Category Archives: International Law

How USA and Turkey Plunder and Loot Syria with Impunity

While President Trump lashes out at rioting and looting in Portland and Kenosha, half way around the world, the USA and Turkey are plundering and looting Syria on a vastly greater scale with impunity and little publicity.

Turkey Loots Syria, then Disrupts Safe Water Supply  

Turkey has been plundering the Syrian infrastructure for years.  Beginning in late 2012 and continuing through 2013 some 300 industrial factories were dismantled and taken to Turkey from Aleppo, the industrial capital of Syria. “Machinery and goods were loaded on trucks and carried off to Turkey through the Cilvegozu and Ceylanpinar crossings. Unfortunately, ‘plundering’ and ‘terror’ have become permanent parts of the Syrian lexicon when explaining their saga.”

In October 2019 Turkish forces invaded Syria and now occupy a strip of land in north east Syria. The area is controlled by the Turkish military and pro Turkish militia forces misnamed the “Syrian National Army”. Turkish President Erdogan dubbed the invasion “Peace Spring” and said the goal was to create a “safe zone”. The reality was that 200 thousand Syrians fled the invasion and over 100 thousand have been permanently displaced from their homes, farms, workplaces and livelihoods.

The industrial scale looting continues. As reported recently in the story headlined Turkish-backed factions take apart power pylons in rural Ras Al-Ain: “Reliable sources have informed SOHR that Turkish-backed factions steal electricity power towers and pylons in ‘Peace Spring’ areas in Ras Al-Ain countryside.”

Turkey now controls the border city of Ras al-Ain and the nearby Allouk water treatment and pumping station.  This is the water station supplying safe water to the city Hasaka and entire region. The Turkish forces are using water as a weapon of war, shutting down the station to pressure the population to be compliant.  For over two weeks in August, with daily temperatures of 100 F,  there was no running water for nearly one million people.

With no tap water, civilians were forced to queue up for hours to receive small amounts from water trucks. Unable to buy the water, other civilians took their chances by drinking water from unsafe wells. According to Judy Jacoub, a Syrian journalist originally from Hasaka, “The residents of Hasaka and its countryside have been pushed to rely on unsafe water sources ….Many residents have been suffering from the spread of fungi, germs and dirt in their hair and bodies as a result of using well water that is not suitable for drinking and personal hygiene. The people of Hasaka remain vulnerable to diseases and epidemics because of the high temperatures and spread of infectious diseases. If the situation is not controlled as soon as possible, the spread of Corona virus will undoubtedly be devastating.”  A hospital medical director says many people are getting sick from the contaminated water.

Judy Jacoub explains what has happened most recently: “After Syrian and international efforts exerted pressure on the Turkish regime, 17 wells and three pumps were started . The main reservoirs were filled and pumping was started toward the city neighborhoods.  However, despite the Turkish militia’s resumption of pumping water again, there is great fear among the citizens.”

USA Loots Syrian Oil and Plunders the Economy

The USA also has occupying troops and proxy/puppet military force in north east Syria. The proxy army is misnamed the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF). How they got that name is revealing. They took on this name as they came under the funding and control of the US military. As documented here, US Army General Ray Thomas told their leadership, “You have got to change your brand. What do you want to call yourselves besides the YPG?’  Then, he explained what happened: “With about a day’s notice they declared that they are the Syrian Democratic Forces. I thought it was a stroke of brilliance to put democracy in there somewhere.”

There are numerous parties and trends within the Syrian Kurdish community. The US has been funding and promoting the secessionist element, pushing them to ally with Turkish backed  jihadists against the Damascus government.  The violation of Syrian sovereignty is extreme and grotesque.

Prior to the war, Syria was self-sufficient in oil and had enough to export and earn some foreign revenues. The primary oil sources are in eastern Syria, where the US troops and proxy forces have established bases. It is desert terrain with little population.

To finance their proxy army, the US has seized control of the major Syrian oil pumping wells. It is likely that President Trump thinks this is brilliant bold move – financing the invasion of Syria with Syrian oil.

In November 2019 President Trump said, “We’re keeping the oil… The oil is secure. We left troops behind only for the oil.”  Recently, it was revealed that a “Little known US firm secures deal for Syrian oil“. Delta Crescent Energy will manage and escalate the theft of Syrian oil.

What would Americans think if another country invaded the US via Mexico, set up bases in Texas, sponsored a secessionist militia, then seized Texas oil wells to finance it?  That is comparable to what the US is doing in Syria.

In addition to stealing Syria’s oil, the US is trying to prevent Syria from developing alternate sources. The “Caesar sanctions” on Syria threatens to punish any individual, company or country that invests or assists Syria to rebuild their war damaged country and especially in the oil and gas sector.

The US establishment seems to be doing everything it can to undermine the Syrian economy and damage the Syrian currency. Due to pressure on Lebanese banks, plus the Caesar sanctions, the Syrian pound has plummeted in value from 650 to 2150 to the US dollar in the past 10 months.

North east Syria is the breadbasket of the country with the richest wheat and grain fields. There are reports of US pressuring farmers to not sell their wheat crops to the Syrian government. One year ago, Nicholas Heras of the influential Center for New American Security argued “Assad needs access to cereal crops in northeast Syria to prevent a bread crisis in the areas of western Syria that he controls….Wheat is a weapon of great power in this next phase of the Syrian conflict.”   Now, it appears the US is following this strategy. Four months ago, in May 2020,  Syrian journalist Stephen Sahiounie reported, “Apache helicopters of the US occupation forces flew low Sunday morning, according to residents of the Adla village, in the Shaddadi countryside, south of Hasaka, as they dropped ‘thermal balloons, an incendiary weapon, causing the wheat fields to explode into flames while the hot dry winds fanned the raging fire.

After delivering their fiery pay-load, the helicopters flew close to homes in an aggressive manner, which caused residents and especially small children to fear for their lives.  The military maneuver was delivering a clear message: don’t sell your wheat to the Syrian government.”

To better loot the oil and plunder the Syria economy, in the past weeks the US is sending more heavy equipment and military hardware through the Kurdish region of Iraq.

In the south of Syria, the US has another base and occupation zone at the strategic Al Tanf border crossing. This is at the intersection of the borders of Syria, Iraq and Jordan. This is also the border crossing for the highway from Baghdad to Damascus. The US controls this border area to prevent Syrian reconstruction projects from Iraq or Iran. When Syrian troops have tried to get near there, they have been attacked on their own soil.

Meanwhile, international funds donated for “Syrian relief” are disproportionally sent to support and assist the last strong-hold of Al Qaeda terrorists in Idlib on the north west border with Turkey.  The US and its partners evidently want to sustain the armed opposition and prevent the Syrian government from reclaiming their territory.

Flouting International Law and the UN Charter

The USA and Turkey have shown how easy it is to violate international law. The occupation of Syrian land and attacks on its sovereignty are being done in broad daylight. But this is not just a legal issue. Stopping the supply of safe drinking water and burning wheat fields to create more hunger violate the most basic tenets of decency and morality.

With supreme hypocrisy, the US foreign policy establishment often complains about the decline in the “rule of law”. In actuality, there is no greater violator than the US itself.

In his speech to the UN Security Council,  Syrian Ambassador Ja’afari decried this situation saying “international law has become like the gentle lamb whose care is entrusted to a herd of wolves.”

• Author’s note: To see good political and military maps of Syria,  go to southfront.org

The post How USA and Turkey Plunder and Loot Syria with Impunity first appeared on Dissident Voice.

USA’s Strangulation of the International Criminal Court

On 2 September, 2020, the US sanctioned two officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigating into alleged war crimes by US forces and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Afghanistan since 2003.The officials are ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, and the ICC’s head of Jurisdiction, Complementary, and Cooperation Division, Phakiso Mochochok (sanctioned for having materially assisted Prosecutor Bensouda). Announcing this decision, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said, “the United States is taking action to protect Americans from unjust and illegitimate investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which threatens our sovereignty and poses a danger to the United States and our allies…The ICC’s recklessness has forced us to this point, and the ICC cannot be allowed to follow through with its politically-driven targeting of U.S. personnel.”

The sanctions have racially targeted the two African individuals among the five officials in the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP). Despite possible links to the Afghanistan investigation on account of their judicial positions, the US has chosen not to sanction Director of the Investigations Division Michel de Smedt, Deputy Prosecutor James Stewart, and Director of the Prosecutions Division Fabricio Guariglia.

Through the sanctions, Bensouda and Mochochok have been included in the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list, maintained by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The consequences of being designated include:

  • “any assets the person has in the United States are frozen;
  • the individual can no longer conduct transactions in U.S. dollars which may occur anywhere in the world;
  • persons, including financial institutions, cannot conduct transactions with or provide services to the designated individual;
  • the designated individual and their family members are barred from entering the United States; and
  • anyone who materially assists the designated individual can themselves be designated.”

American Hostility toward ICC

The US government’s hatred of the ICC boils down to one primary concern: the possibility that US citizens may be prosecuted and convicted by the court for grisly conduct supported by the American empire. As a result, the US has been in conflict with ICC from the start, trying to subvert its judicial capacities. One month after the ICC officially came into existence on July 1, 2002, US President George Bush signed the American Service members’ Protection Act (ASPA), which limited U.S. government assistance to the ICC; curtailed military assistance to countries that ratified the Rome Statute (the treaty establishing ICC); and authorized the President to use “all means necessary and appropriate to bring about the release” of certain U.S. and allied persons who may be detained or tried by the ICC.

