Category Archives: Israel Defence Force (IDF)

War on Al-Aqsa: What Price Netanyahu’s Victory

On February 18, members of extremist Jewish groups raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Occupied Al-Quds (Jerusalem). They clashed with Palestinian worshippers, as the settlers attempted to shut down the gate of Al-Aqsa itself.

The clashes involved the Israeli army and police as well, who opened fire and brutally assaulted Palestinians, leading to scores of injuries.

On February 19, the Israeli army carried out the unusual step of shutting down Al-Rahma Gate, which leads to a section of the Al-Aqsa compound that has, itself, been shut down by the Israeli army since 2003.

The provocative decision to seal the gate was clearly made in advance, and the lock and key have the fingerprints of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

It is quite typical for Israeli politicians to carry out confrontational measures against Palestinians shortly before general elections are due. The nature of these measures is determined by the kind of political constituency that Israeli leaders aim to appease.

However, a war on Gaza, at least for now, is too risky an option for Netanyahu as it would take place too close to the April 9 elections date. Moreover, a botched Israeli attack on the Strip on November 11 caused Netanyahu a major embarrassment, forcing him to shelve the Gaza option for now.

That said, if the Israeli Prime Minister’s political standing grows too desperate in the coming weeks, a Gaza war may, once again, be placed on the table.

Indeed, the political union between Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, which was declared on February 21, has certainly upped the ante for Netanyahu who has assumed that his election victory is a foretold conclusion.

Gantz and Lapid merged their two parties into one election list called Kahol Lavan (“Blue and White”), the single most serious electoral challenge for Netanyahu in years.

For the time being, Netanyahu has decided to appeal to the most messianic religious segments of Israeli society in order to keep his challengers at bay. This should come as no surprise as the religious, ultra-national far right has been backbone of the Israeli leader’s coalitions for a decade.

In fact, weeks before the Gantz and Lapid union, Netanyahu had taken several measures to show signs of goodwill towards his religious constituency.

One such overture was made on January 28, when Netanyahu ordered the UN unarmed international observers to leave the Occupied Palestinian city of Al-Khalil, where a few hundred armed Jewish settlers have been a constant source of violence. The Jewish settlers of Qiryat Arba’a live under the protection of a massive Israeli army contingent. Both groups have worked together to terrorize the Palestinian inhabitants of the city for many years.

A joint statement issued by several humanitarian organizations, including Oxfam, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Save the Children warned of the terrible fate awaiting the Palestinian community as a result of Netanyahu’s decision in Al-Khalil.

“Hundreds of civilians, including children, will see their safety put at risk by the withdrawal of international observers deployed in the city of Hebron,” the statement read.

True to form, attacks by Jewish settlers followed, as media and rights group reports point to a surge of violence against Palestinian civilians in the city.

By unleashing the wrath of Jewish settlers in Al-Khalil, Netanyahu wanted to communicate to his supporters that he remains committed to their settlement project, an unworthy cause that violates international law and comes at the price of protracted human suffering.

Similarly, the Israeli decision to shut down Al-Rahma Gate on February 19 was a pre-calculated move, aimed at uniting the entirety of the Israeli right, including the most extremist of all religious and settler groups behind Netanyahu’s leadership in the coming elections.

In fact, a trend began a few weeks earlier. On January 9, the Palestinian Ministry of Endowment documented a sharp increase of Israeli violations, involving the Israeli army and Jewish settlers at holy Palestinian sites throughout the month of December. According to the Organization, over 100 such violations were reported, including 30 different incursions into Al-Aqsa itself.

A raid on Al-Aqsa on January 7 involved more than the usual suspects, but was led by Israeli Agriculture Minister and a strong ally of Netanyahu, Uri Ariel.

This type of politically-motivated and highly militarized ‘visits’ to Al-Aqsa are reminiscent of the infamous ‘visit’ by late Israeli right-wing leader, Ariel Sharon in September 2000. At the time, Sharon wanted to increase his chances of becoming Israel’s next prime minister, and to ensure that his arch-rival (then, interestingly enough, the very Benjamin Netanyahu) did not win the Likud Party nomination. The gambit worked. Sharon sparked the Second Palestinian Uprising (2000-05), leading to the deaths of thousands and, of course, securing his seat at the helm of Israeli politics for years.

