke to Badee Dwaik, head of ‘Human Rights Defenders’, Raghad Neiroukh, a journalist, and Flora Thomas, a British solidarity activist.

The conversation included another member of HRD, Imad Abu Shamsiyah, the courageous activist who filmed the murder of a Palestinian young man, Abdul Fattah al-Sharif.

On March 24, 2016, Israeli army medic, Elor Azaria, killed al-Sharif in cold blood in Hebron. The Israeli army later claimed that al-Sharif, and another Palestinian, tried to stab an Israeli soldier.

The murder was rightly dubbed ‘extrajudicial execution’ by human rights organizations. Under international pressure, Israel tried Azaria in court, sentencing him to eighteen months’ imprisonment, but eventually released him fourteen months later, to be received as a hero by many Israeli politicians, his family and ordinary people.

I asked Abu Shamsiyah about the events that took place on that day, when he had personally witnessed and filmed the execution of the Palestinian young man.

“It was about 8 o’clock in the morning and I was having coffee with my wife. I heard the sound of shooting outside, very close to my house,” Abu Shamsiyah began.

“I immediately went out to see what was going on, and my wife followed me. She brought the camera with her.

“I found out that a person was lying in the street. He was wearing a black t-shirt and trousers.”

“I saw that there was also another person on the ground. I moved my camera to capture him on film and noticed that he was bleeding from his face.”

“I observed a few Israeli soldiers approaching one of the people on the ground; they were very close to me.”

“I realized that Abdul Fattah al-Sharif was a Palestinian only when I saw an Israeli soldier kicking him.”

“When the Israeli soldier kicked him, al-Sharif moved both of his legs and his hands; and I captured this with my camera.”

“At that moment, my wife started shouting, saying: ‘Haram, haram,’ and tried to help the wounded young man.”

“When the soldiers heard her screams, they noticed our presence in the street. So they forced us to leave the street; they chased us away.”

“I went home but I began to think of another way to continue filming. I climbed on to the roof of a neighbor’s house and resumed filming the execution.”

“I saw an Israeli ambulance arriving in the area, but it didn’t go towards al-Sharif; instead, it went towards the other person who was still lying on the ground. Only then, I realized that the other person was, in fact, an Israeli soldier.”

“So I zoomed in the camera to capture a better image of the soldier, who (looked as if) slightly injured. The ambulance gave him first aid and treated him, while they denied any treatment to al-Sharif and the other wounded Palestinian.”

“They carried the Israeli soldier into the ambulance; I zoomed in again, and he was already standing; as I said before, he was (clearly) only slightly injured.”

“The ambulance began to turn around to leave the area. It was then that I heard the sound of one of the soldiers loading his gun. He got closer and closer to where al-Sharif was (still lying down). When he was about one meter away, he pointed the gun at al-Sharif’s head.”

“Al-Sharif did not pose any threat to the soldier, whose name was revealed later in the media to be Elor Azaria. It was Azaria who shot the wounded Palestinian in the head.”

“I was still filming, and one of the Jewish settlers, who noticed me, told the soldiers about me. One of the soldiers turned towards me and ordered me to leave the area, but I was already leaving because I had filmed the entire scene.”

“I immediately went to the ‘Human Rights Defenders’, where I uploaded the video and many people watched it.”

“Israeli soldiers kill Palestinians in cold blood, while accusing Palestinians of trying to stab soldiers.”

Following the incident and, throughout Azaria’s trial, Abu Shamsiyah and his family experienced much harassment by the Israeli army for revealing the truth that Israel wishes to keep hidden: the brutality of its soldiers, and the intrinsic relationship between the occupation army and the illegal Jewish settlers.

Speaking to Abu Shamsiyah four years after the tragic death of al-Sharif, the Palestinian activist remains steadfast in his belief that the ongoing Israeli human rights violations must be exposed. His voice conveys determination, not hesitation nor fear.

‘Human Rights Defenders’, like many other Palestinian groups, continues to channel and guide the popular resistance of the Palestinian people in Hebron and many towns and villages across Palestine. They are a testament to the resolve of Palestinian society – brave, steadfast and unbroken.

We Need To Talk About Romanticism

Satire on Romantic Suicide (1839) by Leonardo Alenza y Nieto (1807–1845)

Introduction

Why do we need to talk about Romanticism? What is Romanticism? And how does it affect us in the 21st century? The fact is that we are so immersed in Romanticism now that we cannot see the proverbial wood for the haunted-looking trees. Romanticism has so saturated our culture that we need to stand back and remind ourselves what it is, and examine how it has seeped into our thinking processes to the extent that we are not even aware of its presence anymore. Or why this is a problem. The Romanticist influence of intense emotion makes up a large part of modern culture, for example, in much pop music, cinema, TV and literature; e.g., genres such as Superheroes, Fantasy, Horror, Magical realism, Saga, Westerns. I will look at the origins of Romanticism, and its negative influence on culture and politics. I will show how Enlightenment ideas originally emerged in opposition to an absolute monarchy and the fixed dogmas of the Church and led to the formation of a working class ideology and culture of resistance.

Romanticism and the modern world

The whole exuberance, anarchy and violence of modern art … its unrestrained, unsparing exhibitionism, is derived from [Romanticism]. And this subjective, egocentric attitude has become so much a matter of course for us … that we find it impossible to reproduce even an abstract train of thought without talking about our own feelings.
— Arnold Hauser, (1892–1978), A Social History of Art, Vol. 3, p. 166

Romanticism arose out of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century as a reaction to what was perceived as a rationalisation of life to the point of being anti-nature. The Romantics were against the Industrial Revolution, universalism and empiricism, emphasising instead heroic individualists and artists, and the individual imagination as a critical authority rather than classical ideals.

