Category Archives: Human Rights

On “Conflict”, “Peace” and “Genocide”: Time for New Language on Palestine and Israel

On May 25, famous American actor, Mark Ruffalo, tweeted an apology for suggesting that Israel is committing ‘genocide’ in Gaza.

“I have reflected and wanted to apologize for posts during the recent Israel/Hamas fighting that suggested Israel is committing ‘genocide’,” Ruffalo wrote, adding, “It’s not accurate, it’s inflammatory, disrespectful and is being used to justify anti-Semitism, here and abroad. Now is the time to avoid hyperbole.”

But were Ruffalo’s earlier assessments, indeed, “not accurate, inflammatory and disrespectful”? And does equating Israel’s war on besieged, impoverished Gaza with genocide fit into the classification of ‘hyperbole’?

To avoid pointless social media spats, one only needs to reference the ‘United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide’. According to Article 2 of the 1948 Convention, the legal definition of genocide is:

“Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part …”

In its depiction of Israel’s latest war on Gaza, the Geneva-based human rights group, Euro-Med Monitor, reported:

The Israeli forces directly targeted 31 extended families. In 21 cases, the homes of these families were bombed while their residents were inside. These raids resulted in the killing of 98 civilians, including 44 children and 28 women. Among the victims were a man and his wife and children, mothers and their children, or child siblings. There were seven mothers who were killed along with four or three of their children. The bombing of these homes and buildings came without any warning despite the Israeli forces’ knowledge that civilians were inside.

As of May 28, 254 Palestinians in Gaza were killed and 1,948 were wounded in the latest 11-day Israeli onslaught, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Though tragic, this number is relatively small compared with the casualties of previous wars. For example, in the 51-day Israeli war on Gaza in the summer of 2014, over 2,200 Palestinians were killed and over 17,000 were wounded. Similarly, entire families, like the 21-member Abu Jame family in Khan Younis, also perished. Is this not genocide? The same logic can be applied to the killing of over 300 unarmed protesters at the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel between March 2018 and December 2019. Moreover, the besiegement and utter isolation of over 2 million Palestinians in Gaza since 2006-07, which has resulted in numerous tragedies, is an act of collective punishment that also deserves the designation of genocide.

One does not need to be a legal expert to identify the many elements of genocide in Israel’s violent behavior, let alone language, against Palestinians. There is a clear, undeniable relationship between Israel’s violent political discourse and equally violent action on the ground. Potentially Israel’s next prime minister, Naftali Bennett, who has served the role of Defense Minister, had, in July 2013, stated: “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there’s no problem with that.”

With this context in mind, and regardless of why Ruffalo found it necessary to back-track on his moral position, Israel is an unrepentent human rights violator that continues to carry out an active policy of genocide and ethnic cleansing against the native, indigenous inhabitants of Palestine.

Language matters, and in this particular ‘conflict’, it matters most, because Israel has, for long, managed to escape any accountability for its actions, due to its success in misrepresenting facts, and the overall truth about itself. Thanks to its many allies and supporters in mainstream media and academia, Tel Aviv has rebranded itself from being a military occupier and an apartheid regime to an ‘oasis of democracy’, in fact, ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’.

This article will not attempt to challenge the entirety of the misconstrued mainstream media’s depiction of Israel. Volumes are required for that, and Israeli Professor Ilan Pappé’s ‘Ten Myths about Israel’ is an important starting point. However, this article will attempt to present some basic definitions that must enter the Palestine-Israel lexicon, as a prerequisite to developing a fairer understanding of what is happening on the ground.

A Military Occupation – Not a ‘Conflict’

Quite often, mainstream Western media refers to the situation in Palestine and Israel as a  ‘conflict’, and to the various specific elements of this so-called conflict as a ‘dispute’. For example, the ‘Palestinian-Israeli conflict’ and the ‘disputed city of East Jerusalem’.

What should be an obvious truth is that besieged, occupied people do not engage in a ‘conflict’ with their occupiers. Moreover, a ‘dispute’ happens when two parties have equally compelling claims to any issue. When Palestinan families of East Jerusalem are being forced out of their homes which are, in turn, handed over to Jewish extremists, there is no ‘dispute’ involved. The extremists are thieves and the Palestinians are victims. This is not a matter of opinion. The international community itself says so.

‘Conflict’ is a generic term. Aside from absolving the aggressor – in this case, Israel – it leaves all matters open for interpretation. Since American audiences are indoctrinated to love Israel and hate Arabs and Muslims, siding with Israel in its ‘conflict’ with the latter becomes the only rational option.

Israel has sustained a military occupation of 22% of the total size of historic Palestine since June 1967. The remainder of the Palestinian homeland was already usurped, using extreme violence, state-sanctioned apartheid, and, as Pappé puts it, ‘incremental genocide’ decades earlier.

From the perspective of international law,  the term ‘military occupation’, ‘occupied East Jerusalem’, ‘illegal Jewish settlements’ and so forth, have never been ‘disputed’. They are simply facts, even if Washington has decided to ignore international law, and even if mainstream US media has chosen to manipulate the terminology as to present Israel as a victim, not the aggressor.

‘Process’ without ‘Peace’

The term ‘peace process’ was coined by American diplomats decades ago. It was put to use throughout the mid and late 1970s when, then-US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, labored to broker a deal between Egypt and Israel in the hope of fragmenting the Arab political front and, eventually, sidelining Cairo entirely from the ‘Arab-Israeli conflict’.

Kissinger’s logic proved vital for Israel as the ‘process’ did not aim at achieving justice according to fixed criteria that has been delineated by the United Nations for years. There was no frame of reference any more. If any existed, it was Washington’s political priorities which, historically, almost entirely overlapped with Israel’s priorities. Despite the obvious American bias, the US bestowed upon itself the undeserving title of ‘the honest peace broker’.

This approach was used successfully in the write-up to the Camp David Accords in 1978. One of the Accords’ greatest achievements is that the so-called ‘Arab-Israeli conflict’ was replaced with the so-called ‘Palestinian-Israeli conflict’.

Now, tried and true, the ‘peace process’ was used again in 1993, resulting in the Oslo Accords. For nearly three decades, the US continued to tout its self-proclaimed credentials as a peacemaker, despite the fact that it pumped – and continues to do so – $3-4 billion of annual, mostly military, aid to Israel.

On the other hand, the Palestinians have little to show for. No peace was achieved; no justice was obtained; not an inch of Palestinian land was returned and not a single Palestinian refugee was allowed to return home. However, American and European officials and a massive media apparatus continued to talk of a ‘peace process’ with little regard to the fact that the ‘peace process’ has brought nothing but war and destruction for Palestine, and allowed Israel to continue its illegal appropriation and colonization of Palestinian land.

Resistance, National Liberation – Not ‘Terrorism’ and ‘State-Building’

The ‘peace process’ introduced more than death, mayhem and normalization of land theft in Palestine. It also wrought its own language, which remains in effect to this day. According to the new lexicon, Palestinians are divided into ‘moderate’ and ‘extremists’. The ‘moderates’ believe in the American-led ‘peace process’, ‘peace negotiations’ and are ready to make ‘painful compromises’ in order to obtain the coveted ‘peace’. On the other hand, the ‘extremists’ are ‘Iran-backed’, politically ‘radical’ bunch that use ‘terrorism’ to satisfy their ‘dark’ political agendas.

But is this the case? Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, many sectors of Palestinian society, including Muslims and Christians, Islamists and secularists and, notably, socialists, resisted the unwarranted political ‘compromises’ undertaken by their leadership, which they perceived to be a betrayal of Palestinians’ basic rights. Meanwhile, the ‘moderates’ have largely ruled over Palestinians with no democratic mandate. This small but powerful group introduced a culture of political and financial corruption, unprecedented in Palestine. They applied torture against Palestinian political dissidents whenever it suited them. Not only did Washington say little to criticize the ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority’s dismal human rights record, but it also applauded it for its crackdown on those who ‘incite violence’ and their ‘terrorist infrastructure’.

A term such as ‘resistance’ – muqawama – was slowly but carefully extricated from the Palestinian national discourse. The term ‘liberation’ too was perceived to be confrontational and hostile. Instead, such concepts as ‘state-building’ – championed by former Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, and others – began taking hold. The fact that Palestine was still an occupied country and that ‘state-building’ can only be achieved once ‘liberation’ was first secured, did not seem to matter to the ‘donor countries’. The priorities of these countries – mainly US allies who adhered to the American political agenda in the Middle East – was to maintain the illusion of the ‘peace process’ and to ensure  ‘security coordination’ between PA police and the Israeli army carried on, unabated.

The so-called ‘security coordination’, of course, refers to the US-funded joint Israeli-PA efforts at cracking down on Palestinian resistance, apprehending Palestinian political dissidents and ensuring the safety of the illegal Jewish settlements, or colonies, in the occupied West Bank.

War and, Yes, Genocide in Gaza – Not ‘Israel-Hamas Conflict’

The word ‘democracy’ was constantly featured in the new Oslo language. Of course, it was not intended to serve its actual meaning. Instead, it was the icing on the cake of making the illusion of the ‘peace process’ perfect. This was obvious, at least to most Palestinians. It also became obvious to the whole world in January 2006, when the Palestinian faction Fatah, which has monopolized the PA since its inception in 1994, lost the popular vote to the Islamic faction, Hamas.

Hamas, and other Palestinian factions have rejected – and continue to reject – the Oslo Accords. Their participation in the legislative elections in 2006 took many by surprise, as the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) was itself a product of Oslo. Their victory in the elections, which was classified as democratic and transparent by international monitoring groups, threw a wrench in the US-Israeli-PA political calculations.