Netanyahu, ever studious and resourceful, has, indeed, mastered the art of political manipulation as his mentor and, once again, Al-Aqsa is the platform for this sinister Israeli politicking.

Netanyahu’s decision to strike an alliance with Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) – the rebranded party of the extremist late Meir Kahane – further demonstrates how the current surge of violence around the holy Palestinian sites is a pre-calculated political move by Netanyahu and his government.

The fact that Netanyahu would bring into his future coalition groups that are the ideological mutation of the Jewish Defense League – which is classified as ‘terrorist organization’’ by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – speaks volumes about the changing relationship between the US and Israel. Thanks to Washington’s blind support of Israel, Netanyahu feels politically triumphant and invincible, even above US’ own laws.

However, to achieve his pathetic dream of being Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister, Netanyahu should be wary of the bloody consequences that his reckless action is sure to yield. Indeed, Netanyahu may be provoking the kind of violence that is much bigger than his own ability to contain.

Al-Aqsa Mosque has served not only as a religious symbol for Palestinians, but a national symbol as well, representing their coveted freedom and serving as a source of hope and unity over the course of generations.

While the blood of Palestinians is irrelevant in Netanyahu’s quest for political dominance, the international community should take immediate measures to prevent what could become an Israeli-induced bloodbath in the coming weeks.

The Denial of Taxes to the PA is an Ominous Sign of Netanyahu’s Grand Plan

Israel’s decision to withhold part of the taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and plunge it deeper into crisis starkly illustrates the hypocrisies and deceptions at the core of the two governments’ relationship.

Under the terms of what are now the quarter century-old Oslo accords, Israel is responsible for collecting about $200 million each month in taxes, which it is supposed to pass on to the PA, the Palestinian government-in-waiting in the West Bank.

The money belongs to the Palestinians but Israel has temporarily withheld it on several occasions in the past as a stick with which to beat the Palestinian leadership into line.

On this occasion, however, the stakes are far higher.

Last week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu belatedly implemented a law passed last summer that requires his officials to retain part of the taxes owed to the Palestinians – those that the PA transfers to political prisoners’ families as a monthly stipend.

It echoes the Taylor Force Act, a law passed by the US Congress in 2016, that denies American economic aid to the PA until it stops sending those same stipends to 35,000 families of prisoners and those killed and maimed by the Israeli army.

The PA has tried to avert that threat by channelling the payments through a separate body, the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Israel and Washington regard the prisoners simply as terrorists. But most Palestinians view them as heroes, those who have paid the highest price in the struggle for national liberation.

The Palestinian public no more believes the families should be abandoned for their sacrifices than Irish republicans turned their backs on those who fought British rule or black South Africans forsook those who battled apartheid.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas called Israel’s actions “robbery” and said he would rather cut funding for health and education than for the prisoners and their families. “They are the most respected and appreciated part of the Palestinian people,” he declared.

Then he played his ace card. He said he would refuse all tax money from Israel until the full sum was reinstated.

That risks plunging the PA into financial meltdown and – most importantly for Israel – might ultimately lead to the disbanding of the Palestinian security services. Their job has long been to act as a security contractor, keeping order on Israel’s behalf in the West Bank.

The security forces hoovered up a massive 20 per cent of the PA’s $5.8 billion state budget last year.

The PA is already reeling from a series of hammer blows to the Palestinian economy. They include Donald Trump’s decision to cut all funding to UNRWA, the refugee agency for Palestinians, and to hospitals in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.

In addition, Mr Abbas reportedly declined $60m in annual US aid for his security services last month for fear of exposing the PA to legal action. A new congressional measure makes aid recipients like the PA subject to American anti-terrorism laws.

But the current stand-off between Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas lays bare the duplicity of the situation for all to see.

The PA leader may say the prisoners are the most cherished Palestinian constituency but he also describes his security services’ co-ordination with Israel as “sacred”.

The security services’ role is to assist the Israeli army in foiling Palestinian attacks and in arresting the very Palestinians he extols. Mr Abbas cannot realistically hold true to both positions at the same time.

Mr Netanyahu, on the other hand, has nothing to gain from harming the Palestinian security services, which the Israeli army relies on.

The decision to withhold taxes was taken chiefly to boost his popularity as rival right-wing parties compete for who appears the most hawkish before April’s general election.