The Enlightenment itself had developed from the earlier Renaissance with a renewed interest in the classical traditions and ideals of harmony, symmetry, and order based on reason and science. On a political level the Enlightenment promoted republicanism in opposition to monarchy which ultimately led to the French revolution.

The worried conservatives of the time reacted to the ideas of the Enlightenment and reason with a philosophy which was based on religious ideas and glorified the past (especially Medieval times and the ‘Golden Age’) — times when things were not so threatening to elites. This philosophy became known as Romanticism and emphasised medieval ideas and society over the new ideas of democracy, capitalism and science.

Romanticism originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1890. It was initially marked by innovations in both content and literary style and by a preoccupation with the subconscious, the mystical, and the supernatural. This period was followed by the development of cultural nationalism and a new attention to national origins, an interest in native folklore, folk ballads and poetry, folk dance and music, and even previously ignored medieval and Renaissance works.

The Romantic movement “emphasized intense emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as apprehension, horror and terror, and awe—especially that experienced in confronting the new aesthetic categories of the sublimity and beauty of nature.” The importance of the medieval lay in the  pre-capitalist significance of its individual crafts and tradesmen, as well as its feudal peasants and serfs.

Thus Romanticism was a reaction to the birth of the modern world: urbanisation, secularisation, industrialisation, and consumerism. Romanticism emphasised intense emotion and feelings which over the centuries came to be seen as one of its most important characteristics, in opposition to ‘cold’, ‘unfeeling’ Enlightenment rationalism.

Origins of Enlightenment emotion

Whence this secret Chain between each Person and Mankind? How is my Interest connected with the most distant Parts of it?
Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746), An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725), Treatise II: An Inquiry concerning Moral Good and Evil, Sect. I.

However, this ‘cold’, ‘unfeeling’ scenario is actually very far from the truth. In fact, the Enlightenment, itself, had its origins in emotion. Enlightenment philosophers of the eighteenth century tried to create a philosophy of feeling that would allow them to solve the problem of the injustice in the unfeeling world they saw all around them.

Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713) believed that all human beings had a ‘natural affection’ or natural sociability which bound them together.  Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746) wrote that “All Men have the same Affections and Senses”, while David Hume (1711–1776) believed that human beings extend their “imaginative identification with the feelings of others” when it is required. Similarly, Adam Smith (1723–1790), the writer of Wealth of Nations, believed in the power of the imagination to inform us and help us understand the suffering of others.1

Portrait of Denis Diderot (1713-1784), by Louis-Michel van Loo, 1767

For the Enlightenment philosophers the relationship between feeling and reason was of absolute importance. To develop ideas that would progress society for the better, a sense of morality was essential. Denis Diderot (1713–1784) a prominent French philosopher of the Enlightenment in France, for example, had strong views on the importance of the passions. As Henry Martyn Lloyd writes:

Diderot did believe in the utility of reason in the pursuit of truth – but he had an acute enthusiasm for the passions, particularly when it came to morality and aesthetics. With many of the key figures in the Scottish Enlightenment, such as David Hume, he believed that morality was grounded in sense-experience. Ethical judgment was closely aligned with, even indistinguishable from, aesthetic judgments, he claimed. We judge the beauty of a painting, a landscape or our lover’s face just as we judge the morality of a character in a novel, a play or our own lives – that is, we judge the good and the beautiful directly and without the need of reason. For Diderot, then, eliminating the passions could produce only an abomination. A person without the ability to be affected, either because of the absence of passions or the absence of senses, would be morally monstrous.

Moreover, to remove the passions from science would lead to inhuman approaches and methods that would divert and alienate science from its ultimate goal of serving humanity, as Lloyd writes:

That the Enlightenment celebrated sensibility and feeling didn’t entail a rejection of science, however. Quite the opposite: the most sensitive individual – the person with the greatest sensibility – was considered to be the most acute observer of nature. The archetypical example here was a doctor, attuned to the bodily rhythms of patients and their particular symptoms. Instead, it was the speculative system-builder who was the enemy of scientific progress – the Cartesian physician who saw the body as a mere machine, or those who learned medicine by reading Aristotle but not by observing the ill. So the philosophical suspicion of reason was not a rejection of rationality per se; it was only a rejection of reason in isolation from the senses, and alienated from the impassioned body.

Michael L. Frazer describes the importance of Enlightenment justice and sympathy in his book The Enlightenment of Sympathy. He writes:

Reflective sentimentalists recognize our commitment to justice as an outgrowth of our sympathy for others. After our sympathetic sentiments undergo reflective self-correction, the sympathy that emerges for all those who suffer injustice poses no insult to those for whom it is felt. We do not see their suffering as mere pain to be soothed away when and if we happen to share it. Instead under Hume’s account, we condemn injustice as a violation of rules that are vitally important to us all. And under Smith’s account, we condemn the sufferings of the victims of injustice as injustice because we sympathetically share the resentment that they feel toward their oppressors, endorsing such feelings as warranted and acknowledging those who feel them deserve better treatment.2

Cooper, Hume and Smith were living in times, not only devoid of empathy, but also even of basic sympathy. Robert C. Solomon writes of society then in A Passion for Justice: “There have always been the very rich. And of course there have always been the very poor. But even as late as the civilized and sentimental eighteenth century, this disparity was not yet a cause for public embarrassment or a cry of injustice. […] Poverty was considered just one more “act of God,” impervious to any solution except mollification through individual charity and government poorhouses to keep the poor off the streets and away from crime.”3