Lo and behold, the group that has long been perceived by Israel and its allies as ‘extremist’ and ‘terrorist’, became the potential leaders of Palestine! The Oslo spin doctors had to go into overdrive in order for them to thwart Palestinian democracy and ensure a successful return to the status quo, even if this meant that Palestine is represented by unelected, undemocratic leaders. Sadly, this has been the case for nearly 15 years.

Meanwhile, Hamas’ stronghold, the Gaza Strip, had to be taught a lesson, thus the siege imposed on the impoverished region for nearly 15 years. The siege on Gaza has little to do with Hamas’ rockets or Israel’s ‘security’ needs, the right to ‘defend itself’, and its supposedly ‘justifiable’ desire to destroy Gaza’s ‘terrorist infrastructure’. While, indeed, Hamas’ popularity in Gaza is unmatched anywhere else in Palestine, Fatah, too, has a powerful constituency there. Moreover, the Palestinian resistance in the Strip is not championed by Hamas alone, but also by other ideological and political groups, for example, the Islamic Jihad, the socialist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and other socialist and secular groups.

Misrepresenting the ‘conflict’ as a ‘war’ between Israel and Hamas is crucial to Israeli propaganda, which has succeeded in equating Hamas with militant groups throughout the Middle East and even Afghanistan. But Hamas is not ISIS, Al-Qaeda or Taliban. In fact, none of these groups are similar, anyway. Hamas is a Palestinian Islamic nationalist movement that operates within a largely Palestinian political context. An excellent book on Hamas is the recently published volume by Daud Abdullah, Engaging the World. Abdullah’s book rightly presents Hamas as a rational political actor, rooted in its ideological convictions, yet flexible and pragmatic in its ability to adapt to national, regional and international geopolitical changes.

But what does Israel have to gain from mischaracterizing the Palestinian resistance in Gaza? Aside from satisfying its propaganda campaign of erroneously linking Hamas to other anti-American groups, it also dehumanizes the Palestinian people entirely and presents Israel as a partner in the American global so-called ‘war on terror’. Israeli neofascist and ultranationalist politicians then become the saviors of humanity, their violent racist language is forgiven and their active ‘genocide’ is seen as an act of ‘self-defense’ or, at best, a mere state of ‘conflict’.

The Oppressor as the Victim

According to the strange logic of mainstream media, Palestinians are rarely ‘killed’ by Israeli soldiers, but rather ‘die’ in ‘clashes’ resulting from various ‘disputes. Israel does not ‘colonize’ Palestinian land; it merely ‘annexes’, ‘appropriates’, and ‘captures’, and so on. What has been taking place in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem, for example, is not outright property theft, leading to ethnic cleansing, but rather a ‘property dispute’.

The list goes on and on.

In truth, language has always been a part of Zionist colonialism, long before the state of Israel was itself constructed from the ruins of Palestinian homes and villages in 1948. Palestine, according to the Zionists, was ‘a land with no people’ for ‘a people with no land’. These colonists were never ‘illegal settlers’ but ‘Jewish returnees’ to their ‘ancestral homeland’, who, through hard work and perseverance, managed to ‘make the desert bloom’, and, in order to defend themselves against the ‘hordes of Arabs’, they needed to build an ‘invincible army’.

It will not be easy to deconstruct the seemingly endless edifice of lies, half-truths and intentional misrepresentations of Zionist Israeli colonialism in Palestine. Yet, there can be no alternative to this feat because, without proper, accurate and courageous understanding and depiction of Israeli settler colonialism and Palestinian resistance to it, Israel will continue to oppress Palestinians while presenting itself as the victim.

The post On “Conflict”, “Peace” and “Genocide”: Time for New Language on Palestine and Israel first appeared on Dissident Voice.

New Israeli Government, Same Israeli Apartheid

After 12 years, Israel finally inaugurated a new prime minister. While being hailed by many as the opportunity for a fresh start, Naftali Bennett is at best a continuer of Netanyahu’s policies and at worst an ideologue whose positions are to the right of Netanyahu’s.

In 2013, as Middle East peace talks were set to resume after a five-year freeze, Bennett reportedly proclaimed to Israeli National Security Adviser Ya’akov Amidror, “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there’s no problem with that.”

In 2014, Bennett, who had previously been the director of the Yesha Settlements Council, contradicted Netanyahu by asserting that all Jewish Israelis living in the West Bank, even those living in outposts that violate Israeli law, should remain under Israeli sovereignty, and called for more settlement construction. “This is the time to act,” he said. “We must continue building in all corners of the Land of Israel, with determination and without being confused. We are building and we will not stop.”

In 2016, as Israel’s Minister of Education, Bennett called on Israeli Jews to “give our lives” to annex the West Bank. While this might seem relatively innocuous, it was not. Bennett’s remarks invoked Kahanism, a Jewish supremacist ideology, based on the views of Rabbi Meir Kahane, that calls for violence and terrorism to be used to secure Israel as an ethno-nationalist state. In 1994, Israeli settler and Kahane follower Baruch Goldstein massacred Palestinians in the West Bank Ibrahimi mosque. In 1988, the Kach party was banned from running for the Israeli Knesset. In 2004, the US State Department labeled Kach a terrorist organization.

Sunday, June 13, 2021, right before he was inaugurated to replace Netanyahu as the prime minister of Israel, Bennett doubled down on his anti-Palestinian views proclaiming  that his government would “strengthen settlements across the whole of the Land of Israel.”

It’s not only on the Palestinian issue that Bennett is a far-right ideologue. Bennett uses his adherence to orthodox Judaism as cover for his opposition to gay marriage. “Judaism doesn’t recognize gay marriage, just as we don’t recognize milk and meat together as kosher, and nothing will change it,” he declared.  Netanyahu, by contrast, touts himself as being pro-LGBTQ+ rights. As recently as 2018 he wrote: “I am proud to be the prime minister of one of the world’s most open and free democracies… Israel consistently upholds civil equality and civil rights of all its citizens regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.”

So why then are progressive politicians and organizations responding so positively to the change in Israel? Bernie Sanders, known for his progressive stances and for being a congressional champion of Palestinian rights, said in a video that he was “hopeful” that the new government would be one “we will be better able to work with.” Americans for Peace Now, the sister organization of Shalom Achshav, Israel’s preeminent anti-settlement/pro-peace organization, released a statement that it “welcomes the swearing-in of Israel’s new government.” On Sunday night after the new government was sworn in, thousands of Israelis took to the streets in Tel Aviv — considered Israel’s bastion of secular liberalism — and celebrated into the night.

One answer lies in how fed up people inside and outside of Israel had become with Netanyahu’s rule. His tenure was marred by corruption charges and shrewd maneuvers to remain in power, and what had become an endless cycle of Israeli elections, during which the government was paralyzed and unable to pass a budget for the past three years.

The other answer, however, is that this was the best change that could be obtained from a government that prevents about five million people living under its rule from being able to vote. Here’s the situation:

About 20% of Israeli citizens are Palestinian. They can vote in all Israeli elections and have representation in Knesset. This election saw the first Palestinian party join an Israeli majority government coalition. However, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship represent only about one-third of the Palestinians living under Israeli rule and military occupation.

Though the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are the official governments of the West Bank and Gaza, respectively, Israel is the absolute power in charge. Israel controls the borders, the currency, and the central bank. It collects taxes on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA), maintains the right to carry out military operations on Palestinian land, and controls the amount of freedom, or lack thereof, that Palestinians are granted.

Israel approves only about half of the permits that residents of Gaza apply for to travel outside of Gaza for vital medical treatment. In 2017, 54 people died while awaiting a permit to travel for medical treatment, leading to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, to release a joint statement calling for the blockade of Gaza to be lifted.

Reasons for denying people in Gaza necessary medical treatment are often absurd, such as denying travel because a relative at one time moved from Gaza to the West Bank without Israeli permission. Even when not carrying out a massacre, such as the May 2021 one that killed 256 Palestinians, Israel regulates the fuel and building materials available to Gazans. At times, it has even controlled the number of food imports according to the number of calories Gazans should consume.

Israel controls not only the exterior borders of the West Bank but what goes on inside as well. While the Palestinian Authority manages utilities and infrastructure for much of the West Bank, Israel is the ultimate authority.  Israeli settler regional councils control 40% of West Bank land. Even in areas like Ramallah, supposedly under complete Palestinian Authority control, Israel reserves the right to enter the city at any time, close streets and shops, burst into homes, and make warrantless arrests.

While the PA does maintain a judicial and penal system, one that itself is incredibly repressive, Palestinians are also subject to Israel’s military court system and laws such as Military Order 101, which bans peaceful protest. Though they are prosecuted in Israeli military courts and serve time in Israeli military prisons, Palestinians have no say over who is appointed to run the Israeli military, let alone the military courts.

Jerusalem was captured by Israel in 1967 and formally, and illegally, annexed in 1980. Common sense might follow that Israel would have then absorbed the East Jerusalem Palestinians, now numbering around 370,000, and made them Israeli citizens.

Rather than holding citizenship, however, Jerusalem Palestinians hold the status of permanent residents, allowing them to vote in municipal, but not national, elections. While this may at first seem a move in the right direction, a closer look reveals careful manipulation of demographics to ensure an at least a 70% Jewish majority at all times. Through such policies as exorbitant taxation, requiring constant proof of residency, and denial of family unification, since 1967 Israel has managed to revoke the residency of 14,595 Palestinian Jerusalemites.