Paradoxically, in withholding the PA’s tax money, Mr Netanyahu is punishing Mr Abbas, his supposed peace partner, while showing a preference for Hamas, Mr Abbas’s arch rival in Gaza.

Although Israel categorises Hamas as a terror organisation, Mr Netanyahu has been allowing extra funds into Gaza from Qatar to alleviate the enclave’s dire conditions.

Further, there is something richly ironic about Mr Netanyahu rebuking the PA for rewarding Palestinian “terrorists” in the same week he negotiated a deal to assist bringing Otzma Yehudit, or Jewish Power party, into the Israeli parliament.

The party is Israel’s version of the Ku Klux Klan, disciples of the late rabbi Meir Kahane, whose virulently anti-Arab Kach party was outlawed 25 years ago as a terror organisation.

So appalling is the prospect of this unholy alliance that even pro-Israel lobbies like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the American Jewish Committee felt compelled to issue statements condemning Jewish Power as “racist and reprehensible”.

Mr Netanyahu believes the extra votes Jewish Power will attract to the right in the election will ensure he has the support necessary to build a coalition that can keep him in power.

But there is another glaring flaw in Mr Netanyahu’s tax grab.

If Mr Abbas’s coffers run low, he will simply send even less money to Gaza, which is already being choked by Israel’s lengthy blockade.

That would intensify the unrest in Gaza, which could lead to rocket attacks into Israel and even larger mass protests by Palestinians at the perimeter fence encaging them.

At the same time, if things remain unresolved, an already fragile PA will move closer to collapse and Hamas might then be poised to fill the void left in the West Bank.

Loss of power for Mr Abbas, combined with loss of a security contractor for Mr Netanyahu, appear to make this confrontation mutually self-destructive – unless Mr Netanyahu and the right have another card up their sleeve.

Hani Al Masri, a Palestinian policy analyst, has wondered whether Mr Netanyahu is setting the stage for US President Donald Trump to introduce his long-awaited “peace deal” after the election.

Much of Mr Netanyahu’s coalition is keen to annex Palestinian areas outside the main West Bank cities, destroying any hope of a Palestinian state ever emerging. Mr Trump might be amenable.

In this scenario, argues Mr Al Masri, Israel would aim to “end what remains of the PA’s political role, preserving only its administrative and security role”. It would be reduced to bin collections and law enforcement.

Should the PA reject the process of being hollowed out, Israel and the US would then look for an alternative, such as rule by local warlords in each Palestinian city and expanded powers for Israeli military rulers in the West Bank.

The denial of taxes to the PA may not yet presage its demise. But it points to a future in which Palestinian self-rule is likely to become an ever-more distant prospect.

• First published at The National, Abu Dhabi

Trust Nothing

Utilizing the power of celebrity (an unprecedented phenomenon for the expansion of capital in the west), today’s global influencers such as Thunberg, are fully utilized to create a sense of urgency in regard to the climate crisis. The unspoken reality is, they are the very marketing strategy to save capitalism. This is a very “inconvenient truth”.

Cory Morningstar and Forest Palmer

And we will move forward to our work, not howling out regrets like slaves whipped to their burdens, but with gratitude for a task worthy of our strength, and thanksgiving to Almighty God that He has marked us as His chosen people, henceforth to lead in the regeneration of the world.

— Albert T. Beveridge (Speech in the Senate. “Congressional Record”, Senate, 56th Congress, 1st session,1900)

The old Lakota was wise. He knew that man’s heart away from nature becomes hard…

Luther Standing Bear

I want to try to tie together several societal and cultural trends that have been developing beneath the surface (or at least beneath the surface most of the time) for several years. One thing that the Trump presidency seems undeniably to embody is a kind of seismic shift into open fascism — a shift that is global in nature. This is not to suggest that Trump is anything other than a continuation of what came before, but that the very forces that brought the Donald to the Presidency have also made visible the tendencies toward fascism globally.

This is the age of marketing. Only that age began forty years ago, more or less, so this is now the age of hyper marketing or ultra marketing. And that all topics and concerns, literally everything, from education to policing to surveillance to nuclear disarmament, to green or ecological concerns, to politics (sic) to gender and race are all in service to further a total indoctrination of the populace (meaning mostly, but not exclusively the West) and a way to protect capital and solidify the power of the ruling elite. And perhaps it’s not exactly to protect Capital so much as to set the stage for a post capitalist new feudalism.