Enlightenment emotion eventually gave rise to social trends that emphasised humanism and the heightened value of human life. These trends had their complement in art, creating what became known as the ‘sentimental novel’. While today sentimentalism evokes maudlin self-pity, in the eighteenth century it was revolutionary as sentimental literature

focused on weaker members of society, such as orphans and condemned criminals, and allowed readers to identify and sympathize with them. This translated to growing sentimentalism within society, and led to social movements calling for change, such as the abolition of the death penalty and of slavery. Instead of the death penalty, popular sentiment called for the rehabilitation of criminals, rather than harsh punishment. Frederick Douglass himself was inspired to stand against his own bondage and slavery in general in his famous Narrative by the speech by the sentimentalist playwright Sheridan in The Columbian Orator detailing a fictional dialogue between a master and slave.

As Solomon notes: “What distinguishes us not just from animals but from machines are our passions, and foremost among them our passion for justice. Justice is, in a word, that set of passions, not mere theories, that bind us and make us part of the social world.”4

The Man of Feeling  (Henry Mackenzie)

Writers such as the Scottish author Henry Mackenzie tried to highlight many things that he perceived were wrong during his time and showed how many of the wrongs were ultimately caused by the established pillars of society. In his book, The Man of Feeling, he has no qualms about showing how these pillars of society had, for example, abused an intelligent woman causing her to become a prostitute (p. 44/45.), destroyed a school because it blocked the landowner’s view (p. 72), and hired assassins to remove a man who had refused to hand over his wife (p. 91.), etc.5 Mackenzie shows again and again the injustices of British military and colonial policy, and who is responsible. As Marilyn Butler writes:

Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling (1771), is pointedly topical when it criticizes the consequences of a war policy – press-ganging, conscription, the military punishment of flogging, and inadequate pensions – and when, like the same author’s Julia de Roubigné (1777), it attacks the principle of colonialism. An interest in such causes was the logical outcome of art’s frequently reiterated dedication to humanity. It was a period when the cast of villains was drawn from the proud men representing authority, downwards from the House of Lords, the bench of bishops, judges, local magistrates, attorneys, to the stern father; when readers were invited to empathize with life’s victims.6

It took a long time for the ideas of sentimentalism (emotions against injustice) to filter down to the Realism (using facts to depict ordinary everyday experiences) that Dickens used in the nineteenth century to finally evoke some kind of empathy for people impoverished by society. As Solomon notes: “It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that Dickens shook the conscience of his compatriots with his riveting descriptions of poverty and cruelty in contemporary London, […] that the problem of poverty and resistance to its solutions [e.g. poorhouses] has become the central question of justice.”3

Buss, Robert William; Dickens’s Dream; Charles Dickens Museum, London;

European literary sentimentalism arose during the Enlightenment, and partly as a response to sentimentalism in philosophy. In England the period 1750–1798 became known as the Age of Sensibility as the sentimental novel or the novel of sensibility became popular.

Romanticist emotionalism: the opposite of Enlightenment sentimentalism

Classicism is health, romanticism is sickness.
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832)

However, sensibility in an Enlightenment sense was very different from the Romanticist understanding, as Butler notes:

It is, in fact, in a key respect almost the opposite of Romanticism. Sensibility, like its near-synonym sentiment, echoes eighteenth-century philosophy and psychology in focusing upon the mental process by which impressions are received by the senses. But the sentimental writer’s interest in how the mind works and in how people behave is very different from the Romantic writer’s inwardness.7

She writes that ‘neither Neoclassical theory nor contemporary practice in various styles and genres put much emphasis on the individuality of the artist’ (p. 29). This is a far cry from the apolitical, inward-looking, self-centered Romantic artists who saw themselves outside of a society that they had little interest in participating in, let alone changing for the better. Butler again:

Romantic rebelliousness is more outrageous and total, the individual rejecting not just his own society but the very principle of living in society – which means that the Romantic and post Romantic often dismisses political activity of any kind, as external to the self, literal and commonplace. Since it is relatively uncommon for the eighteenth-century artist to complain directly on his own behalf, he seldom achieves such emotional force as his nineteenth-century successor. He is, on the other hand, much more inclined than the Romantic to express sympathy for certain, well-defined social groups. Humanitarian feeling for the real-life underdog is a strong vein from the 1760s to the 1790s, often echoing real-life campaigns for reform.8

This movement over time towards the Romanticist inward-looking conception of emotion and feelings has had knock-on negative effects on society’s ability to defend itself from elite oppression (through cultural styles of self-absorption, escapism and diversion rather than exposure, criticism and resistance), and retarded ‘art’s frequently reiterated dedication to humanity’. Solomon describes this process:

What has come about in the past two centuries or so is the dramatic rise of what Robert Stone has called “affective individualism,” this new celebration of the passions and other feelings of the autonomous individual. Yet, ironically, it is an attitude that has become even further removed from our sense of justice during that same period of time. We seem to have more inner feelings and pay more attention to them, but we seem to have fewer feelings about others and the state of the world and pay less attention to them.9

Thus while Enlightenment sentimentalism “depicted individuals as social beings whose sensibility was stimulated and defined by their interactions with others”, the Romantic movement that followed it “tended to privilege individual autonomy and subjectivity over sociability”.