Right now Israel’s courts are in the process of ethnically cleansing the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Before the Nakba, when over 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes and lands to establish the state of Israel, two Jewish trusts purchased a plot of land in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. When Israel was established, the Jewish families living in Sheikh Jarrah left for West Jerusalem as that section of the city was now part of the new state of Israel while East Jerusalem came under Jordanian and UN control. In 1956, Jordan and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees resettled 28 Palestinian families who had been forced out of their homes inside the new state of Israel into Sheik Jarrah. In exchange for giving up their rightful refugee status, the 28 families were to receive ownership of the Sheikh Jarrah properties, but they never got the deeds to their properties. Israel is now trying to return the properties to the Jewish trusts who later sold them to Nahalat Shimon, a real-estate company registered in the US state of Delaware. The kicker is that while Israel regularly uses this tactic to remove Palestinians from East Jerusalem, Israeli law bars Palestinians from recovering property they lost in the Nakba, even if they still reside in areas controlled by Israel.

2021 marks 54 years of occupation, including 14 years of the siege of Gaza, and 28 years since the signing of the Oslo Accords that were supposed to create a Palestinian state. 600,000 Israeli citizens now live in the approximately 200 illegal Israeli settlements that cover the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

A breakdown of who is and isn’t allowed to vote between the Jordan river and the sea reveals Israel’s motivations:

  • Number of Jewish Israelis living in Israel proper, and East Jerusalem, and West Bank settlements: 6.589 million (Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics)

  • Number of Palestinian citizens of Israel (Palestinians who can vote in national elections): 1.5 million (Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics and Jerusalem Municipality)

  • Number of Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza who cannot vote in Israeli national elections: 4.88 million (Palestinian Authority Central Bureau of Statistics)

As we get to know Israel’s new prime minister and government, as we continue to watch Israel forcibly remove Palestinians from East Jerusalem, as we worry about a next massacre in Gaza, and as we continue to hear the absurd label of Israel as a democratic state, let’s not forget that the right to vote is only granted to 60% of the total population and only one-third of Palestinians who live under Israeli rule had any say Naftali Bennett becoming Israel’s thirteenth prime minister.

The post New Israeli Government, Same Israeli Apartheid first appeared on Dissident Voice.

US Compels Small African Country to Imprison Venezuelan Diplomat

The Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab, imprisoned for trying to buy humanitarian supplies from Iran in legal international trade but in violation of illegal US sanctions, is facing extradition to the US. That is like getting stabbed in the back and then being arrested for carrying a concealed weapon.

US extraterritorial judicial overreach

On June 12, 2020, Saab was on his way from Caracas to Tehran, when his plane had to make a routine fueling stop. While in the air, the pilot was informed that Morocco,  and Algeria would not allow the plane to land, ostensibly for COVID pandemic reasons. Instead, the plane was carefully choreographed to refuel in Cabo Verde, a small archipelago nation off the Atlantic coast of Africa.

Upon landing in Cabo Verde, Saab was forcibly removed from the plane, imprisoned, and held under torturous conditions. A year later, Saab, who is a lawfully appointed diplomatic agent of Venezuela, remains illegally imprisoned and is fighting extradition to the US.

Saab faces US charges with a maximum penalty of 160 years imprisonment. To put Saab’s potential sentence into perspective, the reportedly rogue Cabo Verde soldier who murdered eleven in the 2016 Monte Tchota massacre on the Cape Verdean island of Santiago received a 35-year sentence.

Although Saab had not violated any law in Cabo Verde, the US has been able to exert enormous pressure on one of the smallest countries in the world to detain Saab. As Canadian human rights lawyer John Philpot commented: “This is an egregious extraterritorial judicial overreach on the part of the US. The arrest and detention of a special envoy, on mission and in transit, is unprecedented and set a new nadir in just how low the US will stoop to fulfill a political foreign policy goal.”

The US can legally embargo any country it chooses and prevent US entities from trading with that country, as in the case of Venezuela. But this particular judicial exploit amounts to imposing US domestic law on the world. The US is enforcing what the United Nations calls unilateral coercive measures. These measures are literally starving the Venezuelan people and denying them medicine in a time of COVID – clearly collective punishment and therefor illegal.

Luis Filipe Tavares, who was prime minister at the time of Saab’s illegal arrest, affirmed that on all questions of national security Cabo Verde submits to US command. He declared: “The United States of America is the only one to defend us!” Cabo Verde, incidentally, is applying for membership in NATO, a US-commanded military alliance.

International human rights delegation responds to politicized case

Femi Falana, Saab’s lead attorney at the regional court in Nigeria, commented: “The public confession by the [Cabo Verde] Prosecutor General on Thursday last week that the case against Alex Saab is indeed rooted in political expediency.”

Saab’s habeas corpus writs have been twice taken to the Cabo Verde Supreme Court and twice denied on the absurd grounds that he is “already at liberty” and that there has been “no depreciation of freedom.”

In January, after seven months of prison conditions that the US State Department describes as “life threatening,” Saab was moved under regional judicial pressure to “house arrest,” which in this case is really prison by another name. He cannot leave the house and visitation even by his lawyers is severely limited. Saab, who has been diagnosed with cancer, has not been able to have his oncologist visit him. Similarly, visitation by members of his family and international legal team members has been denied.

The shuttered concrete block building, where Saab is confined, is under heavy police guard. Saab not only has to pay the rent on his de facto prison, but he also must pick up the tab on the adjacent building where his prison guards are quartered.

The next step in Saab’s legal defense is to challenge the constitutional grounds for the Cabo Verde Supreme Court’s decision not to release him. On Monday, writs of habeas corpus were filed at the Supreme Court, challenging the court’s rulings.

An emergency humanitarian delegation, which has been in Cabo Verde since June 3 working on a number of fronts to #FREEAlexSaab, filed the writs. The signatories are religious leader Bishop Filipe Teixeira of Boston and a Cabo Verdean citizen, Cabo Verdean presidential candidate Pericles Tavares and also of Providence, Rhode Island, and US citizens and human rights activists Sara Flounders with the International Action Center and Roger Harris with the Task Force on the Americas.

The writs of habeas corpus are on three grounds. First, Alex Saab is a special envoy of Venezuela and its deputy ambassador to the African Union. He thus has diplomatic immunity from arrest and detention.

The second ground refers to an INTERPOL Red Alert for his initial arrest. Although the Cabo Verdean authorities used this as an excuse to follow the dictates of the US, the Red Alert was cancelled, so it cannot be used to justify Saab’s continued arrest.

The third ground is the ruling by the regional court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to not only free Saab but to pay him $200,000 in damages. The claim by the Cabo Verde government that the ECOWAS ruling is not binding is bogus.

Saab’s lawyer in Cabo Verde’s capitol city of Praia, Jose Manuel Pinto Monteiro, explained that Cabo Verde is a member of the regional ECOWAS community, where it enjoys measures for economic development, mutual aid, and several other benefits. Yet Cabo Verde ingenuously refuses to come under ECOWAS’s human rights jurisdiction.

When the Saab case came before the ECOWAS court, Cabo Verde fully participated making procedural motions and oral arguments and then appealing and losing again. So, while in effect recognizing the court by being a full participant in their proceedings, Cabo Verde claimed that the regional court did not have jurisdiction after it had twice lost its case.

The Cabo Verde court will now have three months to consider the habeas corpus writs. However, attorney Pinto anticipates a decision as soon as mid-June. If it goes against Alex Saab, he may soon be extradited to the US for the “crime” of trying to secure humanitarian supplies for one of the 39 countries worldwide suffering under illegal US sanctions.

The post US Compels Small African Country to Imprison Venezuelan Diplomat first appeared on Dissident Voice.

On the Politics of Victory and Defeat: How Gaza Dethroned the King of Israel

How did Benjamin Netanyahu manage to serve as Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister? With a total of 15 years in office, Netanyahu surpassed the 12-year mandate of Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion. The answer to this question will become particularly critical for future Israeli leaders who hope to emulate Netanyahu’s legacy, now that his historic leadership is likely to end.

Netanyahu’s ‘achievements’ for Israel cannot be judged according to the same criteria as that of Ben Gurion. Both were staunch Zionist ideologues and savvy politicians. Unlike Ben Gurion, though, Netanyahu did not lead a so-called ‘war of independence’, merging militias into an army and carefully constructing a ‘national narrative’ that helped Israel justify its numerous crimes against the indigenous Palestinians, at least in the eyes of Israel and its supporters.

The cliched explanation of Netanyahu’s success in politics is that he is a ‘survivor’, a hustler, a fox or, at best, a political genius. However, there is more to Netanyahu than mere soundbites. Unlike other right-wing politicians around the world, Netanyahu did not simply exploit or ride the wave of an existing populist movement. Instead, he was the main architect of the current version of Israel’s right-wing politics. If Ben Gurion was the founding father of Israel in 1948, Netanyahu is the founding father of the new Israel in 1996. While Ben Gurion and his disciples used ethnic cleansing, colonization and illegal settlement construction for strategic and military reasons, Netanyahu, while carrying on with the same practices, changed the narrative altogether.

For Netanyahu, the biblical version of Israel was far more convincing than secular Zionist ideology of yesteryears. By changing the narrative, Netanyahu managed to redefine the support for Israel around the world, bringing together right-wing religious zealots, chauvinistic, Islamophobic, far-right and ultra-nationalist parties in the US and elsewhere.

Netanyahu’s success in rebranding the centrality of the idea of Israel in the minds of its traditional supporters was not a mere political strategy. He also shifted the balance of power in Israel by making Jewish extremists and illegal settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories his core constituency. Subsequently, he reinvented Israeli conservative politics altogether.

He also trained an entire generation of Israeli right-wing, far-right and ultra-nationalist politicians, giving rise to such unruly characters such as former Defense Minister and the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman, former Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, and former Defense Minister, and Netanyahu’s likely replacement, Naftali Bennett.