The global landscape now features in Brazil (5th most populous country on earth) a new openly fascist president in Jair Bolsonaro. This is a man who openly admires Hitler, and suggests he’d kill a son if he found out he was gay. Not to mention his adoration of Israel and bromance with Bibi Netanyahu. (contradiction you say?.. on the surface yes, but perhaps not if one examines all this more closely). Bolsonaro wants to sell off the rain forest, and has all but issued a mass death warrant to indigenous tribes and activists protesting the denuding of the Amazon basin. In India, the second most populous nation on earth, Modi has defined himself and his party the BJP as a nativist neo fascist authoritarianism.

…while we don’t have a fascist nationalism which was in Germany, what we are witnessing is semi-fascist nationalism along religious sentiments.

— Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, The Hindu, June 2017

In Hungary there is Victor Orban, and across Europe are a host of nativist ultra reactionary racist politicans; Geert Wilders in Holland, Matteo Salvini in Italy, or AfD political leader Alexander Gauland in Germany who dismissed Nazi era rule as mere “bird poo” in an otherwise spotless history of German triumph. Or Jimmy Akesson of the Swedish Democrats, or Jussi Hallo Aho of the Finns Party in Finland, or the crack pot religious fanatics of the Law and Justice party in Poland (close with Orban’s party) or, in some ways, the most pernicious of the new reactionary neo fascists is Kristian Thulesen Dahl, head of the Danish People’s Party, a svelte well tailored and hip new fascism growing in legitimacy in the formally tolerant Scandinavian country. Dahl, a Knight of the Danneborog, likes to call his party “an anti Muslim party”. Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, from the ostensively center right Venstre Party (it’s not, it’s full on reactionary) is almost equal to Dahl in his xenophobia. The previous Prime Minister (Anders Fogh Rasmussen) left the post in 2009 to head up NATO. (!) A position that then was taken by former Norwegian PM Jens Stoltenberg (Labor Party). So here we have these supposedly liberal politicians eagerly rolling over and piddling themselves, on command, from the US joint chiefs.

Running beneath all of these “anti immigration” parties is a revanchist colonial mentality. And that’s the point. The corporate media provides cover by stressing that immigration is a ‘real’ concern. The very framing of this question is just another tactic in the rehabilitation of fascism. Never is any mention made of *why* there is an immigration *problem*. And if an aside is voiced it never targets US.and NATO Imperialist wars but rather suggests this is a clash of civilizations thing, echoing the seemingly forever durable Samuel Huntington meme. The fact that all that post 9/11 anti Islamic mythology has been debunked matters not at all. It doesn’t matter because people in the West WANTED to believe it — it reinforced a fantasy that they had clutched to their psychic bosoms long ago. The infidel, the barbarian hordes, and the uncivilizable tribes that threaten that bastion of civilization, white Europe. None of the anti immigration parties now on the ascendent in Europe has voiced opposition to US and NATO military affairs. Victor Orban (Fidesz Party) is rapidly coming to seem Europe’s answer to Donald Trump, or perhaps the new Berlusconi.

90% of all newspapers and media in Hungary is owned by Fidesz party loyalists. And Orban has drastically rewritten the constitution to allow himself enlarged powers. Not for no reason has Steve Bannon called Orban the most exciting politician in Europe. Also note, the Fidesz Party began as an anti-Communist youth group.

But the point is that those lurid drawings of the caves in Tora Bora or videos of dogs being gassed…as practice….or the yellow cake in Niger…were lapped up like milk in the U.S. The photos of Abu Ghraib came and went.

In the U.S. there is now a shifting away from the acute individualism of the ‘snowflake’ privileged and a reforming in the guise of a nostalgia laden colonialist or slave owner. And if you think that an exaggeration then just remember Bill Maher’s tirade last week where he referred very approvingly to the Monroe Doctrine and mentioned Venezuela as part of “our back yard”. I mean, it is stunning, it really is. The new colonial is replicated in another guise by the Israeli military. As I have noted before the IDF no longer bothers much with the ‘most moral army in the world’ argument and just cuts straight to hyper efficient killing machine and overlords of their region. They are applauded as such, too.