Romanticism as a philosophical movement of the nineteenth century had a profound influence on culture which can still be seen right up to today. Its main characteristics are the emphasis on the personal, dramatic contrasts, emotional excess, a focus on the nocturnal, the ghostly and the frightful, spontaneity, and extreme subjectivism. Romanticism in culture implies a turning inward and encourages introspection. Romantic literature put more emphasis on themes of isolation, loneliness, tragic events and the power of nature. A heroic view of history and myth became the basis of much Romantic literature.

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, painted by Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier

It was in Germany that Romanticism took shape as a political ideology. The German Romanticists felt threatened by the French Revolution and were forced to move from inward-looking ideas to formulate conservative political answers needed to oppose Enlightenment and republican ideals. According to Eugene N. Anderson:

In the succeeding years the danger became acutely political, and the German Romanticists were compelled to subordinate their preoccupation with the widening of art and the enrichment of individual experience to social and political ideas and actions, particularly as formulated in nationalism and conservatism. These three cultural ideals, Romanticism, nationalism and conservatism, shared qualities evoked by the common situation of crisis. […] The Germans had to maintain against rationalism and the French a culture which in its institutional structure was that of the ancien régime. German Romanticism accepted it, wished to reform it somewhat, idealized it, and defended the idealization as the supreme culture of the world. This was the German counter-revolution. […] They endowed their culture with universal validity and asserted that it enjoyed the devotion of nature and God, that if it were destroyed humanity would be vitally wounded.10

The reactionary nature of German Romanticism was demonstrated in its hierarchical views of society, its chauvinist nationalism, and extreme conservatism which would have serious implications for future generations of the German populace. As Anderson writes:

The low estimate of rationalism and the exaltation of custom, tradition, and feeling, the conception of society as an alliance of the generations, the belief in the abiding character of ideas as contrasted with the ephemeral nature of concepts, these and many other romantic views bolstered up the existing culture. The concern with relations led the Romanticists to praise the hierarchical order of the Ständestaat and to regard everything and every-one as an intermediary. The acceptance of the fact of inequality harmonized with that of the ideals of service, duty, faithfulness, order, sacrifice – admirable traits for serf or subject or soldier.11

Anderson also believes that the Romanticists remained swinging “between individual freedom and initiative and group compulsion and authority” and as such could not have brought in fundamental reforms, because: “By reverencing tradition, they preserved the power of the backward-looking royalty and aristocracy.”12

Thus Romanticist self-centredness in philosophy translated into the most conservative forms for maintaining the status quo in politics. Individual freedoms were matched by authoritarianism for the masses. The individual was king all right, as long as you weren’t a ‘serf or subject or soldier’.

Beyond morality: Working Class perspectives on Reason and Sentiment

We have never intended to enlighten shoemakers and servants—this is up to apostles.
Voltaire (1694–1778)

Around the same time of the early period of Romanticism, Karl Heinrich Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) were born. They grew up in a very different Germany. Capitalism had become established and was creating an even more polarised society between extremely rich and extremely poor as factory owners pushed their workers to their physical limits. On his way to work at his father’s firm in Manchester, Engels called into the offices of a paper he wrote for in Cologne and met the editor, Marx, for the first time in 1842. They formed a friendship based on shared values and beliefs regarding the working class and socialist ideas. They saw a connection between the earlier Enlightenment ideas and socialism. For example, as Engels writes in Anti-Duhring:

in its theoretical form, modern socialism originally appears ostensibly as a more logical extension of the principles laid down by the great French philosophers of the eighteenth century. Like every new theory, modern socialism had, at first, to connect itself with the intellectual stock-in-trade ready to its hand, however deeply its roots lay in economic facts.13

However, once they had connected themselves to the Enlightenment they soon saw the limitations of both Enlightenment concepts of reason and sentiment. They realised that the new bourgeois rulers would be limited by their conceptions of property, justice, and equality, which basically meant they only applied universality to themselves and their own property. The new rulers were buoyed up by the victory of their ideological fight over the aristocracy but incapable of applying the same ideas to the masses who helped them to victory. Thus Marx and Engels viewed the struggle for reason as important but limited to the new ruling class’ world view, just like the aristocracy before them:

Every form of society and government then existing, every old traditional notion was flung into the lumber room as irrational; the world had hitherto allowed itself to be led solely by prejudices; everything in the past deserved only pity and contempt. Now, for the first time, appeared the light of day, henceforth superstition, injustice, privilege, oppression, were to be superseded by eternal truth, eternal Right, equality based on nature and the inalienable rights of man. We know today that this kingdom of reason was nothing more than the idealised kingdom of the bourgeoisie; that this eternal Right found its realisation in bourgeois justice; that this equality reduced itself to bourgeois equality before the law; that bourgeois property was proclaimed as one of the essential rights of man; and that the government of reason, the Contrat Social of Rousseau, came into being, and only could come into being, as a democratic bourgeois republic. The great thinkers of the eighteenth century could, no more than their predecessors, go beyond the limits imposed upon them by their epoch.14

As for sentiment, they were well aware of the Realist critical nature of modern writers (the Realist movement rejected Romanticism) and indeed praised them (e.g. G. Sand, E. Sue, and Boz [Dickens]), but limited themselves to offering some advice. While recognising that progressive literature had a mainly middle class audience (and were happy enough with these authors just ‘shaking the optimism’ of their audience), they knew that this was not by any means a socialist literature and were

I think however that the purpose must become manifest from the situation and the action themselves without being expressly pointed out and that the author does not have to serve the reader on a platter — the future historical resolution of the social conflicts which he describes. To this must be added that under our conditions novels are mostly addressed to readers from bourgeois circles, i.e., circles which are not directly ours. Thus the socialist problem novel in my opinion fully carries out its mission if by a faithful portrayal of the real conditions it dispels the dominant conventional illusions concerning them, shakes the optimism of the bourgeois world, and inevitably instills doubt as to the eternal validity of that which exists, without itself offering a direct solution of the problem involved, even without at times ostensibly taking sides.15