Indeed, a whole new generation of Israelis grew up watching Netanyahu take the right-wing camp from one success to another. For them, he is the savior. His hate-filled rallies and anti-peace rhetoric in the mid-1990s galvanized Jewish extremists, one of whom killed Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s former Prime Minister who engaged the Palestinian leadership through the ‘peace process’ and, ultimately, signed the Oslo Accords.

On Rabin’s death in November 1995, Israel’s political ‘left’ was devastated by right-wing populism championed by its new charismatic leader, Netanyahu, who, merely a few months later, became Israel’s youngest Prime Minister.

Despite the fact that, historically, Israeli politics is defined by its ever-changing dynamics, Netanyahu has helped the right prolong its dominance, completely eclipsing the once-hegemonic Labor Party. This is why the right loves Netanyahu. Under his reign, illegal Jewish colonies expanded unprecedentedly, and any possibility, however meager, of a two-state solution has been forever buried.

Additionally, Netanyahu changed the relationship between the US and Israel, where the latter was no longer a ‘client regime’ – not that it ever was in the strict definition of the term – but one that holds much sway over the US Congress and the White House.

Every attempt by Israel’s political elites to dislodge Netanyahu from power has failed. No coalition was powerful enough; no election outcome was decisive enough and no one was successful enough in convincing Israeli society that he could do more for them than Netanyahu has. Even when Gideon Sa’ar from Netanyahu’s own Likud party tried to stage his own coup against Netanyahu, he lost the vote and the support of the Likudists, later to be ostracized altogether.

Sa’ar later founded his own party, New Hope, continuing with the desperate attempt to oust the seemingly unconquerable Netanyahu. Four general elections within only two years still failed to push Netanyahu out. Every possible mathematical equation to unify various coalitions, all united by the single aim of defeating Netanyahu, has also failed. Each time, Netanyahu came back, with greater resolve to hang on to his seat, challenging contenders within his own party as well as his enemies from without. Even Israel’s court system, which is currently trying Netanyahu for corruption, was not powerful enough to compel disgraced Netanyahu to resign.

Until May of this year, Palestinians seemed to be marginal, if at all relevant to this conversation. Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation looked as if they were mollified, thanks to Israeli violence and Palestinian Authority acquiescence. Palestinians in Gaza, despite occasional displays of defiance, were battling a 15-year-long Israeli siege. Palestinian communities inside Israel seemed alien to any political conversation pertaining to the struggle and aspirations of the Palestinian people.

All of these illusions were dispelled when Gaza rose in solidarity with a small Palestinian community in Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem. Their resistance ignited a torrent of events that, within days, unified all Palestinians, everywhere. Consequently, the popular Palestinian revolt has shifted the discourse in favor of Palestinians and against the Israeli occupation.

Perfectly depicting the significance of that moment, the Financial Times newspaper wrote, “The ferocity of the Palestinian anger caught Israel by surprise.” Netanyahu, whose extremist goons were unleashed against Palestinians everywhere, similar to his army being unleashed against besieged Gaza, found himself at an unprecedented disadvantage. It took only 11 days of war to shatter Israel’s sense of ‘security’, expose its sham democracy and spoil its image around the world.

The once untouchable Netanyahu became the mockery of Israeli politics. His conduct in Gaza was described by leading Israeli politicians as “embarrassing”, a defeat and a “surrender”.

Netanyahu struggled to redeem his image. It was too late. As strange as this may sound, it was not Bennett or Lieberman who finally dethroned the “King of Israel’, but the Palestinians themselves.

The post On the Politics of Victory and Defeat: How Gaza Dethroned the King of Israel first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“The Savage Punishment Of Gaza”: Israel’s Latest Assault On Palestine’s Open Prison

Recent media coverage of Israel and Palestine, not least by BBC News, has been full of the usual deceptive propaganda tropes: Israel is ‘responding’ or ‘reacting’ to Palestinian ‘provocation’ and ‘escalation’; Palestinian rockets ‘killed’ Israelis, but Palestinians ‘have died’ from unnamed causes; Israel has ‘armed forces’ and ‘security forces’, but Hamas has ‘militants’. And, as ever, Palestinians were killed in far greater numbers than Israelis. At least 248 Palestinians were killed by Israeli bombardment in Gaza, including 66 children. Palestinian rocket fire killed 12 in Israel, including one child.

Imagine if the BBC reported:

Palestinian security forces responded after Israeli militants enforcing the apartheid occupation attacked and injured Palestinian worshippers.

BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen referred night after night on BBC News at Ten to ‘a war between Israel and Hamas’, a version of events pushed hard by Israel. As John Pilger said in a recent interview, ‘Bowen knows that’s wrong’. This is no war. In fact, the world has witnessed a massive attack by one of the world’s most powerful, lethal militaries, armed and supported to the hilt by the US (which sends $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel each year) and western allies, imposing a brutal occupation and deliberately subjecting the Palestinian civilian population to death, violence, terror and appalling hardship.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned early on that heavy Israeli bombing was pushing Gaza to the edge of catastrophe:

‘The Israeli bombing is incredibly heavy and stronger than previous bombing campaigns. Relentless bombing has destroyed many homes and buildings all around us. It’s not safe to go outside, and no one is safe inside, people are trapped. Emergency health workers are taking incredible but necessary risks to move around.’

On 19 May, the 10th day of intense Israeli bombardment of Gaza, the BBC News website carried headlines:

‘Israel targets Hamas chiefs’

And:

‘Israel targets Gaza militants’

So, why was Israel killing so many noncombatants, including children? Why were residences being flattened? The United Nations estimated that Israel had demolished 94 buildings in Gaza, comprising 461 housing and commercial units. Why were hospitals and clinics suffering so much damage? And buildings where media organisations were based?

Why were there Israeli airstrikes in the area of the MSF clinic in Gaza City, killing at least 42 people including 10 children? An orphanage was also destroyed.

The massacre was ‘one of the most horrific crimes’ Israel has committed during its ongoing war against the people of Gaza, according to Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor who added that:

‘the attack was not an isolated incident, but another example of Israel’s systematic policy that we have witnessed over the past six days.’

As Tamara Nasser observed in a piece on the Electronic Intifada website, Israel was unable to substantiate its claim that ‘Hamas military intelligence were using the building’ when pressed to do so by US public radio network NPR.

Nasser added:

‘Even if that Israeli claim were true, under the laws of war, Israel’s destruction of entire buildings would be wholly disproportionate.

‘Rather, Israel’s mass destruction of buildings and infrastructure appears to fit the pattern of the Dahiya Doctrine – named after its 2006 destruction of the southern suburb of Beirut.

‘The goal is to deliberately inflict such pain and suffering on the civilian population and society at large as to deter anyone from resisting against Israel’s occupation. This can be prosecuted as a war crime.’

It also serves as a useful definition of terrorism.

Christophe Deloire, Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said via Twitter:

‘What the Israeli army asserts, namely that the alleged presence of Hamas in the buildings would make them legitimate military objectives is absolutely false from a legal point of view, since they also house civilians, such as the media.’

He added:

‘Even assuming that the Israeli fire was necessary (which is absolutely not proven), the total destruction of the buildings demonstrates that the principles of distinction and proportionality have been flagrantly violated.’

Indeed, RSF sent a letter to Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, urging an investigation of Israel’s targeting of the offices of 23 media organizations in Gaza during Israel’s bombardment.

‘False Equivalence Between Occupier And Occupied’

Gregory Shupak wrote in a piece for Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, the US-based media watchdog, that corporate media coverage presented a ‘false equivalence between occupier and occupied’. He continued:

‘The fatal flaw in the “both sides” narrative is that only the Israeli side has ethnically cleansed and turned millions on the Palestinians’ side into refugees by preventing them from exercising their right to return to their homes. Israel is the only side subjecting anyone to apartheid and military occupation. It is only the Palestinian side—including those living inside of what is presently called Israel—that has been made to live as second-class citizens in their own land. That’s to say nothing of the lopsided scale of the death, injury and damage to infrastructure that Palestinians have experienced as compared to Israelis, both during the present offensive and in the longer term.’

When last week’s truce ‘between Israel and Hamas’ was imminent, Jeremy Bowen told BBC viewers:

‘Now, the essentials of that conflict are not going to change. Until they do, there will be more trouble in the future.’

But Israeli settler-colonialism, ethnic cleansing, lethal sanctions maintained by a brutal military occupation, apartheid, the killing and imprisonment of Palestinian children, Israel’s constant trampling of international law, and the daily humiliation of Palestinians constitute ‘trouble’ right now regardless of what happens ‘in the future’. These essential truths are regularly unmentioned or glossed over by Bowen, the BBC and the rest of a ‘mainstream’ media trying to ‘normalise the unthinkable’, by presenting violent occupation as a ‘clash’ between two sides competing for legitimacy.

As Abby Martin noted in a video powerfully rebutting the Israeli claim that Hamas uses ‘human shields’ in Gaza:

‘Israel has intentionally made Gaza unliveable. The only way Gaza is able to exert pressure on Israel is by firing rockets. If they peacefully protest their conditions, they’re massacred just the same. If they do nothing, Israel continues to blockade them, erode their living conditions while ethnically cleansing the rest of their land.’

This perspective – the Palestinian perspective – is almost entirely absent from news coverage. Moreover, WikiLeaks has revealed that when Israel’s forces invaded Gaza in 2009’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’, they  – Israel – did actually use Gazans as human shields. A classified US cable reported that Israeli soldiers:

‘testified to instances where Gazans were used as human shields, incendiary phosphorous shells were fired over civilian population areas, and other examples of excessive firepower that caused unnecessary fatalities and destruction of property.’