As the US believes that ICC is a threat to its imperialist excesses, top officials of the country have never relented in their vituperation and destabilization of the intergovernmental organization. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called ICC a “kangaroo court”. Similarly, Attorney-General William Barr said that the US Justice Department had “received substantial credible information that raises serious concerns about a long history of financial corruption and malfeasance at the highest levels in the office of the prosecutor.” President Trump, while addressing UN General Assembly, stated, “United States will provide no support or recognition to the International Criminal Court. As far as America is concerned the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority.” Such villificatory language reached its apogee when John Bolton gave a speech to the Federalist Society in Washington, D.C on 11 September, 2018. During the speech, he dubbed ICC as (1) a “supranational tribunal” that targeted “America’s senior political leadership” and (2) a “free-wheeling global organization claiming jurisdiction over individuals without their consent.” If that was not enough, he further said in a thuggish tone: “The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court. We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

The Afghanistan Investigation

In November 2017, the currently sanctioned Prosecutor Bensouda asked for authorization from the ICC’s judiciary to investigate crimes against humanity and war crimes by the Taliban and their affiliated Haqqani Network; war crimes of ill-treatment by the Afghan intelligence agency National Directorate for Security and the Afghan National Police; and war crimes of torture by US military forces deployed in Afghanistan and in secret detention facilities operated by the CIA. Bensouda requested a full investigation because US administrations and courts have consistently chosen not to prosecute the torturers. While torture was banned in 2009 by former President Barack Obama, the torturers were allowed to get off scot-free. Talking about this decision to award impunity to the torturers, Obama had said, “You know, it is important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.”

In response to this potential investigation, the US revoked Bensouda’s entry-visa on 4 April, 2019 and Pompeo hubristically stated, “I’m announcing a policy of US visa restrictions on those individuals directly responsible for any ICC investigation of US personnel…If you’re responsible for the proposed ICC investigation of US personnel in connection with the situation in Afghanistan you should not assume that you still have, or will get, a visa or that you will be permitted to enter the United States,”.

Facing the US-sponsored public campaign of defamation and aggressions, the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the ICC rejected Bensouda’s request on 12 April, 2019, – 8 days after the visa revocation- expressing concern over (1) the “availability of evidence for crimes dating back so long in time”; (2) the prospect of attaining meaningful cooperation from relevant actors; and (3) the “significant amount of resources” necessary to fund this sort of investigation considering the ICC’s budget. The Pre-Trial Chamber believed that there was no reasonable basis to believe the investigation served “the interests of justice” although it accepted that there was a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed in the territory of Afghanistan by various actors.

The rejection of Bensouda’s request was closely tied with USA’s attempts to prevent its imperialist cruelty from being fully exposed by a judicial body. Article 15 of the Rome Statute provides that “victims may make representations to the Pre-Trial Chamber either in support or opposition to the Prosecutor’s request for an investigation.” In Ms. Bensouda’s case, 680 out of 699 applications submitted to the court by victims and victims groups welcomed the requested investigation. Despite the support of the victims, the US unilaterally impeded the investigation, nakedly asserting the ruthlessness of its imperial power.

To contest the rejection of Bensouda’s Afghanistan investigation, the OTP and the legal representatives of 3 victims appeared before the Pre-Trial Chamber in June 2019. Six months later, the Appeals Chamber of the ICC held a three-day public hearing where the OTP, victims’ representatives, the defense lawyer of the Afghan government and several civil society members presented their arguments against or in support of the Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision. After this public hearing, the Appeals Chamber of the ICC decided unanimously on 5 March, 2020, to authorize the Prosecutor to commence the investigation into the crimes committed on the territory of Afghanistan since 1 May 2003, as well as other crimes that have a nexus to the armed conflict in Afghanistan and were committed on the territory of other States Parties, including Poland, Romania and Lithuania by the US army and CIA.

Enraged by ICC’s actions, President Donald Trump issued an executive order  on 11 June, 2020, that authorized asset freezes and family travel bans against ICC officials and potentially targeted others who assist ICC investigations. In the executive order, Trump said that the authorization of investigation into US war crimes in Afghanistan threatens “to infringe upon the sovereignty of the United States and impede the critical national security and foreign policy work of United States Government and allied officials”. Building upon these unfounded claims, he went on to say: “I therefore determine that any attempt by the ICC to investigate, arrest, detain, or prosecute any United States personnel…constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.” All these statements amount to an arrogant declaration of impunity for any American involved in war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Furthermore, through these conceited declarations, the US is blatantly asserting that it is justified to kill people in pursuit of expansionist aims.

USA’s Contorted Arguments

In view of the audacity shown by the ICC in authorizing the Afghanistan investigation, new sanctions have been imposed on two ICC officials in the contemporary period. To legitimize its aggressive actions against the ICC, the US has relied on contorted legal arguments.

Repeatedly, the US has declared that it is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the ICC and, being a non-signatory national, is not bound by the norms created by the ICC. Contrary to this reasoning, the core crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction-genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes-are crimes of universal jurisdiction and thus, the nationals of the US can be subject to prosecution before the court. Echoing this point, the UN General Assembly has declared: “States shall co-operate with each other on a bilateral and multilateral basis with a view to halting and preventing war crimes and crimes against humanity, and shall take the domestic and international measures necessary for that purpose.” Moreover, nationals of non-Party States have long been exposed to potential prosecution without the consent of their governments. The US itself has accepted this by becoming party to treaties such as the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention against Torture which obligate the parties to pursue the malefactor regardless of whether they are a national of a state that is party to the treaty in question.

By punishing the ICC for attempting to expose the barbarism of its war on Afghanistan, the US has overtly outlined the coercive foundations upon which its empire is built. Slowly and steadily, it is becoming clear that the US is guided by imperialist interests and is willing to flout any law to expand its empire.

The post USA’s Strangulation of the International Criminal Court first appeared on Dissident Voice.

What You Need to Know about the ICC Investigation of War Crimes in Occupied Palestine

Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), has, once and for all, settled the doubts on the Court’s jurisdiction to investigate war crimes committed in occupied Palestine.

On April 30, Bensouda released a 60-page document diligently laying down the legal bases for that decision, concluding that “the Prosecution has carefully considered the observations of the participants, and remains of the view that the Court has jurisdiction over the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

Bensouda’s legal explanation was itself a preemptive decision, dating back to December 2019, as the ICC Prosecutor must have anticipated an Israeli-orchestrated pushback against the investigation of war crimes committed in the Occupied Territories.

After years of haggling, the ICC had resolved in December 2019 that, “there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine, pursuant to article 53(1) of the Statute.”

Article 53(1) merely describes the procedural steps that often lead, or do not lead, to an investigation by the Court.

That Article is satisfied when the amount of evidence provided to the Court is so convincing that it leaves the ICC with no other option but to move forward with an investigation.

Indeed, Bensouda had already declared late last year that she was “satisfied that (i) war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip… (ii) potential cases arising from the situation would be admissible; and (iii) there are no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice.”

Naturally, Israel and its main Western ally, the United States, fumed. Israel has never been held accountable by the international community for war crimes and other human rights violations in Palestine. The ICC’s decision, especially if the investigation moves forward, would be an historic precedent.

But, what are Israel and the US to do when neither are state parties in the ICC, thus having no actual influence on the internal proceedings of the court? A solution had to be devised.

In a historic irony, Germany, which had to answer to numerous war crimes committed by the Nazi regime during World War II, stepped in to serve as the main defender of Israel at the ICC and to shield accused Israeli war criminals from legal and moral accountability.

On February 14, Germany filed a petition with the ICC requesting an “amicus curiae”, meaning “friend of the court”, status. By achieving that special status, Germany was able to submit objections, arguing against the ICC’s earlier decision on behalf of Israel.

Germany, among others, then argued that the ICC had no legal authority to discuss Israeli war crimes in the occupied territories. These efforts, however, eventually amounted to nil.

The ball is now in the court of the ICC pre-trial chamber.

The pre-trial chamber consists of judges that authorize the opening of investigations. Customarily once the Prosecutor decides to consider an investigation, she has to inform the Pre-Trial Chamber of her decision.

According to the Rome Statute, Article 56(b), “… the Pre-Trial Chamber may, upon request of the Prosecutor, take such measures as may be necessary to ensure the efficiency and integrity of the proceedings and, in particular, to protect the rights of the defence.”

The fact that the Palestinian case has been advanced to such a point can and should be considered a victory for the Palestinian victims of the Israeli occupation. However, if the ICC investigation moves forward according to the original mandate requested by Bensouda, there will remain major legal and moral lapses that frustrate those who are advocating justice on behalf of Palestine.

For example, the legal representatives of the ‘Palestinian Victims Residents of the Gaza Strip’ expressed their concern on behalf of the victims regarding “the ostensibly narrow scope of the investigation into the crimes suffered by the Palestinian victims of this situation.”

The ‘narrow scope of the investigation’ has thus far excluded such serious crimes as crimes against humanity. According to the Gaza legal team, the killing of hundreds and wounding of thousands of unarmed protesters participating in the ‘Great March of Return’ is a crime against humanity that must also be investigated.

The ICC’s jurisdiction, of course, goes beyond Bensouda’s decision to investigate ‘war crimes’ only.

Article 5 of the Rome Statute – the founding document of the ICC – extends the Court’s jurisdiction to investigate the following “serious crimes”:

(a) The crime of genocide

(b) Crimes against humanity

(c) War crimes

(d) The crime of aggression

It should come as no surprise that Israel is qualified to be investigated on all four points and that the nature of Israeli crimes against Palestinians often tends to, constitute a mixture of two or more of these points simultaneously.