Sentimental literature focused on individual misfortune, and constant repetition of such themes certainly appeared to universalise such suffering, so that, as David Denby writes, “In this weeping mother, this suffering father, we are to read also the sufferings of humanity.” Thus, “individualism and universalism appear to be two sides of the same coin”. Sentimental literature gives the reader the ‘spectacle of misfortune’ and a representation of the reaction of a ‘sentient and sensible observer’ who tries to help with ‘alms, sympathy or indeed narrative intervention.’ Furthermore, the literature of sentiment “mirrors eighteenth-century theories of sympathy, in which a spontaneous reaction to the spectacle of suffering is gradually developed, by a process of generalisation and combination of ideas, into broader and more abstract notions of humanity, benevolence, justice.”16

Workers in the fuse factory, Woolwich Arsenal late 1800s

This brings us then to the problem of interpretation, as Denby suggests: “should the sentimental portrayal of the poor and of action in their favour be read as an attempt to give a voice to the voiceless, to include the hitherto excluded? Or, alternatively, is the sentimentalisation of the poor to be interpreted, more cynically, as a discursive strategy through which the enlightened bourgeoisie states its commitment to values of humanity and justice, and thereby seeks to strengthen its claims to universal domination?”17

While such ideas of giving a ‘voice to the voiceless’ was a far cry from monarchical times, and claims of commitment to humanity and justice were laudable, the concept of universality had a fundamental flaw: “The universal claims of the French Revolution are opposed to a [aristocratic] society based on distinctions of birth: it is in the name of humanity that the Revolution challenges the established order. But for Sartre this does not change the fact that the universal is a myth, an ideological construct, and an obfuscation, since it articulates a notion of man which eliminates social conflict and disguises the interests of a class behind a facade of universal reference.”18

Striking teamsters battling police on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 1934

Thus for Marx and Engels defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, that is, a universal moral theory, could not be achieved while society is divided into classes:

We maintain […] that all moral theories have been hitherto the product, in the last analysis, of the economic conditions of society obtaining at the time. And as society has hitherto moved in class antagonisms, morality has always been class morality; it has either justified the domination and the interests of the ruling class, or ever since the oppressed class became powerful enough, it has represented its indignation against this domination and the future interests of the oppressed. That in this process there has on the whole been progress in morality, as in all other branches of human knowledge, no one will doubt. But we have not yet passed beyond class morality. A really human morality which stands above class antagonisms and above any recollection of them becomes possible only at a stage of society which has not only overcome class antagonisms but has even forgotten them in practical life.

Marx and Engels worked towards that morality through their activism with working class movements and culture. Their critical writing also formed an essential part of working class ideology and culture of resistance and has remained influential in resistance movements the world over.

The culture of resistance today still uses realism, documentary, and histories of oppression to show the harsh realities of globalisation. Like during the Enlightenment, empathy for those suffering injustice forms its foundation. And unlike Romanticism, reason and science are deemed to be important tools in its struggle for social emancipation and progress.

Conclusion: Enlightenment and Romanticism today

When we are asked now: are we now living into an enlightened age? Then the answer is: No, but in an age of Enlightenment.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

There is no doubt that the influence of Romanticism has become ever stronger in twentieth and twenty-first century culture. Romanticist-influenced TV shows on Netflix are watched world wide. Love songs dominate the pop industry and superheroes are now the mainstay of cinema. Even Romanticist nationalism is making a comeback. Now and then calls for a new Enlightenment are heard, but like the original advocates of the Enlightenment, they are limited to the conservative world view of those making the call and whose view of the Enlightenment could be compared to a form of Third Way politics, that is, they avoid the issue of class conflict.

  1. Anthony Pagden, The Enlightenment: And Why it Still Matters (Oxford Uni Press, 2015) p. 72/73.
  2. Michael L Frazer, The Enlightenment of Sympathy: Justice and the Moral Sentiments in the Eighteenth Century and Today (Oxford Uni Press, 2010) p. 126/127.
  3. Robert C Solomon, A Passion for Justice: Emotions and the Origins of the Social Contract (Rowman and Littlefield Pub., 1995) p. 13.
  4. Ibid., p. 45.
  5. Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling (Oxford World’s Classics Oxford Uni Press, 2009.
  6. Marilyn Butler, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background 1760-1830 (Oxford Uni Press, 1981) p. 31.
  7. Marilyn Butler, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background 1760-1830 (Oxford Uni Press, 1981) p. 29/30.
  8. Ibid., pp. 30/31.
  9. Robert C Solomon, A Passion for Justice: Emotions and the Origins of the Social Contract (Rowman and Littlefield Pub., 1995) p. 37.
  10. Eugene N. Anderson, German Romanticism as an Ideology of Cultural Crisis, p. 301-312. Journal of the History of Ideas, June, 1941, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 301-317. Published by University of Pennsylvania Press.
  11. Ibid., pp. 313-314.
  12. Ibid., p. 316.
  13. Marx and Engels, On Literature and Art (Progress Publishers: Moscow, 1978) p. 270.
  14. Ibid., p. 271.
  15. Ibid., p. 88.
  16. David J. Denby, Individual, universal, national: a French revolutionary trilogy? (Studies of Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 335, Voltaire Foundation, 1996) p. 28/29.
  17. Ibid., 117.
  18. Ibid., p. 27.