During the latest phase of Israeli aggression, Israel’s Minister of Defence Benny Gantz warned:

‘No person, neighbourhood or area in Gaza is immune [from airstrikes]’

This is a grotesque justification for war crimes. Where was the headlined outrage in response from ‘mainstream’ media that regularly cite defence of human rights as justification for war on countries like Iraq, Syria and Libya?

Hamas: A ‘Convenient Monster’

Hamas is regularly presented by corporate media as some kind of monster, a terrorist organisation with a declared intention of destroying Israel. This is a ‘convenient’ misrepresentation, as explained cogently in a recent interview with Frank Barat by Imad Alsoos, a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute, who is an expert on Hamas.

Likewise, in an interview with Afshin Rattansi on RT’s ‘Going Underground’, John Pilger commented:

‘There’s been a whole attempt to make Hamas the centre of the reporting. And that’s nonsense. As if Hamas is a peculiar demon. In fact, Hamas and its military wing are part of a resistance; a resistance that was provoked by the Israelis. The real demon in this is Israel. But it’s not simply Israel. I mean, this is as much a British and American war against Palestine, as it is an Israeli one.’

Pilger added that this is a war:

‘against the people of Palestine who are doing one thing – and that is exercising their moral and legal right to resist a brutal occupation.’

It is rarely mentioned in the ‘mainstream’ media that Hamas is, as Pilger pointed out, the legitimately elected government of Gaza. Moreover, Hamas has repeatedly declared its readiness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with the Jewish state within its pre-1967 borders. But Israel has always rejected the offer, just as it rejected the Arab League peace plan of 2002; and just as it has always rejected the international consensus for a peaceful solution in the Middle East. Why? Because the threat of such ‘peace offensives’ would involve unacceptable concessions and compromises. Israeli writer Amos Elon has written of the ‘panic and unease among our political leadership’ caused by Arab peace proposals.1

The Palestinians are seen as an obstacle by Israel’s leaders; an irritant to be subjugated. Noam Chomsky commented:

‘Traditionally over the years, Israel has sought to crush any resistance to its programs of takeover of the parts of Palestine it regards as valuable, while eliminating any hope for the indigenous population to have a decent existence enjoying national rights.’

And, as Chomsky noted:

‘The key feature of the occupation has always been humiliation: they [the Palestinians] must not be allowed to raise their heads. The basic principle, often openly expressed, is that the “Araboushim” – a term that belongs with “nigger” or “kike” – must understand who rules this land and who walks in it with head lowered and eyes averted.”2

In 2018, when Palestinians were being shot dead by Israeli soldiers in peaceful weekly ‘Great March of Return’ protests near Gaza’s border, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy observed that:

‘the killing of Palestinians is accepted in Israel more lightly than the killing of mosquitoes’.

Given all of the above context, it is criminal that, day after day, BBC News presented a false balance between a powerful Israeli state-occupier and a brutalised, ethnically cleansed, apartheid-suffering Palestinian people. This systematic misrepresentation of reality amounts to complicity in Israel’s vast PR campaign to ‘justify’ its war crimes, brutality and repression of Palestinian people.

As well as Bowen’s wilfully distorted reporting for BBC News, and the biased coverage by corporate media generally, Pilger pointed to the lack of dissent in the UK Parliament in the face of atrocities being committed once again by Israel. He focused particular attention on:

‘Starmer’s Labour party which allowed pro-Israel groups to direct the policies of the Labour party, that, in effect, support this attack. When you have the Shadow Foreign Secretary saying that to criticise Israeli atrocities is antisemitic, then we’re in Lewis Carroll world, really.’

Concluding Remarks

Chomsky once wrote of an elderly Palestinian man demonstrating in Gaza with a placard that read:

‘You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bombard my country, starve us all, humiliate us all but I am to blame: I shot a rocket back.’

This simple but devastating message, said Chomsky, is ‘the proper context’ for ‘the savage punishment of Gaza.’

It is a context that is almost entirely missing from corporate media coverage of Israel and Palestine, not least by BBC News.

  1. Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, Pluto Press, London, 1999, p. 75.
  2. Chomsky, op. cit., p. 489.
The post “The Savage Punishment Of Gaza”: Israel’s Latest Assault On Palestine’s Open Prison first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Jewish groups that aid Israel’s war crimes can’t deny all responsibility for those crimes

Here is something that can be said with great confidence. It is racist – antisemitic, if you prefer – to hold Jews, individually or collectively, accountable for Israel’s crimes. Jews are not responsible for Israel’s war crimes, even if the Israeli state presumes to implicate Jews in its crimes by falsely declaring it represents all Jews in the world.

Very obviously, it is not the fault of Jews that Israel commits war crimes, or that Israel uses Jews collectively as a political shield, exploiting sensitivities about the historical suffering of Jews at the hands of non-Jews to immunise itself from international opprobrium.

But here is something that can be said with equal certainty. Israel’s apologists – whether Jews or non-Jews – cannot deny all responsibility for Israel’s war crimes when they actively aid and abet Israel in committing those crimes, or when they seek to demonise and silence Israel’s critics so that those war crimes can be pursued in a more favourable political climate.

Such apologists – which sadly seems to include many of the community organisations in Britain claiming to represent Jews – want to have their cake and eat it.

They cannot defend Israel uncritically as it commits war crimes or seek legislative changes to assist Israel in committing those war crimes – whether it be Israel’s latest pummelling of civilians in Gaza, or its executions of unarmed Palestinians protesting 15 years of Israel’s blockade of the coastal enclave – and accuse anyone who criticises them for doing so of being an antisemite.

But this is exactly what has been going on. And it is only getting worse.

Upsurge in antisemitism?

As a ceasefire was implemented yesterday, bringing a temporary let-up in the bombing of Gaza by Israel, pro-Israel Jewish groups in the UK were once again warning of an upsurge of antisemitism they related to a rapid growth in the number of protests against Israel.

These groups have the usual powerful allies echoing their claims. British prime minister Boris Johnson met community leaders in Downing Street on Thursday pledging, as Jewish News reported, “to continue to support the community in the face of rising antisemitism attacks”.

Those Jewish leaders included Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, a supporter of Johnson who played a part in helping him win the 2019 election by renewing the evidence-free antisemitism smears against the Labour party days before voting. It also included the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which was founded specifically to whitewash Israel’s crimes during its 2014 bombardment of Gaza and has ever since been vilifying all Palestinian solidarity activism as antisemitism.

In attendance too was the Jewish Leadership Council, an umbrella organisation for Britain’s main Jewish community groups. In an article in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper on this supposed rise in antisemitism in the UK, the JLC’s vice-president, Daniel Korski, set out the ridiculous, self-serving narrative these community groups are trying to peddle, with seemingly ever greater success among the political and media elite.

Popular outrage over Gaza

Korski expressed grave concern about the proliferation of demonstrations in the UK designed to halt Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. During 11 days of attacks, more than 230 Palestinians were killed, including 65 children. Israel’s precision air strikes targeted more than a dozen hospitals, including the only Covid clinic in Gaza, dozens of schools, several media centres, and left tens of thousands of Palestinians homeless.

The sense of popular outrage at the Israeli onslaught was only heightened by the fact that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had clearly engineered a confrontation with Hamas at the outset to serve his immediate personal interests: preventing Israeli opposition parties from uniting to oust him from power.

In his naked personal calculations, Palestinian civilians were sacrificed to help Netanyahu hold on to power and improve his chances of evading jail as he stands trial on corruption charges.

But for Korski and the other community leaders attending the meeting with Johnson, the passionate demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinians are their main evidence for a rise in antisemitism.

‘Free Palestine’ chants

These community organisations cite a few incidents that undoubtedly qualify as antisemitism – some serious, some less so. They include shouting “Free Palestine” at individuals because they are identifiable as Jews, something presumably happening mostly to the religious ultra-Orthodox.

But these Jewish leaders’ chief concern, they make clear, is the growing public support for Palestinians in the face of intensifying Israeli aggression.

Quoting David Rich, of the Community Security Trust, another Jewish organisation hosted by Johnson, the Haaretz newspaper reports that “what has really shaken the Jewish community … ‘is that demos are being held all over the country every day about this issue’ [Israel’s bombardment of Gaza].”

Revealingly, it seems that when Jewish community leaders watch TV screens showing demonstrators chant “Free Palestine”, they feel it as a personal attack – as though they themselves are being accosted in the street.

One doesn’t need to be a Freudian analyst to wonder whether this reveals something troubling about their inner emotional life: they identify so completely with Israel that even when someone calls for Palestinians to have equal rights with Israelis they perceive as a collective attack on Jews, as antisemitism.

Exception for Israel

Then Korski gets to the crux of the argument: “As Jews we are proud of our heritage and at the same time in no way responsible for the actions of a government thousands of miles away, no matter our feelings or connection to it.”

But the logic of that position is simply untenable. You cannot tie your identity intimately to a state that systematically commits war crimes, you cannot classify demonstrations against those war crimes as antisemitism, you cannot use your position as a “Jewish community leader” to make such allegations more credible, and you cannot exploit your influence with world leaders to try to silence protests against Israel and then say you are “in no way responsible” for the actions of that government.

If you use your position to prevent Israel from being subjected to scrutiny over allegations of war crimes, if you seek to manipulate the public discourse with claims of antisemitism to create a more favourable environment in which those war crimes can be committed, then some of the blame for those war crimes rubs off on you.

That is how responsibility works in every other sphere of life. What Israel’s apologists are demanding is an exception for Israel and for themselves.