Former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights (2008-2014), Prof. Richard Falk, wrote in 2009, soon after a deadly Israeli war on the besieged Gaza Strip, that:

Israel initiated the Gaza campaign without adequate legal foundation or just cause, and was responsible for causing the overwhelming proportion of devastation and the entirety of civilian suffering. Israeli reliance on a military approach to defeat or punish Gaza was intrinsically ‘criminal’, and as such demonstrative of both violations of the law of war and the commission of crimes against humanity.

Falk extended his legal argument beyond war crimes and crimes against humanity into a third category. “There is another element that strengthens the allegation of aggression. The population of Gaza had been subjected to a punitive blockade for 18 months when Israel launched its attacks.”

What about the crime of apartheid? Does it fit anywhere within the ICC’s previous definitions and jurisdiction?

The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid of November 1973 defines apartheid as:

a crime against humanity and that inhuman acts resulting from the policies and practices of apartheid and similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination, as defined in article II of the Convention, are crimes violating the principles of international law, in particular the  purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and constituting a serious threat to international peace and security.

The Convention came into force in July 1976, when twenty countries ratified it. Mostly western powers, including the United States and Israel, opposed it.

Particularly important about the definition of apartheid, as stated by the Convention, is that the crime of apartheid was liberated from the limited South African context and made applicable to racially discriminatory policies in any state.

In June 1977, Addition Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions designated apartheid as, “a grave breach of the Protocol and a war crime.”

It follows that there are legal bases to argue that the crime of apartheid can be considered both a crime against humanity and a war crime.

Former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights (2000-2006), Prof. John Dugard, said this soon after Palestine joined the ICC in 2015:

For seven years, I visited the Palestinian territory twice a year. I also conducted a fact-finding mission after the Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008, 2009. So, I am familiar with the situation, and I am familiar with the apartheid situation. I was a human rights lawyer in apartheid South Africa. And I, like virtually every South African who visits the occupied territory, has a terrible sense of déjà vu. We’ve seen it all before, except that it is infinitely worse. And what has happened in the West Bank is that the creation of a settlement enterprise has resulted in a situation that closely resembles that of apartheid, in which the settlers are the equivalent of white South Africans. They enjoy superior rights over Palestinians, and they do oppress Palestinians. So, one does have a system of apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territory. And I might mention that apartheid is also a crime within the competence of the International Criminal Court.

Considering the number of UN resolutions that Israel has violated throughout the years — the perpetual occupation of Palestine, the siege on Gaza, and the elaborate system of apartheid imposed on Palestinians through a large conglomerate of racist laws (culminating in the so-called Nation-State Law of July 2018) — finding Israel guilty of war crimes, among others “serious crimes”, should be a straightforward matter.

But the ICC is not entirely a legal platform. It is also a political institution that is subject to the interests and whims of its members. Germany’s intervention, on behalf of Israel, to dissuade the ICC from investigating Tel Aviv’s war crimes, is a case in point.

Time will tell how far the ICC is willing to go with its unprecedented and historic attempt aimed at, finally, investigating the numerous crimes that have been committed in Palestine unhindered, with no recourse and no accountability.

For the Palestinian people, the long-denied justice cannot arrive soon enough.

The Coronavirus Pandemic, Like Other Global Catastrophes, Reveals the Limitations of Nationalism

We live with a profound paradox.  Our lives are powerfully affected by worldwide economic, communications, transportation, food supply, and entertainment systems.  Yet we continue an outdated faith in the nation-state, with all the divisiveness, competition, and helplessness that faith produces when dealing with planetary problems.

As we have seen in recent weeks, the coronavirus, like other diseases, does not respect national boundaries, but spreads easily around the world.  And how is it being confronted?  Despite the heroic efforts of doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel, the governments of individual nations have largely gone their own way―some denying the pandemic’s existence, others taking fragmentary and sometimes contradictory steps, and still others doing a reasonably good job of stemming the contagion.  The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) should be at the center of a global campaign to contain the disease.  But its early warnings were ignored by many national officials, including those of the U.S. government, who rejected the WHO’s coronavirus testing kits.  Moreover, the WHO has limited funding―more than three-quarters of which now comes from voluntary contributions rather than from the dwindling assessments paid by individual nations.  Undermined by parochial national concerns, the WHO has been less effective in safeguarding the health of the world’s people than it could have been.

Similarly, the unfolding climate disaster presents a stark contrast between a worldwide problem and the behavior of national governments.  The world’s leading climate scientists have concluded that urgent changes are needed by 2030 to rescue the planet from irreversible climate catastrophe, including extreme heat, drought, floods, and escalating poverty.  And yet, despite an upsurge of social movements to save the planet, national governments have been unable to agree on remedial action, such as sharps curbs on fossil fuel production.  Indeed, two of the biggest oil producers―the Russian and Saudi Arabian governments―are currently opening the spigots in an oil production war.  For its part, the U.S. government has turned sharply against the solar power industry and is heavily subsidizing the fossil fuel industry.  This national irresponsibility occurs despite the urgent pleas of UN leaders.  “The point of no return is no longer over the horizon,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters in late 2019.  “It is in sight and hurtling toward us.”

Warfare, of course, constitutes yet another problem of global dimensions.  Over the centuries, war has shattered countless lives and brought human civilization to the brink of annihilation.  It is estimated that, during the 20th century alone, war (including two world wars) caused 187 million deaths, plus far greater numbers of injuries, widespread devastation, and economic ruin.  Furthermore, nuclear war, unleashed in 1945 as the culmination of World War II, today has the potential to wipe out virtually all life on earth.  And how are individual nations preparing to avert this global catastrophe?  By getting ready to fight wars with one another!  In 2018 (the last year for which figures are available), world military expenditures rose to a record $1.8 trillion, with the governments of the United States and China leading the way.  Ignoring the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the nine nuclear-armed nations, at enormous cost, are currently busy ramping up their nuclear production facilities and producing a new generation of nuclear weapons.  In response to the looming nuclear menace and climate catastrophe, the editors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently reset the hands of their famous “Doomsday Clock” at an unprecedented 100 seconds to midnight.

Nor are these the only global threats that the nation-state system has failed to adequately address.  Among other things, the world is undergoing a refugee crisis of vast proportions, suffering from the predatory policies of multinational corporations, and experiencing widespread poverty and violations of human rights.  Do we really think that the current crop of flamboyant, flag-waving nationalist leaders, busy promising to make their countries “great” again, are going to solve these or other global problems?

Of course, for centuries there have been great ethical, intellectual, and political leaders who have sought to move beyond nationalism by emphasizing the common humanity of all people.  “The world is my country,” declared the adopted American revolutionary Tom Paine, and “all mankind are my brethren.”  Albert Einstein dismissed nationalism as “an infantile disease,” while British novelist H.G. Wells, like Einstein, became a staunch advocate of world government.  The idea of limiting national sovereignty in the interest of global security helped spark the creation of the League of Nations and, later, the United Nations.

But, unfortunately, the rulers of numerous countries, though often paying lip service to international law and international security, have never accepted significant limitations on their own government’s ability to do what it liked in world affairs.  Thus, major military powers hamstrung the League and the United Nations by refusing to join these world organizations, withdrawing from them, vetoing or ignoring official resolutions, and refusing to pay their annual dues or other assessments.  A particularly flagrant example of contempt for global governance occurred in mid-March 2020, when the U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, ridiculed the International Criminal Court and threatened its staff (and even their family members) for daring to investigate U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan.

Thus, although robust and capable global governance is now more necessary than ever, a primitive, shortsighted nationalism continues to frustrate efforts to come to grips with massive global problems.

Even so, an extraordinary danger presents humanity with an extraordinary opportunity.  The coronavirus disaster, like the other current catastrophes ravaging the planet, might finally convince people around the globe that transcending nationalism is central to survival.

12 Ways the U.S. Invasion of Iraq Lives On In Infamy

While the world is consumed with the terrifying coronavirus pandemic, on March 19 the Trump administration will be marking the 17th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq by ramping up the conflict there. After an Iran-aligned militia allegedly struck a U.S. base near Baghdad on March 11, the U.S. military carried out retaliatory strikes against five of the militia’s weapons factories and announced it is sending two more aircraft carriers to the region, as well as new Patriot missile systems and hundreds more troops to operate them. This contradicts the January vote of the Iraqi Parliament that called for U.S. troops to leave the country. It also goes against the sentiment of most Americans, who think the Iraq war was not worth fighting, and against the campaign promise of Donald Trump to end the endless wars.

Seventeen years ago, the U.S. armed forces attacked and invaded Iraq with a force of over 460,000 troops from all its armed services, supported by 46,000 UK troops, 2,000 from Australia and a few hundred from Poland, Spain, Portugal and Denmark. The “shock and awe” aerial bombardment unleashed 29,200 bombs and missiles on Iraq in the first five weeks of the war.

The U.S. invasion was a crime of aggression under international law, and was actively opposed by people and countries all over the world, including 30 million people who took to the streets in 60 countries on February 15, 2003, to express their horror that this could really be happening at the dawn of the 21st century. American historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who was a speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy, compared the U.S. invasion of Iraq to Japan’s preemptive attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and wrote, “Today, it is we Americans who live in infamy.”

Seventeen years later, the consequences of the invasion have lived up to the fears of all who opposed it. Wars and hostilities rage across the region, and divisions over war and peace in the U.S. and Western countries challenge our highly selective view of ourselves as advanced, civilized societies. Here is a look at 12 of the most serious consequences of the U.S. war in Iraq.