In my anecdotal experience the last few weeks I have had countless social media interactions in which my interlocatur was young(ish) white and reasonably well off financially. And two things have emerged as through lines: one was an indelible and core racism. Especially anti black racism, and a clear tendency toward antisemitism. And second, a refusal to surrender privilege. The white privilege is more protected than ever, psychologically. And with that comes an outright refusal to criticize US policy — unless it is viewed as Trump’s policy. And often these two things are buried. They are deeply entrenched, though. I would wager that a vast majority of white America is unmoved by the achievements of the Innocence Project. Freeing black men is simply not something white people can get behind. But it is also the return of the mid 20th century hagiographic adoration of cowboys, the frontier, and rugged individualism. And with hunting. Now there is also a growing anger. I mean, people are losing their lives. Families live under freeway overpasses. There are no jobs. And a new desperation is gripping the nation.

So intersecting then, are this new material desperation and a nostalgic self definition that includes Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp, as well as an open embrace of teen symbolism and a kitsch nostalgia for the past as created by Hollywood — 70s styles, or 80s styles, etc. Anything but the present. For there is no style to the present. There is only escape from it. And the ruling elite are not unaware of all this either. Both major parties have the same identical goals. Both protect their privilege and both strategise ways or campaigns to capitalize on the discontent they see around them. (Enter Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. And not to beat this drum again, but the woman is a cretin. The examples are countless. But she remains telegenic and so desperate are people, liberals, to find a new standard bearer, that her gaffes are simply ignored.). The marketing of new candidates meant to suggest “change” is less effective than it was for Obama in his initial run. But it still works. But something else is behind all this. And that is touched on most acutely and brilliantly by Cory Moorningstar in her exhaustive 4 part series The Wrong Kind of Green.

And this is really, for me, something that has been nagging at me during those insomnia hours before dawn. Nagged at me while taking long walks ….and that is how the Ecological and Environmental Crisis is being marketed. And from that, how to process or trust the various conflicting alarms that are a constant now. And for many on the left to even say this much is dangerous. When I wrote that piece on Green Shaming I had started to touch on the outer husk of this, but Cory Morningstar and Forest Palmer did simply extraordinary work in researching the mechanisms of exploitation involved in the construction of a new grammar and style for this false Green awareness. The environmental crisis, all too real, is viewed as just another business opportunity. Only it’s more than that, too.

Now when I say it’s an age of hyper marketing, it is useful to really remember that almost everyone who is visible in media is being handled. Or “handled”. Everyone. EVERYONE. And nothing is ever what it seems, if it is visible to the mass public. It is an age in which the very idea of trust has been so eroded as to be almost anachronistic.

Fifty years ago Adorno warned of empty activism. And today that warning has migrated to green actions. It is worth bringing in Venezuela here, as another kind of example. Max Blumenthal wrote in an exhaustive piece on Juan Guaido, that…

While Guaidó seemed to have materialized out of nowhere, he was, in fact, the product of more than a decade of assiduous grooming by the US government’s elite regime change factories. Alongside a cadre of right-wing student activists, Guaidó was cultivated to undermine Venezuela’s socialist-oriented government, destabilize the country, and one day seize power. Though he has been a minor figure in Venezuelan politics, he had spent years quietly demonstrating his worthiness in Washington’s halls of power.

—Max Blumenthal, Grayzone, January 29, 2019)

He was manufactured, much as Goldman Sachs and the IMF and other establishment banking entities manufactured Macron. In fact, it’s the way, on a larger denser and more complex level, Barak Obama was manufactured. It’s the same structural composite that results in the marketing of Pussy Riot or pick any of a half dozen (at least) child victims of US/NATO wars. In fact much of the persuasion of public opinion comes out of invented narratives that either are starkly revisionist or simply never happened. Jessica Lynch was a branch of how that works. But the US and UK (in fact, this is something of a UK specialty) produce just oodles of eye witnesses or “real” Syrians, or Libyans or Haitians or Iraqis or Venezuelans. Much as at one time the manufacturing of eye witnesses to Milosevic’s cruelty were all over the place. And the fact that nearly always these fake “authentic” voices cannot keep their stories or facts straight doesn’t matter –for exactly the same reason it didn’t matter OBL wasn’t in those Tora Bora caves, the ones that didn’t exist.

This brings me back to the Cory Morningstar and Forest Palmer in-depth article. The link is here:

But one of the key targets for Western green business has been the global south, and in particular Africa. Not surprising that the US military also “pivoted” to Africa (sic) under Obama.