Lobby with the UK’s ear

In another revealing observation seeking to justify claims of an upsurge in antisemitism, Korski adds: “We don’t see the same kind of outpouring of emotion when it comes to the Rohingya or the Uighurs or Syria, and it makes a lot of Jews feel this is about them [as Jews].”

But there are many reasons why there aren’t equally large demonstrations in the UK against the suffering of the Rohingya and the Uighurs – reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with antisemitism.

The oppressors of the Rohingya and the Uighurs, unlike Israel, are not being generously armed by the British government or given diplomatic cover by Britain or being given preferential trade agreements by Britain.

But equally importantly, the states oppressing the Rohingya and Uighurs – unlike Israel – don’t have active, well-funded lobbies in the UK, with the ear of the prime minister. China and Myanmar – unlike Israel – don’t have UK lobbies successfully labelling criticism of them as racism. Unlike Israel, they don’t have lobbies that openly seek to influence elections to protect them from criticism. Unlike Israel, they don’t have lobbies that work with Britain to introduce measures to assist them in carrying out their oppression.

The president of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl, for example, pressed Johnson at the meeting this week to classify all branches of Hamas, not just its military wing, as a terrorist organisation. That is Israel’s wet dream. Such a decision would make it even less likely that Britain would be in a position to officially distance itself from Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, where Hamas runs the government, and even more likely it would join Israel in declaring Gaza’s schools, hospitals and government departments all legitimate targets for Israeli air strikes.

Pure projection

If you are lobbying to get special favours for Israel, particularly favours to help it commit war crimes, you don’t also get to wash your hands of those war crimes. You are directly implicated in them.

David Hirsch, an academic at the University of London who has been closely connected to efforts to weaponise antisemitism against critics of Israel, especially in the Labour party under its previous leader Jeremy Corbyn, also tries to play this trick.

He tells Haaretz that antisemitism is supposedly “getting worse” because Palestinian solidarity activists have been giving up on a two-state solution. “There used to be a struggle in Palestine solidarity between a politics of peace – two states living side by side – and a politics of denouncing one side as essentially evil and hoping for its total defeat.”

But what Hirsch is doing is pure projection: he is suggesting Palestinian solidarity activists are “antisemites” – his idea of evil – because they have been forced by Israel to abandon their long-favoured cause of a two-state solution. That is only because successive Israeli governments have refused to negotiate any kind of peace deal with the most moderate Palestinian leadership imaginable under Mahmoud Abbas – one that has eagerly telegraphed its desire to collaborate with Israel, even calling “security coordination” with the Israeli army “sacred”.

A two-state solution is dead because Israel made it dead not because Palestinian solidarity activists are more extreme or more antisemitic.

In calling to “Free Palestine”, activists are not demanding Israel’s “total defeat” – unless Hirsch and Jewish community organisations themselves believe that Palestinians can never be free from Israeli oppression and occupation until Israel suffers such a “total defeat”. Hirsch’s claim tells us nothing about Palestinian solidarity activists, but it does tell us a lot about what is really motivating these Jewish community organisations.

It is these pro-Israel lobbyists, it seems, more than Palestinian solidarity activists, who cannot imagine Palestinians living in dignity under Israeli rule. Is that because they understand only too well what Israel and its political ideology of Zionism truly represent, and that what is required of Palestinians for “peace” is absolute and permanent submission?

Better informed

Similarly, Rich, of the Community Security Trust, says of Palestinian solidarity activists: “Even the moderates have become extremists.” What does this extremism – again presented by Jewish groups as antisemitism – consist of? “Now the movement [in solidarity with Palestinians] is dominated by the view that Israel is an apartheid, genocidal, settler-colonialist state.”

Or in other words, these pro-Israel Jewish groups claim there has been a surge in antisemitism because Palestinian solidarity activists are being influenced and educated by human rights organisations, like Human Rights Watch and Israel’s B’Tselem. Both recently wrote reports classifying Israel as an apartheid state, in the occupied territories and inside Israel’s recognised borders. Activists are not becoming more extreme, they are becoming better informed.

And in making the case for a supposed surge in antisemitism, Rich offers another inadvertently revealing insight. He says Jewish children are suffering from online “abuse” – antisemitism – because they find it increasingly hard to participate on social media.

“Teenagers are much quicker to join social movements; we’ve just had Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion, #MeToo – now Jewish kids find all their friends are joining this [Palestinian solidarity] movement where they don’t feel welcome or they are singled out because they’re Jewish.”

Fancifully, Rich is arguing that Jewish children raised in Zionist families and communities that have taught them either explicitly or implicitly that Jews in Israel have superior rights to Palestinians are being discriminated against because their unexamined ideas of Jewish supremacy do not fit with a pro-Palestinian movement predicated on equality.

This is as preposterous as it would have been, during the Jim Crow era, for white supremacist Americans to have complained of racism because their children were being made to feel out of place in civil rights forums.

Such assertions would be laughable were they not so dangerous.

Demonised as antisemites

Zionist supporters of Israel are trying to turn logic and the world upside down. They are inverting reality. They are projecting their own racist, zero-sum assumptions about Israel on to Palestinian solidarity activists, those who support equal rights for Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East.

As they did with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition, these Jewish groups are twisting the meaning of antisemitism, skewing it from a fear or hatred of Jews to any criticism of Israel that makes pro-Israel Jews feel uncomfortable.

As we watch these arguments being amplified uncritically by leading politicians and journalists, remember too that it was the only major politician to demurred from this nonsensical narrative, Jeremy Corbyn, who became the main target – and victim – of these antisemitism smears.

Now these pro-Israel Jewish groups want to treat us all like Corbyn, demonising us as antisemites unless we fall silent even as Israel once again brutalises Palestinians.

The post Jewish groups that aid Israel’s war crimes can’t deny all responsibility for those crimes first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Unity at Last: The Palestinian People Have Risen  

From the outset, some clarification is needed regarding the language used to depict the ongoing violence in occupied Palestine, and also throughout Israel. This is not a ‘conflict’. Neither is it a ‘dispute’ nor ‘sectarian violence’ nor even a war in the traditional sense.

It is not a conflict, because Israel is an occupying power and the Palestinian people are an occupied nation. It is not a dispute, because freedom, justice and human rights cannot be treated as a mere political disagreement. The Palestinian people’s inalienable rights are enshrined in international and humanitarian law and the illegality of Israeli violations of human rights in Palestine is recognized by the United Nations itself.

If it is a war, then it is a unilateral Israeli war, which is met with humble, but real and determined Palestinian resistance.

Actually, it is a Palestinian uprising, an Intifada unprecedented in the history of the Palestinian struggle, both in its nature and outreach.

For the first time in many years, we see the Palestinian people united, from Jerusalem Al Quds, to Gaza, to the West Bank and, even more critically, to the Palestinian communities, towns and villages inside historic Palestine – today’s Israel.

This unity matters the most, is far more consequential than some agreement between Palestinian factions. It eclipses Fatah and Hamas and all the rest, because without a united people there can be no meaningful resistance, no vision for liberation, no struggle for justice to be won.

Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could never have anticipated that a routine act of ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem’s neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah could lead to a Palestinian uprising, uniting all sectors of Palestinian society in an unprecedented show of unity.

The Palestinian people have decided to move past all the political divisions and the factional squabbles. Instead, they are coining new terminologies, centered on resistance, liberation and international solidarity. Consequently, they are challenging factionalism, along with any attempt at making Israeli occupation and apartheid normal. Equally important, a strong Palestinian voice is now piercing through the international silence, compelling the world to hear a single chant for freedom.

The leaders of this new movement are Palestinian youth who have been denied participation in any form of democratic representation, who are constantly marginalized and oppressed by their own leadership and by the relentless Israeli military occupation. They were born into a world of exile, destitution and apartheid, led to believe that they are inferior, of a lesser race. Their right to self-determination and every other right were postponed indefinitely. They grew up helplessly watching their homes being demolished, their land being robbed and their parents being humiliated.

Finally, they are rising.

Without prior coordination and with no political manifesto, this new Palestinian generation is now making its voice heard, sending an unmistakable, resounding message to Israel and its right-wing chauvinistic society, that the Palestinian people are not passive victims; that the ethnic cleansing of Sheikh Jarrah and the rest of occupied East Jerusalem, the protracted siege on Gaza, the ongoing military occupation, the construction of illegal Jewish settlements, the racism and the apartheid will no longer go unnoticed; though tired, poor, dispossessed, besieged and abandoned, Palestinians will continue to safeguard their own rights, their sacred places and the very sanctity of their own people.

Yes, the ongoing violence was instigated by Israeli provocations in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. However, the story was never about the ethnic cleansing of Sheikh Jarrah alone. The beleaguered neighborhood is but a microcosm of the larger Palestinian struggle.

Netanyahu may have hoped to use Sheikh Jarrah as a way of mobilizing his right-wing constituency around him, intending to form an emergency government or increasing his chances of winning yet a fifth election. His rash behavior, initially compelled by entirely selfish reasons, has ignited a popular rebellion among Palestinians, exposing Israel for the violent, racist and apartheid state that it is and always has been.

Palestinian unity and popular resistance have proven successful in other ways, too. Never before have we seen this groundswell of support for Palestinian freedom, not only from millions of ordinary individuals across the globe, but also from celebrities – movie stars, footballers, mainstream intellectuals and political activists, even models and social media influencers. The hashtags #SaveSheikhJarrah and #FreePalestine, among numerous others, are now interlinked and have been trending on all social media platforms for weeks. Israel’s constant attempts at presenting itself as a perpetual victim of some imaginary horde of Arabs and Muslims are no longer paying dividends. The world can finally see, read and hear of Palestine’s tragic reality and the need to bring this tragedy to an immediate end.