1. Millions of Iraqis Killed and Wounded

Estimates on the number of people killed in the invasion and occupation of Iraq vary widely, but even the most conservative estimates based on fragmentary reporting of minimum confirmed deaths are in the hundreds of thousands. Serious scientific studies estimated that 655,000 Iraqis had died in the first three years of war, and about a million by September 2007. The violence of the U.S. escalation or “surge” continued into 2008, and sporadic conflict continued from 2009 until 2014. Then in its new campaign against Islamic State, the U.S. and its allies bombarded major cities in Iraq and Syria with more than 118,000 bombs and the heaviest artillery bombardments since the Vietnam War. They reduced much of Mosul and other Iraqi cities to rubble, and a preliminary Iraqi Kurdish intelligence report found that more than 40,000 civilians were killed in Mosul alone. There are no comprehensive mortality studies for this latest deadly phase of the war. In addition to all the lives lost, even more people have been wounded. The Iraqi government’s Central Statistical Organization says that 2 million Iraqis have been left disabled.

2. Millions More Iraqis Displaced

By 2007, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that nearly 2 million Iraqis had fled the violence and chaos of occupied Iraq, mostly to Jordan and Syria, while another 1.7 million were displaced within the country. The U.S. war on the Islamic State relied even more on bombing and artillery bombardment, destroying even more homes and displacing an astounding 6 million Iraqis from 2014 to 2017. According to the UNHCR, 4.35 million people have returned to their homes as the war on IS has wound down, but many face “destroyed properties, damaged or non-existent infrastructure and the lack of livelihood opportunities and financial resources, which at times [has] led to secondary displacement.” Iraq’s internally displaced children represent “a generation traumatized by violence, deprived of education and opportunities,” according to UN Special Rapporteur Cecilia Jimenez-Damary.

3. Thousands of American, British and Other Foreign Troops Killed and Wounded

While the U.S. military downplays Iraqi casualties, it precisely tracks and publishes its own. As of February 2020, 4,576 U.S. troops and 181 British troops have been killed in Iraq, as well as 142 other foreign occupation troops. Over 93 percent of the foreign occupation troops killed in Iraq have been Americans. In Afghanistan, where the U.S. has had more support from NATO and other allies, only 68 percent of occupation troops killed have been Americans. The greater share of U.S. casualties in Iraq is one of the prices Americans have paid for the unilateral, illegal nature of the U.S. invasion. By the time U.S. forces temporarily withdrew from Iraq in 2011, 32,200 U.S. troops had been wounded. As the U.S. tried to outsource and privatize its occupation, at least 917 civilian contractors and mercenaries were also killed and 10,569 wounded in Iraq, but not all of them were U.S. nationals.

4. Even More Veterans Have Committed Suicide

More than 20 U.S. veterans kill themselves every day—that’s more deaths each year than the total U.S. military deaths in Iraq. Those with the highest rates of suicide are young veterans with combat exposure, who commit suicide at rates “4-10 times higher than their civilian peers.” Why? As Matthew Hoh of Veterans for Peace explains, many veterans “struggle to reintegrate into society,” are ashamed to ask for help, are burdened by what they saw and did in the military, are trained in shooting and own guns, and carry mental and physical wounds that make their lives difficult.

5. Trillions of Dollars Wasted

On March 16, 2003, just days before the U.S. invasion, Vice President Dick Cheney projected that the war would cost the U.S. about $100 billion and that the U.S. involvement would last for two years. Seventeen years on, the costs are still mounting. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated a cost of $2.4 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University’s Linda Bilmes estimated the cost of the Iraq war at more than $3 trillion, “based on conservative assumptions,” in 2008. The UK government spent at least 9 billion pounds in direct costs through 2010. What the U.S. did not spend money on, contrary to what many Americans believe, was to rebuild Iraq, the country our war destroyed.

6. Dysfunctional and Corrupt Iraqi Government

Most of the men (no women!) running Iraq today are still former exiles who flew into Baghdad in 2003 on the heels of the U.S. and British invasion forces. Iraq is finally once again exporting 3.8 million barrels of oil per day and earning $80 billion a year in oil exports, but little of this money trickles down to rebuild destroyed and damaged homes or provide jobs, health care or education for Iraqis, only 36 percent of whom even have jobs. Iraq’s young people have taken to the streets to demand an end to the corrupt post-2003 Iraqi political regime and U.S. and Iranian influence over Iraqi politics. More than 600 protesters were killed by government forces, but the protests forced Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign. Another former Western-based exile, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, the cousin of former U.S.-appointed interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, was chosen to replace him, but he resigned within weeks after the National Assembly failed to approve his cabinet choices. The popular protest movement celebrated Allawi’s resignation, and Abdul Mahdi agreed to remain as prime minister, but only as a “caretaker” to carry out essential functions until new elections can be held. He has called for new elections in December. Until then, Iraq remains in political limbo, still occupied by about 5,000 U.S. troops.

7. Illegal War on Iraq Has Undermined the Rule of International Law

When the U.S. invaded Iraq without the approval of the UN Security Council, the first victim was the United Nations Charter, the foundation of peace and international law since World War II, which prohibits the threat or use of force by any country against another. International law only permits military action as a necessary and proportionate defense against an attack or imminent threat. The illegal 2002 Bush doctrine of preemption was universally rejected because it went beyond this narrow principle and claimed an exceptional U.S. right to use unilateral military force “to preempt emerging threats,” undermining the authority of the UN Security Council to decide whether a specific threat requires a military response or not. Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general at the time, said the invasion was illegal and would lead to a breakdown in international order, and that is exactly what has happened. When the U.S. trampled the UN Charter, others were bound to follow. Today we are watching Turkey and Israel follow in the U.S.’s footsteps, attacking and invading Syria at will as if it were not even a sovereign country, using the people of Syria as pawns in their political games.

8. Iraq War Lies Corrupted U.S. Democracy

The second victim of the invasion was American democracy. Congress voted for war based on a so-called “summary” of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was nothing of the kind. The Washington Post reported that only six out of 100 senators and a few House members read the actual NIE. The 25-page “summary” that other members of Congress based their votes on was a document produced months earlier “to make the public case for war,” as one of its authors, the CIA’s Paul Pillar, later confessed to PBS Frontline. It contained astounding claims that were nowhere to be found in the real NIE, such as that the CIA knew of 550 sites where Iraq was storing chemical and biological weapons. Secretary of State Colin Powell repeated many of these lies in his shameful performance at the UN Security Council in February 2003, while Bush and Cheney used them in major speeches, including Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address. How is democracy—the rule of the people—even possible if the people we elect to represent us in Congress can be manipulated into voting for a catastrophic war by such a web of lies?

9. Impunity for Systematic War Crimes

Another victim of the invasion of Iraq was the presumption that U.S. presidents and policy are subject to the rule of law.  Seventeen years later, most Americans assume that the president can conduct war and assassinate foreign leaders and terrorism suspects as he pleases, with no accountability whatsoever—like a dictator. When President Obama said he wanted to look forward instead of backward, and held no one from the Bush administration accountable for their crimes, it was as if they ceased to be crimes and became normalized as U.S. policy. That includes crimes of aggression against other countries; the mass killing of civilians in U.S. airstrikes and drone strikes; and the unrestricted surveillance of every American’s phone calls, emails, browsing history and opinions. But these are crimes and violations of the U.S. Constitution, and refusing to hold accountable those who committed these crimes has made it easier for them to be repeated.

10. Destruction of the Environment

During the first Gulf War, the U.S. fired 340 tons of warheads and explosives made with depleted uranium, which poisoned the soil and water and led to skyrocketing levels of cancer. In the following decades of “ecocide,” Iraq has been plagued by the burning of dozens of oil wells; the pollution of water sources from the dumping of oil, sewage and chemicals; millions of tons of rubble from destroyed cities and towns; and the burning of huge volumes of military waste in open air “burn pits” during the war. The pollution caused by war is linked to the high levels of congenital birth defects, premature births, miscarriages and cancer (including leukemia) in Iraq. The pollution has also affected U.S. soldiers. “More than 85,000 U.S. Iraq war veterans… have been diagnosed with respiratory and breathing problems, cancers, neurological diseases, depression and emphysema since returning from Iraq,” as the Guardian reports. And parts of Iraq may never recover from the environmental devastation.

11. The U.S.’s Sectarian “Divide and Rule” Policy in Iraq Spawned Havoc Across the Region

In secular 20th-century Iraq, the Sunni minority was more powerful than the Shia majority, but for the most part, the different ethnic groups lived side-by-side in mixed neighborhoods and even intermarried. Friends with mixed Shia/Sunni parents tell us that before the U.S. invasion, they didn’t even know which parent was Shia and which was Sunni. After the invasion, the U.S. empowered a new Shiite ruling class led by former exiles allied with the U.S. and Iran, as well as the Kurds in their semi-autonomous region in the north. The upending of the balance of power and deliberate U.S. “divide and rule” policies led to waves of horrific sectarian violence, including the ethnic cleansing of communities by Interior Ministry death squads under U.S. command. The sectarian divisions the U.S. unleashed in Iraq led to the resurgence of Al Qaeda and the emergence of ISIS, which have wreaked havoc throughout the entire region.