Britain’s War on Truth and Dissent

A man is confined for seven years of his life to a diplomatic compound, fearing arrest for exposing some of the worst war crimes and financial misdoings of the past two decades, only to be stripped of his asylum status in a blatant mockery of international law before being locked away in a high security prison to await extradition and a possible life sentence. The press has obediently mounted a campaign to discredit the man, accusing him of every imaginable cardinal sin, and everyone who speaks out is accused of treachery.

To most of us, this sounds like a horror story from behind the Iron Curtain, some cartoonish portrayal of the Evil Empire whose citizens live a lie and where dissidents disappear without trace.

But this isn’t the Evil Empire, not according to Reagan at least. This is twenty-first century Britain, whose ancient democratic institutions lie at the heart of her national identity.

The man, needless to say, is Julian Assange who today pays the price for defying the institutional rot at the heart of Western governments; a rot we pretend does not exist.

Documents showing the medieval depravity that is Guantanamo Bay, details of a dirty multi-million dollar scheme to snatch up mining rights in the Central African Republic and, of course, Collateral Murder, the haunting video which shows Iraqi civilians being shot from an American helicopter while the pilots maniacally laugh at ‘these dead bastards’. Assange and Wikileaks revealed this and much more.

Those embarrassed by the revelations have chosen to defame him. They claim that Ecuador’s decision to revoke Assange’s asylum status had something to do with how he behaved in the embassy. They would have us believe that the British police spent £12.6 million to bring him to justice for – extremely dubious and now dismissed – allegations of rape in a country where sexual assault claims are routinely ignored by the authorities. They would accuse him of serving Russian interests, of being a spy and conspiring to hack into a government computer, even though Assange did nothing that would not have been done by any other investigative journalist.

His trial was inherently unfair from the outset with Assange deprived of vital legal documents and communications with his legal team apparently spied on by Spanish contractors for the CIA. The judge, Emma Arbuthnot, had a clear conflict of interest as her husband has previously been exposed by Wikileaks.

Since his incarceration at HM Prison Belmarsh he has reportedly lost 15 kilograms and shown signs of ‘full-fledged psychological torture’. His family fears that he will die in jail.

Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture who visited Assange at Belmarsh, went as far as saying, ‘In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law.’ Yet even esteemed jurists like Melzer have faced torrents of abuse and intimidation for merely stating the obvious: speaking the truth to power – that is Assange’s crime.

If the extradition goes ahead it will violate current provisions that exempt political prisoners from being extradited. It will also create fundamental legal obstacles to investigative journalism, silencing those who expose the most abhorrent acts of government cruelty and greed.

Two years ago, the British Government narcissistically took the high ground over the apparent involvement of the Russian state in the attempted poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. It bears restating that Skripal was an ex-GRU agent who turned to work for the MI6 and blew the cover of 300 former comrades-in-arms. He was no dissident and no hero. And he certainly did serve foreign interests.

The event triggered among the largest expulsions of foreign diplomats in history and became a symbol of Russian authoritarianism and intolerance of dissent. The Russian government denied involvement and responded by expelling Western diplomats.

Yet today Britain conducts a show trial designed to crush a man who exposed atrocities and corrupt financial dealings, and to set an example for others. It does not even need to resort to covert measures – the public and the press don’t care.

Assange will be locked away and silenced for the rest of his life, while our governments continue to sow chaos and suffering across the world in our name.

Yemen: A Torrent of Suffering in a Time of Siege

When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out “stop!”  When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable, the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.

— Bertolt Brecht, “When evil-doing comes like falling rain” [Wenn die Untat kommt, wie der Regen fällt] (1935), trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 247

 In war-torn Yemen, the crimes pile up. Children who bear no responsibility for governance or warfare endure the punishment. In 2018, UNICEF said the war made Yemen a living hell for children. By the year’s end, Save the Children reported 85,000 children under age five had already died from starvation since the war escalated in 2015. By the end of 2020, it is expected that 23,500 children with severe acute malnutrition will be at immediate risk of death.

Cataclysmic conditions afflict Yemen as people try to cope with rampant diseases, the spread of COVID-19, flooding, literal swarms of locusts, rising displacement, destroyed infrastructure and a collapsed economy. Yet war rages, bombs continue to fall, and desperation fuels more crimes.

The highest-paying jobs available to many Yemeni men and boys require a willingness to kill and maim one another, by joining militias or armed groups which seemingly never run out of weapons. Nor does the Saudi-Led Coalition  which kills and maims civilians; instead, it deters relief shipments and destroys crucial infrastructure with weapons it imports from Western countries.

The aerial attacks displace traumatized survivors into swelling, often lethal, refugee camps. Amid the wreckage of factories, fisheries, roads, sewage and sanitation facilities, schools and hospitals, Yemenis search in vain for employment and, increasingly, for food and water. The Saudi-Led-Coalition’s blockade, also enabled by Western training and weapons, makes it impossible for Yemenis to restore a functioning economy.

Even foreign aid can become punitive. In March, 2020, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) decided to suspend most aid for Yemenis living in areas controlled by the Houthis.

Scott Paul, who leads Oxfam America’s humanitarian policy advocacy, strongly criticized this callous decision to compound the misery imposed on vulnerable people in Yemen. “In future years,” he wrote, “scholars will study USAID’s suspension as a paradigmatic example of a donor’s exploitation and misuse of humanitarian principles.”