None of this would be possible were it not for the fact that all Palestinians have legitimate reasons and are speaking in unison. In their spontaneous reaction and genuine communal solidarity, all Palestinians are united from Sheikh Jarrah to all of Jerusalem, to Gaza, Nablus, Ramallah, Al-Bireh and even Palestinian towns inside Israel – Al-Lud, Umm Al-Fahm, Kufr Qana and elsewhere. In Palestine’s new popular revolution, factions, geography and any political division are irrelevant. Religion is not a source of divisiveness but of spiritual and national unity.

The ongoing Israeli atrocities in Gaza are continuing, with a mounting death toll. This devastation will continue for as long as the world treats the devastating siege of the impoverished, tiny Strip as if irrelevant. People in Gaza were dying long before the Israeli airstrikes began blowing up their homes and neighborhoods. They were dying from the lack of medicine, polluted water, the lack of electricity and the dilapidated infrastructure.

We must save Sheikh Jarrah, but we must also save Gaza; we must demand an end to the Israeli military occupation of Palestine and, with it, the system of racial discrimination and apartheid. International human rights groups are now precise and decisive in their depiction of this racist regime, with Human Rights Watch – and Israel’s own rights group, B’tselem – joining the call for the dismantlement of apartheid in all of Palestine.

Speak up. Speak out. The Palestinians have risen. It is time to rally behind them.

The post Unity at Last: The Palestinian People Have Risen   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Reconciliation Means Rethinking Parks Governance


Protection and restoration are two sides of the conservation coin — protection for spaces that haven’t yet been damaged or destroyed by large-scale human impacts and restoration for ecologically critical places that have.

Although both might seem like relatively straightforward scientific tasks, they have been and continue to be significantly shaped by colonialism — globally and in Canada.

Landscape-level restoration initiatives are somewhat new. It’s only recently that the scale of our activities has degraded entire ecosystems. Yet restoration initiatives are still subject to colonial approaches.

Consider one recent European-led, nature-based approach to climate change, part of an initiative to plant a billion trees. It included the Serengeti plains and Kruger National Park in Africa as potential reforestation areas. According to the Yale Journal of Forestry, “By not excluding conservation areas and traditional rangelands … these maps promote the idea that Africa’s natural heritage can be turned into industrial tree plantations to offset the rich world’s carbon emissions.”

Protected areas were established in Canada decades before Newfoundland and Labrador joined other provinces and territories to form the country we know today. Most are rooted in a colonial approach that defied Indigenous rights and fractured Indigenous Peoples’ relations with land.

Jasper National Park’s website provides this overview: “When Jasper Park Forest Reserve was created in 1907… Indigenous peoples were seen as obstacles to the enjoyment of nature. According to wilderness conservation policies at the time, Indigenous peoples were considered incompatible with nature and so couldn’t live in, hunt, or harvest within park boundaries. First Nation and Métis peoples were physically removed from the landscape, blocked from accessing it and banned from harvesting plants and animals, holding gatherings and accessing cultural sites.”

This is not unique to Jasper. Indigenous people were also forcibly removed to create Vancouver’s Stanley Park and Quetico Park in Ontario, among others.

As Indigenous writer Robert Jago remarks in “National Parks Are Colonial Crime Scenes,” “Canada’s Parks Departments have treated Indigenous peoples like an infestation ever since the founding, in 1885, of what is now Banff National Park.”

How can we, who find solace and communion in parks, help overcome these past injustices?

Indigenous Peoples are already leading on many fronts, including championing land repatriation and Indigenous land governance, and by asserting rights and responsibilities that provincial and federal governments have long denied. These initiatives deserve broad public support.

As one example, in Jasper, Simpcw First Nation Chief Nathan Matthew announced in 2017 that his tribe was going to resume hunting deer, sheep and elk within the park, after being banned from doing so when the park was established. “We’re determined to exercise our title and right within our territory,” he said.

In “Return the National Parks to the Tribes,” Indigenous American David Treuer writes, “For Native Americans, there can be no better remedy for the theft of land than land. And for us, no lands are as spiritually significant as the national parks. They should be returned to us. Indians should tend — and protect and preserve — these favored gardens again.”

Canada too must explore new means of land governance. Indigenous Peoples have long histories of responsibly stewarding ecosystems, of living within them without causing their demise. Many national and provincial parks are not succeeding in their primary objective to maintain biodiversity. Jasper recently announced extirpation of a resident caribou herd, and conflict continues over management decisions that could affect the two remaining, highly imperilled, herds.

According to Treuer, “it’s not clear that today’s model of care and custodianship best meets the needs of the land, Native people, or the general public. Nor is it clear that the current system will adequately ensure the parks’ future. That’s something Indians are good at: pushing ahead while bringing the past along with us.… Placing these lands under collective Native control would be good not just for Natives, but for the parks as well.”

It’s our collective responsibility to engage in conversations about how new systems of land governance could look. Everything should be on the table, including ownership and governance of current protected areas. As Jago notes, “The places Canada has made into parks are filled with our stories — every mountain, every valley has a name and a history for Indigenous peoples.”

  • With contributions from Boreal Project Manager Rachel Plotkin.
  • Image credit: Jasper National Park

    The post Reconciliation Means Rethinking Parks Governance first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Jerusalem protests: The mob “breaking faces” learned from Israel’s establishment

    Inside the Israeli parliament and out on the streets of Jerusalem, the forces of unapologetic Jewish supremacism are stirring, as a growing section of Israel’s youth tire of the two-faced Jewish nationalism that has held sway in Israel for decades.

    Last week, Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the far-right Religious Zionism faction, a vital partner if caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands any hope of forming a new government, issued a barely veiled threat to Israel’s large Palestinian minority.

    Expulsion, he suggested, was looming for these 1.8 million Palestinians, a fifth of the Israeli population who enjoy very degraded citizenship. “Arabs are citizens of Israel – for now at least,” he told his party. “And they have representatives at the Knesset [Israeli parliament] – for now at least.” For good measure, he referred to Palestinian legislators – the elected representatives of Israel’s Palestinian minority – as “our enemies sitting in the Knesset”.

    Smotrich’s brand of brazen Jewish racism is on the rise, after his faction won six mandates in the 120-member parliament in March. One of those seats is for Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the neo-fascist Jewish Power party.

    Ben Gvir’s supporters are now in a bullish mood. Last month, they took to the streets around the occupied Old City of Jerusalem, chanting “Death to Arabs” and making good on promises in WhatsApp chats to attack Palestinians and “break their faces”.

    For days, these Jewish gangs of mostly youngsters have brought the lawless violence that has long reigned largely out of sight in the hills of the occupied West Bank into central Jerusalem. This time, their attacks haven’t been captured in shaky, out-of-focus YouTube videos. They have been shown on prime-time Israeli TV.

    Equally significant, these Jewish mobs have carried out their rampages during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

    Arson attacks

    The visibility and premeditation of this gang violence has discomfited many Israelis. But in the process, they have been given a close-up view of how appealing the violent, anti-Arab doctrines of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane – the ideological inspiration behind Jewish Power – are proving with a significant section of young Jews in Israel.

    One, sporting a “Kahane was right” badge, spoke for her peers as she was questioned on Israeli TV about the noisy chants of “May your village burn down” – a reference to so-called “price-tag” arson attacks committed by the Israeli far-right against Palestinian communities in the occupied territories and inside Israel.

    Olive groves, mosques, cars and homes are regularly torched by these Jewish extremists, who claim Palestinian lands as their exclusive biblical birthright.

    The woman responded in terms she obviously thought conciliatory: “I don’t say that it [a Palestinian village] should burn down, but that you should leave the village and we’ll go live in it.”

    She and others now sound impatient to bring forward the day when Palestinians must “leave”.

    Machinery of oppression

    These sentiments – in the parliament and out on the streets – have not emerged out of nowhere. They are as old as Zionism itself, when Israel’s first leaders oversaw the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from most of their homeland in 1948, in an act of mass dispossession Palestinians called their Nakba (catastrophe).

    Violence to remove Palestinians has continued to be at the core of the Jewish state-building project ever since. The rationale for the gangs beating up Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem are the actions pursued more bureaucratically by the Israeli state: its security forces, occupation administrators and courts.

    Last week, that machinery of oppression came under detailed scrutiny in a 213-page report from Human Rights Watch. The leading international human rights group declared that Israel was committing the crime of apartheid, as set out in international law.

    It argued that Israel had met the three conditions of apartheid in the Rome Statute: the domination of one racial group over another, systematic oppression of the marginalised group, and inhumane acts. Those acts include forcible transfer, expropriation of landed property, the creation of separate reserves and ghettos, denial of the right to leave and return to their country, and denial of the right to a nationality.

    Only one such act is needed to qualify as the crime of apartheid but, as Human Rights Watch makes clear, Israel is guilty of them all.

    Dragged out of bed

    What Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups have been documenting is equally visible to the gangs roaming Jerusalem. Israel’s official actions share a common purpose, one that sends a clear message to these youngsters about what the state – and Israel’s national ideology of Zionism – aims to achieve.

    They see Palestinian land reclassified as Jewish “state land” and the constant expansion of settlements that violate international law. They see Palestinians denied permits to build homes in their own villages. They see orders issued to demolish Palestinian homes, or even entire communities. And they see Palestinian families torn apart as couples, or their children, are refused the right to live together.

    Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinians with impunity, and drag Palestinian children out of bed in the middle of the night. They man checkpoints throughout the occupied West Bank, restricting the movement of Palestinians. They fire on, or “arrest”, Palestinians trying to seek work outside the closed-off ghettos Israel has imposed on them. And soldiers stand guard, or assist, as settlers run amok, attacking Palestinians in their homes and fields.