12. The New Cold War Between the U.S. and the Emerging Multilateral World

When President Bush declared his “doctrine of preemption” in 2002, Senator Edward Kennedy called it “a call for 21st century American imperialism that no other nation can or should accept.” But the world has so far failed to either persuade the U.S. to change course or to unite in diplomatic opposition to its militarism and imperialism. France and Germany bravely stood with Russia and most of the Global South to oppose the invasion of Iraq in the UN Security Council in 2003. But Western governments embraced Obama’s superficial charm offensive as cover for reinforcing their traditional ties with the U.S. China was busy expanding its peaceful economic development and its role as the economic hub of Asia, while Russia was still rebuilding its economy from the neoliberal chaos and poverty of the 1990s. Neither was ready to actively challenge U.S. aggression until the U.S., NATO and their Arab monarchist allies launched proxy wars against Libya and Syria in 2011. After the fall of Libya, Russia appears to have decided it must either stand up to U.S. regime change operations or eventually fall victim itself.

The economic tides have shifted, a multipolar world is emerging, and the world is hoping against hope that the American people and new American leaders will act to rein in this 21st-century American imperialism before it leads to an even more catastrophic U.S. war with Iran, Russia or China. As Americans, we must hope that the world’s faith in the possibility that we can democratically bring sanity and peace to U.S. policy is not misplaced. A good place to start would be to join the call by the Iraqi Parliament for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.

• This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

I am not a Journalist

I did not complete a journalism degree at university. I do not work for a professional news outlet, whether electronic, acoustic or print in format. I have always understood myself as a curious person, interested in public affairs or what ought to be public, and with a desire and some ability to write both to my friends and to the public at large.

However, I have written and edited periodical publications. I attended workshops and seminars designated as journalism courses. I was briefly recorded as a journalism major at my university. But I do not hesitate to say that was because there was a vacant student senate seat in that college and I was interested in election to the student senate. I wrote for the college paper, co-edited the high school paper and even recorded radio broadcasts on school and educational policy. All of that is ancient history, which in journalism’s terms means it happened yesterday or the day before yesterday.

Since at an early age I considered the possibility of the law as a profession — one I did not follow. = I also took an interest in the development of case law pertaining to what in Anglo-Saxon context is called “freedom of the press”. Freedom of the Press is often thought together as complementary to freedom of speech. However, they are distinct. The case law establishing the “freedom of the Press” actually emerged and can only be understood in the context of the Press as a commercial enterprise, as property and the use of such property, to print for profit material or immaterial. In the US and subsequently in the minds of those who imagine that the specific conditions of the US constitute universals this freedom emerged from libel litigation, specifically the inherited doctrines of British law pertaining to criminal/ seditious libel against the sovereign and his or her officers.

US law underwent a significant divergence from the still draconian British libel law by holding that it was the burden of the plaintiff to show that he was libelled by the utterance of false or defamatory statements. Under British law it was and is generally held that the defendant had the burden of proving that the utterances were true and/ or not defamatory. Hence there was a presumption against the defendant, especially in offenses like seditious libel or libel against the sovereign (lese majeste). By reversing the burden of proof, the principle was established that even an erroneous report could not be held libellous without showing additionally intent or malice in propagation of the utterance. This led to the doctrine that freedom of the Press was to be protected from the so-called “chilling effect” that government actions at libel would have on free and open debate of public policy.

This did not prevent the introduction and enforcement of laws like the Alien and Sedition Acts against opposition press in the early years of US independence. What all good students of journalism, US history and law learn is that the landmark decision ending the potential for actions alleging seditious libel or libel against the sovereign was New York Times v. Sullivan. In this case the US Supreme Court denied relief to a government officer who had sued the newspaper for libel of his person. The decision is understood as requiring a higher standard of proof by a government officer to prevail in a libel action pertaining to his acts or functions as a public official. That higher standard permitted even a falsehood, inaccuracy, or lie to be published which would satisfy the criteria for libel in an ordinary civil action — if the plaintiff could not prove that the false or defamatory utterance was not published with full knowledge of its libelous character and/ or reckless disregard for the libelous character of the utterance. In short, a published utterance about — or pertaining to — a government official could not be made subject of a personal action at libel in lieu of an inadmissible action such as seditious libel or libel against the sovereign. This became the foundation of at least a theoretical freedom of the Press in the US far beyond what British or Continental European law permitted.

However, it is essential when interpreting the scope of any “freedom” in the US to see it in the context of who was vested with that freedom. Just as another notorious US Supreme Court ruling, the so-called Dred Scott decision, enshrined for decades (if not, in fact, to this day) the principle that “a black man possesses no rights which a white man is bound to respect”. The jurisprudence of the US includes elements which are striking in the scope of freedom it ostensibly upholds until viewed, including the legal subjects entitled to assert or enforce such freedom. There, despite the eventual removal of property bars in matters like suffrage, the overwhelming majority of legal freedoms acknowledged by the US courts are vested in those who hold property. In fact, a corporation under US law enjoys legal personality and “human rights” because it is a holder of property.

The development of the freedom of the Press in the US was the development of the doctrine that private property was vested with rights and immunities, even if such rights, privileges and immunities could only be exercised by owners of such property, directly or through agents. At the same time persons without property retained theoretical liberties but these could only be effectively enforced when property was sufficient. Corporations, for instance, have a legal right to immortality; something natural persons cannot exercise — even as a claim against capital punishment in the US.

The freedom of the Press about which so much has been said and written is not so simple or straightforward as, especially its Left/ liberal advocates, would have us believe (or believe themselves). Just as the freedom of the Press evolved as a property right, the extension of that right or its privileges to professional journalists derives essentially from the delegation of duties by masters to their servants. It is not an original right. Even US jurisprudence is very ambivalent as to the scope to which a journalist enjoys “professional privilege” — equivalent to that recognised for lawyers, physicians and accountants. There is, for instance, a great legal confusion among those who assert that the persecution of Mr Julian Assange is a violation of the freedom of the press.

While it may be desirable to assert and have such a freedom, there is no consistent jurisprudence upon which to base such a claim in the case of Mr Assange or for that matter even one of his staunchest public defenders, the respected journalist and filmmaker Mr John Pilger, also of Australia. Professional privilege is exactly that, a privilege and not a right. The notion of professional privilege derives from the idea that an individual has certain rights that he or she can exercise through specialised agents who thereby become protected by the rights of the principal. A lawyer cannot be compelled to testify against his client since his very function is to act for or as an extension of his client. If the client has the right to remain silent, then his legal counsel is privileged to remain silent on his behalf. The same applies to physicians analogously. An agent, however, cannot have more privileges than the underlying rights of his principal. A journalist to the extent he is an agent or servant of a publisher enjoys the privileges necessary for his principal to exercise his rights through his servant. The question is then whether in any given case the privilege claimed could be traced to the master-servant condition or whether it is a personal act by the agent/ servant in his or her own capacity as natural person.

The State’s case against Mr Assange, seen from this viewpoint, is to deny that he enjoys professional privilege since his alleged acts constitute those which would not be protected for the principal — were it a property holder/ corporate citizen and also are not protected as free speech. This free speech principle is far more important to the case and it is therefore very curious that it is not the focus of defence by Mr Assange’s supporters. Perhaps this argument is not asserted because there is, in fact, no freedom of speech that can be defended here — within the Anglo-American legal environment. Mr Assange cannot claim he is a US citizen publishing freely information of legitimate interest to his fellow citizens. He is an Australian and at best he could claim to expose Australian information to his fellow Australians. Perhaps I have missed something, but I believe that acts by a foreigner exposing or publishing information from a foreign state, however obtained, is not privileged in any country. It is closely linked to the crime of espionage. In fact, that is the charge levied against Mr Assange.

In the preface to his book The Age of Surveillance: The Aims and Methods of the American Political Intelligence System (1980), Frank Donner makes a very strong criticism against the civil liberties approach to political conflict in the US. He says outright that the courts are inappropriate and ineffective means to resolve political conflicts. The fact that conflicts arise which individually must be fought through the courts should not be confused with the underlying political issues which courts cannot and will not resolve.

The gravest problem with the defence of Mr Assange is that the political conflict upon which it is ultimately based cannot be reduced to a judicial question. It cannot be won as a judicial question also because the doctrines asserted in his defence, no matter how desirable, simply do not constitute the law. It is therefore a testimony — and a painful one — that the political forces are not strong enough or sufficiently concentrated to articulate the real conflicts; e.g., the evil of US Empire and its acts either directly or through NATO or its other vassals and agents. This is the kind of information, which released through Mr Assange’s efforts, which presents the material evidence against the mythology sustaining support for the US regime in much of the world. However, this information itself cannot crystallise the conflicts — i.e., give shape to strong parties able to contest the power of the US. The US regime knows this and therefore can make the light if absurd assertion that the only way such information could be directed against the US is in the interest of another power; e.g., Russia. A personal conflict with the US cannot be recognised by the State, except in criminal or civil law, not as political conflict since Mr Assange is not a State, nor is he a US citizen.

Still if there is any meaning to the notion of world citizenship as the subject claiming such rights as to peace or sustenance or human rights under the UN Charter, then it must be clear that Mr Assange is exercising rights that are, in fact, universal human rights under the Charter. Perhaps the best of these is the inherent right to self-defence and against the international crime of aggression. From these comes the general jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity, which permit anyone to complain and file charges. However, as yet an enforceable universal freedom of speech and press, especially given that the legal principles from which such freedom might be derived are inevitably Anglo-American, is far from being recognized, let alone deemed justiciable.

Therefore to claim Mr Assange’s defence on the basis of journalistic privilege is both obfuscating and self-serving for the profession at best. It is a weak substitute for facing the political conflict that his work has illuminated and moderately catalysed but not yet organized. It is also an implicit submission to judicial remedies for questions that cannot be decided on the basis of the principles asserted — principles that are not internationally recognised nor even consistently enforced in the US itself, let alone UK courts.