As the evil-doing in Yemen comes “like falling rain,” so do the cries of “Stop!” from millions of people all over the world. Here’s some of what’s been happening:

  • U.S. legislators in both the House of Representatives and the Senate voted to block the sale of billions of dollars in weapons and maintenance to Saudi Arabia and its allies. But President Trump vetoed the bill in 2019.
  • Canada’s legislators declared a moratorium on weapon sales to the Saudis. But the Canadian government has resumed selling weapons to the Saudis, claiming the moratorium only pertained to the creation of new contracts, not existing ones.
  • The United Kingdom suspended military sales to Saudi Arabia because of human rights violations, but the UK’s international trade secretary nevertheless resumed weapon sales saying the 516 charges of Saudi human rights violations are all isolated incidents and don’t present a pattern of abuse.
  • French NGOs and human rights advocates urged their government to scale back on weapon sales to the Saudi-Led coalition, but reports on 2019 weapon sales revealed the French government sold 1.4 billion Euros worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia.
  • British campaigners opposing weapon transfers to the Saudi-Led Coalition have exposed how the British Navy gave the Saudi Navy training in tactics essential to the devastating Yemen blockade.
  • In Canada, Spain, France and Italy, laborers opposed to the ongoing war refused to load weapons onto ships sailing to Saudi Arabia. Rights groups track the passage of trains and ships carrying these weapons.

On top of all this, reports produced by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and the International Commission of the Red Cross repeatedly expose the Saudi-Led Coalition’s human rights violations.

Yet this international outcry clamoring for an end to the war is still being drowned out by the voices of military contractors with well-paid lobbyists plying powerful elites in Western governments. Their concern is simply for the profits to be reaped and the competitive sales to be scored.

In 2019 Lockheed Martin’s total sales reached nearly 60 billion dollars, the best year on record for the world’s largest “defense” contractor. Before stepping down as CEO, Marillyn Hewson predicted demand from the Pentagon and U.S. allies would generate an uptake between $6.2 billion and $6.4 billion in net earnings for the company in 2020 sales.

Hewson’s words, spoken calmly, drown out the cries of Yemeni children whose bodies were torn apart by just one of Lockheed Martin’s bombs.

In August of 2018, bombs manufactured by Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin fell on Yemen like summer rain. On August 9, 2018, a missile blasted a school bus in Yemen, killing forty children and injuring many others.

Photos showed badly injured children still carrying UNICEF blue backpacks, given to them that morning as gifts. Other photos showed surviving children helping prepare graves for their schoolmates. One  photo showed a piece of the bomb protruding from the wreckage with the number MK82 clearly stamped on it. That number on the shrapnel helped identify Lockheed Martin as the manufacturer.

The psychological damage being inflicted on these children is incalculable. “My son is really hurt from the inside,” said a parent whose child was severely wounded by the bombing. “We try to talk to him to feel better and we can’t stop ourselves from crying.”

The cries against war in Yemen also fall like rain and whatever thunder accompanies the rain is distant, summer thunder. Yet, if we cooperate with war-making elites, the most horrible storms will be unleashed. We must learn — and quickly — to make a torrent of our mingled cries and, as the prophet Amos demanded, ‘let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Some of the 40 blue backpacks worn in a protest in New York city against the war in Yemen. Each backpack was accompanied by a sign with the name and age of a child killed on a school bus in Dahyan, northern Yemen, on August 9, 2018, in a Saudi/UAE airstrike. (Photo: CODEPINK)

A version of this article first appeared in The Progressive Magazine.

List of Israeli Targets Leaked: Tel Aviv Fears the Worst in ICC Investigation of War Crimes

When International Court of Justice (ICC) Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, confirmed last December that the Court has ample evidence to pursue a war crimes investigation in occupied Palestine, the Israeli government responded with the usual rhetoric, accusing the international community of bias and insisting on Israel’s ‘right to defend itself.’

Beneath the platitudes and typical Israeli discourse, the Israeli government knew too well that an ICC investigation into war crimes in Palestine could be quite costly. An investigation, in itself, represents an indictment of sorts. If Israeli individuals were to be indicted for war crimes, that is a different story, as it becomes a legal obligation of ICC members to apprehend the criminals and hand them over to the Court.

Israel remained publicly composed, even after Bensouda, last April, elaborated on her December decision with a 60-page legal report, titled: “Situation in the State of Palestine: Prosecution Response to the Observations of Amici Curiae, Legal Representatives of Victims, and States.”

In the report, the ICC addressed many of the questions, doubts and reports submitted or raised in the four months that followed her earlier decision. Countries such as Germany and Austria, among others, had used their position as amici curiae — ‘friends of the court’ — to question the ICC jurisdiction and the status of Palestine as a country.

Bensouda insisted that “the Prosecutor is satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to initiate an investigation into the situation in Palestine under article 53(1) of the Rome Statute, and that the scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction comprises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza (“Occupied Palestinian Territory”).”

However, Bensouda did not provide definitive timelines to the investigation; instead, she requested that the ICC’S Pre-Trial Chamber “confirm the scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in Palestine,” an additional step that is hardly required since the State of Palestine, a signatory of the Rome Statute, is the one that actually referred the case directly to the Prosecutor’s office.

The April report, in particular, was the wake-up call for Tel Aviv. Between the initial decision in December till the release of the latter report, Israel lobbied on many fronts, enlisting the help of ICC members and recruiting its greatest benefactor, Washington – which is not an ICC member – to bully the Court so it may reverse its decision.

On May 15, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, warned the ICC against pursuing the investigation, targeting Bensouda, in particular, for her decision to hold war criminals in Palestine accountable.