    All of this is invariably rubber-stamped as “legal” by the Israeli courts. Is it any surprise, then, that growing numbers of Israeli teenagers question why all these military, legal and administrative formalities are really necessary? Why not just beat up Palestinians and “break their faces” until they get the message that they must leave?

    Uppity natives

    The battlefront in Jerusalem in recent days – characterised misleadingly in most media as the site of “clashes” – has been the sunken plaza in front of Damascus Gate, a major entrance to the walled Old City and the Muslim and Christian holy places that lie within.

    The gate is possibly the last prominent public space Palestinians can still claim as theirs in central Jerusalem, after decades in which Israeli occupation authorities have gradually encircled and besieged their neighbourhoods, severing them from the Old City. During Ramadan, Damascus Gate serves as a popular communal site for Palestinians to congregate in the evenings after the daytime fast.

    It was Israeli police who triggered the current explosive mood in Jerusalem by erecting barriers at Damascus Gate to seal the area off at the start of Ramadan. The pretext was to prevent overcrowding, but – given their long experience of occupation – Palestinians understood the barriers as another “temporary” measure that quickly becomes permanent, making it ever harder for them to access the Old City and their holy sites. Other major gates to the occupied Old City have already been effectively “Judaised”.

    The decision of Israeli police to erect barriers cannot be divorced from a bigger context for Palestinians: the continuing efforts by Israeli authorities to evict them from areas around the Old City. In recent weeks, fresh waves of armed Jewish settlers have been moving into Silwan, a Palestinian community in the shadow of al-Aqsa Mosque. They have done so as Israel prepares to raze an entire Palestinian neighbourhood there, using its absolute control over planning issues.

    Similarly, the Israeli courts have approved the eviction of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, another neighbourhood under belligerent occupation close to the Old City that has been subjected to a long-running, state-backed campaign by Jewish settlers to take it over. Last month, Jerusalem officials added insult to injury by approving a plan to build a memorial to fallen Israeli soldiers in the midst of the Palestinian community.

    The decision to close off the Damascus Gate area was therefore bound to provoke resistance from Palestinians, who fought police to take down the barriers. Police responded with tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon.

    Those scenes – of uppity natives refusing to be disappeared back into their homes – were part of the trigger that brought the Jewish gangs out onto the streets in a show of force. Police largely let the mob rampage, as youths threw stones and bottles and attacked Palestinians.

    Tired of half measures

    The sight of Jewish gangs roaming central Jerusalem to hurt Palestinians has been described as a “pogrom” by some progressive US Jewish groups. But the difference between the far-right and the Israeli state in implementing their respective violent agendas is more apparent than real.

    Smotrich, Ben Gvir and these street gangs are tired of the half-measures, procrastination and moral posturing by Israeli elites who have hampered efforts to “finish the job”: clearing the native Palestinian population off their lands once and for all.

    Whereas Israeli politicians on the left and right have rationalised their ugly, racist actions on the pretext of catch-all “security” measures, the far-right has no need for the international community’s approval. They are impatient for a conclusion to more than seven decades of ethnic cleansing.

    And the ranks of the far-right are likely to swell further as it attracts ever-larger numbers of a new generation of the ultra-Orthodox community, the fastest-growing section of Israel’s Jewish population. For the first time, nationalist youths from the Haredi community are turning their backs on a more cautious rabbinical leadership.

    And while the violence in Jerusalem has subsided for the moment, the worst is unlikely to be over. The final days of Ramadan coincide this year with the notorious Jerusalem Day parade, an annual ritual in which Jewish ultra-nationalists march through the besieged Palestinian streets of the Old City chanting threats to Palestinians and attacking any who dare to venture out.

    Turning a blind eye

    Human Rights Watch’s detailed report concludes that western states, by turning a blind eye to Israel’s long-standing abuses of Palestinians and focusing instead on a non-existent peace process, have allowed “apartheid to metastasize and consolidate”.

    Its findings echo those of B’Tselem, Israel’s most respected human rights organisation. In January, it too declared Israel to be an apartheid regime in the occupied territories and inside Israel, towards its own Palestinian citizens.

    Despite the reluctance of US and European politicians and media to talk about Israel in these terms, a new survey by B’Tselem shows that one in four Israeli Jews accept “apartheid” as an accurate description of Israel’s rule over Palestinians. What is far less clear is how many of them believe apartheid, in the Israeli context, is a good thing.

    Another finding in the survey offers a clue. When asked about recent talk from Israeli leaders about annexing the West Bank, two-thirds of Israeli Jews reject the idea that Jews and Palestinians should have equal rights in those circumstances.

    The mob in Jerusalem is happy to enforce Israel’s apartheid now, in hopes of speeding up the process of expulsion. Other Israelis are still in denial. They prefer to pretend that apartheid has not yet arrived, in hopes of easing their consciences a little longer.

    • First published in Middle East Eye

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    Forgetting Citizenship: Australia Suspends Flights from India

    As India is being devastated by COVID-19 cases that have now passed a daily rate of 400,000, affluent and callous Australia has taken the decision to suspend all flights coming into the country till mid-month.  The decision was reached by the Morrison government with the blessing of the State Premiers and the Labor opposition.

    Not happy with banning flights from India, the Morrison government promises to be savage in punishing returnees who find ways to circumvent the ban (for instance, by travelling via a third country).  Citizens who breach the travel ban can face up to five years’ imprisonment and fines up to AU$66,000.  “We have taken drastic action to keep Australians safe,” explained the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.  The situation in India was “serious”; the decision had only been reached after considering the medical advice.

    According to a statement from Health Minister Greg Hunt, it was “critical the integrity of the Australian public health and quarantine systems is protected and the number of COVID-19 cases in quarantine is reduced to a manageable level.”

    The decision fails to carry any weight.  It did not take long for more alert medical practitioners to wonder why the approach to India was being so selectively severe.  Health commentator and GP Vyom Sharma thought the decision “incredibly disproportionate to the threat that it posed”.  Sharma is certainly correct on this score in terms of international law, which requires the least restrictive or least intrusive way of protecting citizens.

    Then there was the issue about the previous policies Canberra had adopted to countries suffering from galloping COVID-19 figures.  A baffled Sharma wondered, “Why is it that India has copped this ban and no people who have come from America?” Former race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane seconds the suspicions.  “We didn’t see differential treatment being extended to countries such as the United States, the UK, and any other European country even though the rates of infection were very high and the danger of its arrivals from those countries was very high.”

    The Australian Human Rights Commission has also asked the federal government to justify its actions. “The government must show that these measures are not discriminatory and the only suitable way of dealing with the threat to public health.”

    In the face of such behaviour, aggrieved citizens are left with few legal measures.  Australia, among liberal democratic states, is idiosyncratic in refusing to adopt a charter of rights. Down Under, parliamentarians are supposedly wise and keen to uphold human rights till they think otherwise.  (Human rights, the argument goes, would become the fodder of lawyers and judges, interfering with the absolute will of Parliament and the electors.)  The Australian Constitution is hopelessly silent on the issue of citizenship.  Left at the mercy of legislative regulation, Parliament and the executive can be disdainful towards their citizens without consequences.

    One avenue remains the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Committee.  On April 15, the UNHRC ruled on the case of two petitioners of FreeAndOpenAustralia.org (formerly StrandedAussies.org) that the Morrison government had to “facilitate and ensure their prompt return to Australia.”

    Represented by the notable sage of international law Geoffrey Robertson QC, the petitioners argued that Australia was in breach of Articles 12(4) and 2(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The first article provides that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country; the second provides for “effective” remedies to be granted to those whose rights and freedoms have been breached under the ICCPR.  The petitioners also freely admitted that they had no issue with quarantining for 14 days on returning to Australia.

    In the words of Free and Open Australia spokesperson Deb Tellis, the Commonwealth should “use its power to expand quarantine facilities, and end travel caps that are being dictated by the states.  There are thousands of our fellow citizens suffering loss of their relatives and loss of their jobs.”

    The government has preferred a meaner, penny pinching approach in coping with quarantine, reducing flights when needed rather than expanding facilities to accommodate a greater number of infected arrivals.  The hotel quarantine system continues to receive effusive praise from the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison as being 99.99 percent effective.  But it is impossible for him, and his ministers, to conceal the fact that they do not trust, and are unwilling, to use other facilities and expand existing ones.

    Since last November, there have been 16 COVID-19 leaks across the cities of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth from quarantine hotels.  At this writing, another quarantine leak is being reported in Western Australia, involving the now customarily infected hotel security guard and the inevitable seepage into the community.  The problem of airborne transmission continues to plague, as does the uneven provision of Personal Protective Equipment.  No national standard of quarantine has been formulated through the country, with each state adopting its own approach.  Audits of the ventilation systems in many such hotels remain sketchy.

    Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan, who recently imposed a lockdown of the Perth and Peel areas and may well do the same thing over the next few days, suggested that the Commonwealth be generous with some of its facilities.  Why not use the RAAF Curtin Air Base, or the immigration detention centres of Yongah Hill and Christmas Island?  “It’s kind of staring us in the face and there are things that could assist, it’s just that the Commonwealth doesn’t want to do it.”

    The evidence so far is that facilities such as Howard Springs in the Northern Territory tend to work.  It features single-storey cabins, segregated air conditioning systems, outdoor veranda space and, in the vicinity, a fully functioning hospital.  No leaks have been recorded.  And location is everything: distant from densely populated areas.  This government, however, is miserly on the issue of quarantine, an obligation it has transferred without constitutional justification to State premiers who fear both the virus and its electoral consequences.

    The post Forgetting Citizenship: Australia Suspends Flights from India first appeared on Dissident Voice.