This is not intended to detract from the legitimate and strenuous efforts to spare Mr Assange from being sent to hell, aka the US gulag, where even the acknowledged victims of US political justice have been rotting with no hope of parole or pardon, never mind rehabilitation. Mr Assange was kidnapped — in public — yet kidnapped nonetheless in an action like those performed on Vietnamese when the US invaded Vietnam and established through the CIA the so-called Phoenix Program. There is no doubt he would have been assassinated if that had been possible without undue attention. His case is a theatrical case of the vicious system of extraordinary rendition legalised since adoption of the USA Patriot Act, and implemented with public and secret executive orders since then. Mr Julian Assange is the victim of the eternal “war on terror” which is being waged with all the viciousness of the Papal Inquisition founded by Gregory IX. It is no surprise given the biographies of so many of the responsible officers in the responsible US government agencies.

Mr Assange’s counsel and his supporters will have to use every means at their disposal to save him from the auto de fé that awaits him in the US. Whatever arguments and means lead to his release and safe recuperation can be justified in this state of war prevailing where every citizen of the world has an inherent right of self-defence. However, it is also a fact that this war involves us all and we are not yet fully aware of the casus bellum, of the real reason for this war and what is at stake. For this reason it is necessary to articulate Mr Assange’s conflict in comprehensible and comprehensive political terms and not just on the narrow basis of journalistic privilege and the freedoms of property-owning Press.

Mr Julian Assange deserves every protection of life and limb — not because he is a journalist, and his persecution would have a “chilling effect” on journalism. He deserves every protection of life and limb because he is a human being and a legal subject under the UN Charter with the right to peace, freedom from armed aggression and the right to self-defence against violations of the peace and his person by States, just as he would have that right against personal aggression by private persons. His work has been non-violent action to defend all those who are the targets and victims of the greatest war machine the world has ever known. Upon that rock not a church, but human liberty for real human beings should be built.

Crimes in Afghanistan: Fatou Bensouda’s Investigative Mission

It seemed an unlikely prospect.  The International Criminal Court has tended to find itself accused of chasing up the inhumane rogues of Africa rather than those from any other continent.  It has also been accused of having an overly burdensome machinery and lethargy more caught up with procedure than substance.  Critics fearing a behemoth snatching soldiers from the armed forces of various states could rest easy, at least in part.

Law tends to be a manifestation of power and international law, in particular, tends to be a manifestation of consensus.  And the powerful rarely give their consent in matters of trying crimes against humanity when it comes to their own citizens.  Qualifications and exemptions abound, often cited with a certain sneer.

This explains the sheer fury and curiosity caused by the decision of the ICC’s Appeals Chamber on March 5 authorising Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to proceed with an investigation into alleged crimes committed in Afghanistan from 2003.  The interest was not merely in the commission of crimes by any one force: the Taliban and various “armed groups”, members of the Afghan armed forces and “alleged crimes by the US Forces and the CIA” featured.  But the actions of US and Afghan forces was bound to arouse much interest, given a UN report alleging more killings in the first three months of 2019 than attributed to the Taliban.  (The figures, respectively, were 227 civilians killed by insurgent groups and 305 deaths caused by Afghan and international forces.)

The initial decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber II (April 12 2019) had gone against the Prosecutor’s efforts that had commenced in November 2017.  While the pre-trial chamber accepted that the brief established a reasonable basis to consider crimes that fell within the jurisdiction of the ICC, time had elapsed since the preliminary examination in 2006 and the evolving political scene in Afghanistan.

As ever, the jurisdiction of war crimes and crimes against humanity is a political thing: to authorise such an investigation, in the words of the 2019 media release, would have diverted “valuable resources prioritizing activities that would have better chances to succeed.”  Nor had cooperation with the Prosecutor been forthcoming in Afghanistan itself.  It was a decision that caused a fair share of consternation among human rights critics and activists.  One question kept being asked:  Had the ICC folded before pressure from the Trump administration?

The argument of pressure was a hard one to dispel.  In 2019, the Trump administration announced that it would revoke or deny visas to any members of the ICC connected with investigating alleged war crimes by US personnel in Afghanistan.  That body, charged US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, was “attacking America’s rule of law,” an interesting formulation suggesting how partial that rule can be for a certain country.

Despite this backdrop of intimidation, the Appeals Chamber had a change of heart.  According to presiding judge Piotr Hofmański, “The prosecutor is authorised to commence an investigation into alleged crimes committed on the territory of Afghanistan since May 1, 2003, as well as other alleged crimes that have a nexus to the armed conflict in Afghanistan.”  The pre-trial chamber had erred in identifying “additional considerations” as to whether the prosecutor could proceed with the investigation.  It was not for the body to consider “the interests of justice” as part of that authorisation, merely whether there was “a reasonable factual basis to proceed with an investigation, in the sense of whether crimes have been committed, and whether potential cases(s) arising from such an investigation appear to fall within the Court’s jurisdiction.”

Pompeo was sufficiently incensed by the decision to call the ruling a “truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable, political institution masquerading as a legal body.”  He also had the prospects of peace on his mind, considering the ruling disruptive given that it came “just days after the United States signed a historic peace deal on Afghanistan.”

Resistance against the ICC from the United States is far from new.  Henry Kissinger feared it, and said so, suggesting it would preside in thuggish majesty and impunity citing universal jurisdiction as its basis of operation.  His views were rebuked by former Nuremberg war crimes prosecutor Benjamin B. Ferencz.  “The innocent,” he remarked pointedly, “need not fear the rule of law.”

But fear and loathing for the ICC has been a recurrent theme.  In 2018, then national security adviser John R. Bolton, famed for his opposition to international institutions, insisted that the US would not “cooperate with the ICC.  We will provide no assistance to the ICC.  And we certainly will not join the ICC.  We let the ICC die on its own.”

Such a view sits in that particularly odd canon of US political thinking that dismisses aspects of international law – notably those involving breaches of human rights – as matters of convenience and sentiment.  Such a view holds that Washington’s enemies deserve trial and punishment at the hands of international law; alleged offences by US forces should be a matter of US jurisdiction.

It also bucks the idea put forth by US prosecutor Robert H. Jackson at the Nuremberg war crimes trials in November 1945 that international tribunals are not products “of abstract speculations nor … created to vindicate legalistic theories.”  Jackson’s enunciated views would see US officials participate, extensively, in the creation of tribunals in the Balkans and Rwanda.  Indeed, as Ferencz observed in 2001, numerous former presidents of the American Society of International Law and the American Bar Association acknowledged that “it would be in the best interests of the United States and its military personnel of the United States to accept” such a body.

While it is hard to see the US surrendering any soldiers for trial before judges of the ICC, the very acceptance that it has jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes committed by such personnel enlarges its traditional and cautious scope.  International law has seen a turn up for the books.

Profiting from Loss: How Business in Illegal Israeli Settlements Continues Unchecked

After lengthy delays, the United Nations finally published a database last week of businesses that have been profiting from Israel’s illegal annexation and settlement activity in the West Bank.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, announced that 112 major companies had been identified as operating in Israeli settlements in ways that violate human rights.

Aside from major Israeli banks, transport services, cafes, supermarkets, and energy, building and telecoms firms, prominent international businesses include Airbnb, booking.com, Motorola, Trip Advisor, JCB, Expedia and General Mills.

Human Rights Watch, a global watchdog, noted in response to the list’s publication that the settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. It argued that the firms’ activities mean they have aided “in the commission of war crimes”.

The companies’ presence in the settlements has helped to blur the distinction between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. That in turn has normalised the erosion of international law and subverted a long-held international consensus on establishing a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Work on compiling the database began four years ago. But both Israel and the United States put strong pressure on the UN in the hope of preventing the list from ever seeing the light of day.

The UN body’s belated assertiveness looks suspiciously like a rebuke to the Trump administration for releasing this month its Middle East “peace” plan. It green-lights Israel’s annexation of the settlements and the most fertile and water-rich areas of the West Bank.

In response to the database, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to intensify his country’s interference in US politics. He noted that his officials had already “promoted laws in most US states, which determine that strong action is to be taken against whoever tries to boycott Israel.”

He was backed by all Israel’s main Jewish parties. Amir Peretz, leader of the centre-left Labour party, vowed to “work in every forum to repeal this decision”. And Yair Lapid, a leader of Blue and White, the main rival to Netanyahu, called Bachelet the “commissioner for terrorists’ rights”.

Meanwhile, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, accused the UN of “unrelenting anti-Israel bias” and of aiding the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

In fact, the UN is not taking any meaningful action against the 112 companies, nor is it encouraging others to do so. The list is intended as a shaming tool – highlighting that these firms have condoned, through their commercial activities, Israel’s land and resource theft from Palestinians.

The UN has even taken an extremely narrow view of what constitutes involvement with the settlements. For example, it excluded organisations like FIFA, the international football association, whose Israeli subsidiary includes six settlement teams.

One of the identified companies, Airbnb, announced in late 2018 that it would remove from its accommodation bookings website all settlement properties – presumably to avoid being publicly embarrassed.

But a short time later Airbnb backed down. It is hard to imagine the decision was taken on strictly commercial grounds: the firm has only 200 settlement properties on its site.

A more realistic conclusion is that Airbnb feared the backlash from Washington and was intimated by a barrage of accusations from pro-Israel groups that its new policy was anti-semitic.

In fact, the UN’s timing could not be more tragic. The list looks more like the last gasp of those who – through their negligence over nearly three decades – have enabled the two-state solution to wither to nothing.