The US slapped unprecedented sanctions against the ICC on June 11, with President Donald Trump issuing an ‘executive order’ that authorizes the freezing of assets and a travel ban against ICC officials and their families. The order also allows for the punishing of other individuals or entities that assist the ICC in its investigation.

Washington’s decision to carry out punitive measures against the very Court that was established for the sole purpose of holding war criminals accountable is both outrageous and abhorrent. It also exposes Washington’s hypocrisy — the country that claims to defend human rights is attempting to prevent legal accountability by those who have violated human rights.

Upon its failure to halt the ICC legal procedures regarding its investigation of war crimes, Israel began to prepare for the worst. On July 15, Israeli daily newspaper, Haaretz, reported about a ‘secret list’ that was drawn up by the Israeli government. The list includes “between 200 and 300 officials”, ranging from politicians to military and intelligence officials, who are subject to arrest abroad, should the ICC officially open the war crimes investigation.

Names begin at the top of the Israeli political pyramid, among them Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his current coalition partner, Benny Gantz.

The sheer number of Israeli officials on the list is indicative of the scope of the ICC’s investigation, and somehow is a self-indictment, as the names include former Israeli Defense Ministers — Moshe Ya’alon, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett; current and former army chiefs of staffs — Aviv Kochavi, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot and current and former heads of internal intelligence, the Shin Bet — Nadav Argaman and Yoram Cohen.

Respected international human rights organizations have already, repeatedly, accused all these individuals of serious human rights abuses during Israel’s lethal wars on the besieged Gaza Strip, starting with the so-called ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in 2008-9.

But the list is far more extensive, as it covers “people in much more junior positions, including lower-ranking military officers and, perhaps, even officials involved in issuing various types of permits to settlements and settlement outposts.”

Israel, thus, fully appreciates the fact that the international community still insists that the construction of illegal colonies in occupied Palestine, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the transfer of Israeli citizens to occupied land are all inadmissible under international law and tantamount to war crimes. Netanyahu must be disappointed to learn that all of Washington’s concessions to Israel under Trump’s presidency have failed to alter the position of the international community and the applicability of international law in any way.

Furthermore, it would not be an exaggeration to argue that Tel Aviv’s postponement of its plan to illegally annex nearly a third of the West Bank is directly linked to the ICC’s investigation, for the annexation would have completely thwarted Israel’s friends’ efforts aimed at preventing the investigation from ever taking place.

While the whole world, especially Palestinians, Arabs and their allies, still anxiously await the final decision by the Pre-Trial Chamber, Israel will continue its overt and covert campaign to intimidate the ICC and any other entity that aims to expose Israeli war crimes and to try Israeli war criminals.

Washington, too, will continue to strive to ensure Netanyahu, Gantz, and the “200 to 300” other Israeli officials never see their day in court.

However, the fact that a “secret list” exists is an indication that Tel Aviv understands that this era is different and that international law, which has failed Palestinians for over 70 years, may for once deliver, however small, a measure of justice.

A Palestine-Mexico Border, Equipped by Elbit Systems

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A member of Tohono O’odham Nation, a migrant in the Sonoran desert, a Palestinian at an Israeli checkpoint, or a resident of a segregated and over-policed U.S. neighborhood — all are increasingly subject to the same technologies of repression.

— Gabe Schivone, journalist, co-author of Facing Down Settler Colonialism

In 2014, Elbit Systems of America (a subsidiary of Israel’s Elbit Systems) won a $145 million U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) contract to construct a network of 53 camera and radar-equipped Integrated Fixed Towers (IFTs) in Southern Arizona.

Ten of Elbit’s IFTs are situated on Tohono O’odham reservation, placing this Indigenous community under round-the-clock surveillance with the same TORCH electronic system it first developed for Israel’s annexation wall.

“Watched” highlights three human right impacts of this repressive technology in U.S.–Mexico borderlands. Below, we share a quote for each to illustrate the way different movements are acting in solidarity with one another.

Occupying Tohono O’odham Nation

The Tohono O’odham Nation is one of the most heavily militarized Indigenous communities in the United States. Our daily lives are impacted by surveillance on the ground, in the air, and now day and night with the erection of Elbit System’s Integrated Fixed Towers along the 75 mile stretch of US Mexico Border on O’odham lands. Our once peaceful existence is forever changed by the policies that are implemented to provide homeland security, but instead are causing more destruction to the natural movements of Peoples and Wildlife, such as the looming border wall. We continue to resist these harmful actions to our existence, and continue to live as we always have as People of the Desert.

— Amy Juan, Co-Founder of Tohono O’odham Hemajkam Rights Network and Community Advocate (quote given to APSA)

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Killing Migrants

Much like the Palestinian people, Indigenous and Mexican populations are subjected to highly militarized policing and constriction of rights, stand accused of being criminals for being who they are, and know the pain of statelessness and separation…Until Palestinians are free, none of us are.

— Isabel Garcia, Coalición de Derechos Humanos, (quote given to APSA)

Our struggle against death and suffering here in the Arizona borderlands is deeply implicated in the struggle against US-funded war and occupation in Palestine.

— Statement of No Más Muertes/No More Deaths, humanitarian organization working in U.S.–Mexico borderlands (source)

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Repressing Protest

[CBP’s] use of military technology to surveil protesters inside US borders is deeply disturbing, especially given CBP’s lack of clear and strong policies to protect privacy and constitutional rights.

Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel, speaking about CBP’s use of drones to surveil Black Lives Matter protests in Minnesota (source)

Federal policies incentivize local law enforcement’s collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with no oversight.

— Movement for Black Lives, “Community Control of Law Enforcement” policy platform (source)

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