Trump’s so-called peace plan could afford to be so one-sided only because western powers had already allowed Israel to void any hope of Palestinian statehood through decades of unremitting settlement expansion. Today, nearly 700,000 Israeli Jews are housed on occupied Palestinian territory.

On Monday European Union foreign ministers were due to meet to discuss their response to the plan. Tepid criticism was the most that could be expected.

The actions of several European states continue to speak much louder than any words.

On Friday, Germany followed the Czech Republic in filing a petition to the International Criminal Court at The Hague siding with Israel as the court deliberates whether to prosecute Israeli officials for war crimes, including over the establishment of settlements.

Germany does not appear to deny that the settlements are war crimes. Instead, it hopes to block the case on dubious technical grounds: that despite Palestine signing up to the Rome Statute, which established the Hague court, it is not yet a fully fledged state.

So far Austria, Hungary, Australia and Brazil appear to be following suit.

But if Palestine lacks the proper attributes of statehood, it is because the US and Europe, including Germany, have consistently broken promises to the Palestinians.

They not only refused to intervene to save the two-state solution, but rewarded Israel with trade deals and diplomatic and financial incentives, even as Israel eroded the institutional and territorial integrity necessary for Palestinian self-rule.

Germany’s stance, like that of the rest of Europe, is hypocritical. They have claimed opposition to Israel’s endless settlement expansion, and now to Trump’s plan, but their actions have paved the way to the annexation of the West Bank the plan condones.

Back in November the European Court of Justice finally ruled that products made in West Bank settlements – using illegally seized Palestinian resources on illegally seized Palestinian land – should not be labelled deceptively as “Made in Israel”.

And yet European countries are still postponing implementation of the decision. Instead, some of them are legislating against their citizens’ right to express support for a settlement boycott.

Similarly, Europe and North America continue to afford the Jewish National Fund, an entity that finances settlement-building, “charitable status”, giving it tax breaks as it raises funds inside their jurisdictions.

The Israeli media is full of stories of how the JNF actively assists extremist settler groups in evicting Palestinians from homes in East Jerusalem. But Britain and other states are blocking legal efforts to challenge the JNF’s special status.

Soon, it seems, Europe will no longer have to worry about its hypocrisy being so visible. Once the settlements have been annexed, as the Trump administration intends, the EU can set aside its ineffectual agonising and treat the settlements as irrevocably Israeli – just as it has done in practice with the Israeli “neighbourhoods” of occupied East Jerusalem.

Then, the UN’s list of shame can join decades’ worth of condemnatory resolutions that have been quietly gathering dust.

• First published in The National

The Israeli Right has Reason to Believe the Stars are Finally Aligned for Annexation

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs all the help he can muster before voters head to the ballot box on March 2 – for the third time in a year. Once again, it seems as though US President Donald Trump intends to ride to his rescue.

Despite Trump’s best efforts, Israel’s two elections last year ended in stalemate. Each time, Netanyahu’s Likud party and its religious, pro-settler coalition partners tied with the secular, yet hawkish right led by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.

The pressure on Netanyahu to win this time has intensified. His opponents in the Israeli parliament advanced plans last week to set up a committee to weigh whether or not he should be immune from prosecution in three corruption cases.

If he is denied immunity, as seems likely, the path will be clear for a trial that might make it impossible for him to head the next government whatever the election outcome.

This was the background to intimations from the Trump administration last week that it may finally publish its long-anticipated peace plan.

The White House reportedly delayed the plan’s release over the course of last year as it waited for Netanyahu to secure a majority government to put it into effect.

Leaks suggest the document will bolster Israel’s maximalist demands, scuppering any hopes of establishing a viable Palestinian state. The Palestinian leadership severed ties with Washington a while back in protest.

More than any of his recent predecessors, Trump has shown a repeated willingness to meddle in Israeli elections to the benefit of Netanyahu.

Shortly before last April’s vote, Trump declared that the US would formally recognise Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights from Syria. The seizure of the 1,800 sq km territory in 1967 remains illegal under international law. And days before the most recent ballot in September, Trump publicly alluded to the possibility of a US-Israeli defence pact.

Now US officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have hinted that the US peace plan could be published in the run-up to the March election.

Israeli officials have been saying much the same to local media since an unexpected visit this month by Avi Berkowitz, Trump’s new aide overseeing the peace plan.

This prompted Gantz, the prime minister’s main challenger, to condemn any such move as “blatant interference” in the election.

In fact, until recently, Netanyahu had been reluctant for the so-called “deal of the century” to be published because it would be unlikely to satisfy the settlers’ most extreme demands. He had feared that disappointment might drive some Likud voters further to the right, towards smaller, even more hardline parties.

But Netanyahu is now in such precarious political and legal straits that he appears ready to gamble. Publication of the peace plan could attract some more uncompromising Blue and White voters to his side. They may prefer a seasoned player like Netanyahu to manage White House expectations, rather than a politically inexperienced former army general like Gantz.

Further, the settler parties that could steal votes from Likud as a result of a Trump “peace” initiative are the lynchpin of the coalition Netanyahu needs to maintain his grip on power. His own party may not gain more seats but overall his far-right bloc could prosper, ultimately securing Netanyahu the election and immunity from prosecution.

The key issue on which Netanyahu and Trump appear to agree is on annexing the bulk of the West Bank – territories categorised in the Oslo accords as Area C, the backbone of any future Palestinian state.

Before the September election, Netanyahu announced plans to annex the Jordan Valley, the West Bank’s vast agricultural basin – presumably with Trump’s blessing.

Pompeo offered his apparent backing in November by claiming that Israeli settlements in the West Bank were not necessarily “inconsistent with international law”.

With that as a cue, Netanyahu’s government convened a panel this month to draft an official proposal to annex the Jordan Valley.

Naftali Bennett, the defence minister and a settler leader, revealed last week that Israel was creating seven new “nature reserves” on Palestinian land. Another 12 existing Israeli-seized sites are to be expanded.

Israel would annex Area C “within a short time”, Bennett added.

On Saturday, he also ordered the army to bar from the West Bank prominent Israeli left-wing activists who demonstrate alongside Palestinians against land thefts by the settlers and the army. He equated these non-violent protesters with extremist settler groups that have assaulted Palestinians and torched their olive groves and homes.

Referring to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, the Palestinian foreign ministry warned that establishment of the nature reserves would “speed up [Bennett’s] appearance before the ICC as a war criminal.”

Nonetheless, the settler right is growing ever bolder on the annexation issue – as evidenced by Israel’s increasingly fraught ties with neighbouring Jordan.

King Abullah II recently declared relations with Israel at an “all-time low”. Meanwhile, Ephraim Halevy, a former head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, blamed Israel for showing “contempt towards Jordan” and creating a crisis that jeopardised the two countries’ 1994 peace treaty, a legacy of the Oslo peace process.

If Israel annexes large swaths of the West Bank, stymying Palestinian statehood, that could unleash waves of unrest among the kingdom’s majority population – Palestinians made refugees by Israel during the 1948 and 1967 wars.

It could also provoke a mass exodus of West Bank Palestinians into Jordan. Senior Jordanian officials recently told a former Israeli journalist, Ori Nir, that they viewed annexation as an “existential threat” to their country.

In November the Jordanian military conducted a drill against an invasion on its western flank – from Israel’s direction – that included the mock blowing up of bridges over the River Jordan.

The Israeli right would be only too delighted to see Abdullah in trouble. It has long harboured a dream of engineering the destruction of Hashemite rule as a way to transform Jordan, instead of the occupied territories, into the locus of a Palestinian state.

According to Israeli analysts, the right perceives itself as at a historic crossroads.

It can annex most of the West Bank and impose an unmistakeable apartheid rule over a restless, rebellious Palestinian population. Or it can realise its Greater Israel ambitions by helping to topple the Hashemite kingdom and encourage the West Bank’s Palestinians to disperse into Jordan.

All Israeli right-wingers need is a nod of approval from the White House. With Netanyahu desperate to pull a rabbit out of his hat, and with an obliging patron installed in Washington, there is reason enough for them to believe that the stars may finally be aligned.

How Britain dresses up Crimes in Israel as “Charitable Acts”

When is a war crime not a war crime? When, according to British officials, that war crime has been given a makeover as a “charitable act”.

The British state is being asked to account for its financial and moral support for a UK organisation accused of complicity in the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland. So far, it appears determined to evade answering those questions.

The target of the campaign is the Jewish National Fund UK (JNF UK), which describes itself as “Britain’s oldest Israel charity”. Noting its role in “building Israel for over a century”, the organisation boasts: “Every penny raised by JNF UK is sent to a project in Israel.”

In fact, donations to JNF UK were used to buy some of the 250 million trees planted across Israel since 1948, the year when 750,000 Palestinians were forced out at gunpoint from their homes by the new Israeli army. Those expulsions were an event Palestinians call their Nakba, or “catastrophe”.

Afterwards, the Israeli army laid waste to many hundreds of Palestinian villages, turning them into rubble. Forests planted over the villages were then promoted as efforts to “make the desert bloom”.

Subsidised by taxpayers

In fact, the trees were intended primarily to block Palestinian refugees from ever being able to return to their villages and rebuild their homes. As a result, millions of Palestinians today languish in refugee camps across the Middle East, evicted from their homeland with the help of the forests.

JNF UK raised the funds for a parent organisation in Israel, the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF), which enforced the expulsions by using the donations to plant the forests. The Israeli state’s ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian population was effectively disguised as a form of environmentalism.

Britain and other Western states appear to have accepted that barely concealed deception. They have long treated their local JNF fundraising arms as charities. JNF UK received charitable status in 1939, nearly a decade before Israel was created as a Jewish state on the ruins of Palestinians’ homeland.

The forests are still managed with money raised through tax-deductible donations in Britain and elsewhere. Since 1990, donations to JNF UK have been eligible for Gift Aid, meaning that the British government tops up donations by adding its own 25 percent contribution.

In effect, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian villages has been subsidised by the British public.

Backing from MPs

Britain’s continuing sanction of these crimes – and others – is being belatedly given scrutiny by human rights activists in Britain.

A campaign launched in 2010 called Stop the JNF – backed by various Palestinian solidarity organisations – has aimed to shame British officials into ending JNF UK’s charitable status.

The campaign gained parliamentary support a year later, when 68 MPs signed an early-day motion condemning the JNF’s activities and calling for its charitable status to be revoked. The motion was sponsored by Jeremy Corbyn, then a backbencher but now leader of the Labour Party, and attracted cross-party support, though no Conservative MPs backed it.

Nonetheless, the campaign has faced institutional resistance every step of the way. Over the past six years, appeals to the Charity Commission, a department of the British government, to intervene and remove JNF UK from its list of registered charities have been repeatedly rebuffed.

Rather than seeking explanations from JNF UK, British officials have largely ignored the evidence they have been presented with.

Trees ‘a weapon of war’

The campaign has highlighted one specific and egregious example of the JNF UK’s work. The organisation raised donations to create a large recreation area west of Jerusalem called British Park, which includes forests, over three Palestinian villages that were destroyed by the Israeli army after 1948. A sign at the entrance reads: “Gift of the Jewish National Fund in Great Britain.”

Many of those who donated to the project, often British Jews encouraged to drop pennies into the JNF’s iconic fundraising “blue boxes”, had no idea how their money was being used.

The Stop the JNF campaign included testimony from Kholoud al-Ajarma, whose family was expelled from the village of Ajjur during the Nakba. Today, the family lives in the overcrowded Aida refugee camp, next to Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.

KKL-JNF planted trees at British Park on land to which Ajarma’s family, and many others, still have the title deeds. In doing so, the group violated the protected status of such lands in international law.

In her submission, Ajarma wrote: “It was British pounds that helped destroy my village. The Jewish National Fund is not merely planting trees. These trees have been used as a weapon of war, a weapon of colonisation.”

Israeli scholar Uri Davis has observed that the establishment of British Park “ought to be classified as an act, and as a policy, of complicity with war crimes”.

4,000 protest letters

The Charity Commission’s barrister, Iain Steele, conceded in a submission that it was possible the JNF had violated the Ajarma family’s rights by creating British Park on their land.

Nonetheless, the Charity Commission has on two occasions refused to consider revoking JNF UK’s charitable status. Rather than addressing the merits of Stop the JNF’s arguments, the Charity Commission has evasively claimed that the campaigners, even the Ajarma family, are not affected by whether the JNF is registered as a charity.

In June, a commission official even wrote to the campaign with an astounding defence that appears to strip the term “charitable” of all meaning. He wrote: “In simple terms the test for charitable status is a test of what an organisation was set up to do, not what it does in practice.”

The commission’s apparent reasoning is that, so long as the JNF includes fine-sounding words in its mission statement, what it does in practice as a “charity” does not matter.

In April, Stop the JNF appealed the commission’s decision not to revoke JNF UK’s charitable status to the First-tier Tribunal. The judge, however, told them that neither Ajarma nor the campaign itself had a legal right to be heard. He concluded instead that only the attorney-general could overrule the Charity Commission’s decision. In October, the attorney-general rejected the campaigners’ claims without investigating them.

In an attempt to revive the case, Stop the JNF has submitted more than 4,000 letters of protest to the attorney-general, calling on him to reassess the organisation’s continuing charitable status.

A parallel call was made to the advocate-general of Scotland, which has a separate legal system.

‘Intense political controversy’

The JNF did not respond to questions sent by Middle East Eye about its role in planting the forests, its charitable status and other criticisms of its involvement with Israel.

The establishment’s apparent unwillingness to confront JNF UK’s historical record is perhaps not surprising. The JNF was one of the key organisations that helped to realise a British government promise made in the 1917 Balfour Declaration to help create a “Jewish home” in what was then Palestine.

Two years later, Lord Balfour declared that the colonisation of Palestine by Zionist Jews from Europe was “of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 [Palestinian] Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land”. Little, it seems, has changed in official British attitudes since.

Steele, the Charity Commission’s barrister, successfully urged the First-tier Tribunal not to get involved, arguing that it would be “drawn into matters of intense political controversy, for no obvious benefit to anyone”.

Surely, Ajarma and many millions more Palestinians would strenuously dispute that assessment. They would have much to gain should Britain finally demonstrate a willingness to confront its continuing role in aiding and comforting groups such as the JNF, accused of complicity in crimes against international law in historic Palestine.

As Stop the JNF organisers wrote in their own letter to the attorney-general: “These people [Palestinian refugees such as the Ajarma family] are not defined by the JNF as recipients of their charity, but they have human and legal rights which the actions of this charity unacceptably violate.”

Reminiscent of dark regimes

The campaign has not only focused on JNF UK’s historic role in dispossessing Palestinians. It points out that the JNF is still actively contributing to Israel’s own grossly discriminatory and racist policies – another reason it should be barred from being considered a charity.

JNF UK’s accounts from 2016 show that it has funded the OR Movement, an Israeli organisation that assists in the development of Jewish-only communities in Israel and the occupied territories.

One such Jewish community, Hiran, is being established on the ruins of homes that belonged to Bedouin families. They were recently forced out of their village of Umm al-Hiran – a move the legal rights group Adalah has described as “reminiscent of the darkest of regimes such as apartheid-era South Africa”.

On its website, JNF-KKL congratulates “Friends of JNF UK” for supporting the establishment of nearby Hiran Forest. The JNF claims the forest will “help mitigate climate change” – once again disguising ethnic cleansing of Palestinians as a form of environmentalism.

Funding the Israeli army

JNF UK’s annual accounts in 2015 also revealed that it contributed money to the Israeli army under the title “Tzuk Eitan 9 Gaza war effort” – a reference to Israel’s attack on Gaza in late 2014, whose death toll included some 550 Palestinian children.

A United Nations commission of inquiry found evidence that Israel had committed war crimes by indiscriminately targeting civilians – a conclusion confirmed by the testimonies of Israeli soldiers to Breaking the Silence, an Israeli whistle-blowing group.

Equally troubling, an investigation last month by Haaretz reported that, under Israeli government pressure, the KKL-JNF has been secretly directing vast sums of money into buying and developing land in the occupied West Bank to aid Jewish settlers, again in violation of international law.

The funds were allegedly channeled to Himnuta Jerusalem, effectively the JNF’s subsidiary in the occupied territories, disguised as funds for projects in Jerusalem.

Veteran Israeli journalist Raviv Drucker observed that KKL-JNF was rapidly converting itself into a banking fund for the settlers. He added that its “coffers are bursting with billions of shekels [and] the settlers’ appetite for land is at a peak”.

Given the lack of transparency in KKL-JNF’s accounts, it is difficult to know precisely where the funds have come from. But as more than $70m has been spent by KKL-JNF over the past two years in the occupied West Bank, according to Haaretz, the funds likely include money raised by JNF UK.

In any case, research by Stop the JNF suggests JNF UK has no objections to making “charitable” donations to settlements in the West Bank. Its accounts record contributions to Sansana, a community of religious settlers close to Hebron.

Settlements are considered a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

No ‘duty’ towards equality

As the JNF UK states on its website, every penny raised in Britain is “sent to a project in Israel” – much of it via the JNF in Israel.

KKL-JNF is a major landowner in Israel. Under a special arrangement with the Israeli government, it owns 13 percent of Israel’s territory – often lands seized from Palestinian refugees. The arrangement includes a provision from 1961 that the primary aim of the JNF in Israel is to acquire property “for the purpose of settling Jews on such lands and properties”.

In 2004, KKL-JNF explained its role. It was “not a public body that works for the benefit of all citizens of the state. The loyalty of the JNF is given to the Jewish people and only to them is the JNF obligated. The JNF, as the owner of the JNF land, does not have a duty to practice equality towards all citizens of the state.”

In marketing and allocating lands only to Jews, the legal group Adalah has noted, the JNF in Israel intentionally rides roughshod over the rights of a fifth of the country’s population who are Palestinian by heritage.

In other words, the JNF is integral to an Israeli system that enforces an apartheid-style regime that prevents Israel’s Palestinian minority from accessing and benefiting from a substantial part of Israel’s territory.

Violating British law

This institutionalised discrimination has been made even more explicit since Israel last year passed the Nation-State Law, which declares: “The State views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value, and shall act to encourage and promote its establishment and strengthening.”

As the Stop the JNF campaign notes, British charities should abide by legal responsibilities enshrined in UK legislation, such as the 2010 Equality Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate based on “colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin”.

The JNF UK is clearly failing to abide by this core legal principle. It is operating in a foreign state where it has helped, over many decades, to fund activities that grossly violate both British law and international law. The evidence compiled by Stop the JNF indicates that JNF UK has itself been complicit in aiding the commission of war crimes, both in Israel and the occupied territories.

It has also given financial and moral succour to its parent organisation, which has crafted a system of apartheid that confers superior land rights on Jews over Israel’s Palestinian minority.

British taxpayers should not be subsidising institutionalised discrimination and crimes abroad – even more so when they are being dressed up as “charitable acts”.

• A version of this article first appeared in Middle East Eye