Gore, with a net worth of approx. 350 million dollars, pays much lip service to subjects of inequality, wealth disparity and poverty. Thus, it is useful to actually take a look at what the much hyped green energy revolution actually looks like, when played out in real life and exactly who is being served by the so-called “green revolution”. M-Kopa Solar – “Power for Everyone” is a pay-per-use solar power provider (in the form of solar kits) created for impoverished African countries by white uber rich capitalists. The countries thus far include rural Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. M-Kopa is the brainchild of Jesse Moore (CEO), Chad Larson and Nick Hughes —who helped develop M-Pesa, which has more than 19 million users in Kenya. Included on the M-Kopa board of advisors is Colin Le Duc, a founding partner of Generation Investment Management and the Co-CIO of Generation’s growth equity Climate Solutions Funds. Other investors/lenders/partners include Shell Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At this juncture, before we continue, it is vital to note that in 2015, M-Kopa estimated that eighty percent of its customers lived on less than $2 (USD) per day. By 2015, M-Kopa had reached over $40 million of revenue.

Naomi Wolf wrote not too long ago…“When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.” But I think that is actually almost too optimistic. People want to believe mythologies that sanctify their own privilege. And this identity-based thought structure, one dimensional by its very nature, then promotes what amounts to a 21st century kitsch mythos. Or as Margaret Rosler said, “people want the fake”.

I am suggesting, in short form, that history matters. And it matters on several levels. Which is why it is being erased. This was a slave owning country in which 12 presidents owned and worked slaves. It was built by slaves and by indentured Chinese workers and it produced Manifest Destiny, a belief in American territorial expansion regardless of the cost. It was at least partly driven by Christian zealotry, and partly by greed. But also by a violence and cruelty which seems to have been the fusion of a variety of factors both historical and cultural. The public wants to find stories that flatter them and provide some, however fleeting, sense of their own significance and power. No country on earth produces men as insecure as the United States. And today, amid the waste of a destroyed union culture, and dead manufacturing base and loss of steel and auto makers…the U.S. worker is forced further and further into a fantasy laden infantilism. This is the world that goes to celebrate the life of sniper Chris Kyle, an unbalanced borderline sociopath and serial liar, at the Houston Astro Dome. This is much of the culture of the flyover states. It is racist at its core, it is aggressive, driven on by deep lacerating insecurities, and it is despises and distrusts intellect and education. The other large group is the city dwelling white liberal, college educated, and today, confused, alienated, suffering serious fertility failures and increasingly medicated with psychotropic drugs and anti depressants. This is much of the target audience for new green marketers.

One might think that if someone were conscious enough to recognise that global ecology was compromised and that pollutants were destroying fresh water, and the land, and that global warming was quite possibly going to make huge swatches of land non arable — you might think that person would look for solutions in a political frame. After all it was global capital that had brought mankind to this historic precipice. But instead, many if not nearly all the people I speak with, frame things in terms of personal responsibility. Stop driving big diesel SUVs, stop flying to Cabo for vacation, stop eating meat, etc-. But these same people tend to not criticize capitalism. Or, rather, they ask for a small non crony green capitalism. I guess this would mean green exploitation and green wars? For war is the engine of global capitalism today. Cutting across this are the various threads of the overpopulation theme. A convenient ideological adjustment that shifts blame to the poorest inhabitants of the planet. And here you find Bill Gates and other NGOs working to “help” the developing (sic) nations through population control.1

Jacob Levich writes…

The Rockefeller Foundation organized the Population Council in 1953, predicting a “Malthusian crisis” in the developing world and financing extensive experiments in population control. These interventions were enthusiastically embraced by US government policymakers, who agreed that “the demographic problems of the developing countries, especially in areas of non-Western culture, make these nations more vulnerable to Communism.”2

And this raises yet another question. The wrong kind of green, to put it in Morningstar’s term, is one that is all about the protection of capitalism. Green anti communism. There are links here between AVAAZ, and Otpor, and the USAID and National Endowment for Democracy and Freedom House et al. The world of NGOs has grown in both size and power.

…the evil empire Buffett, Gates and Rockefeller built in the private sector is mirrored in the evil networks of NGOs they — along with Clinton — have constructed to provide cover for widespread environmental devastation, ethnic cleansing and Indigenous genocide committed by their corporate investments. Using bagmen like Tides Foundation in cahoots with magicians like Bill McKibben at 350 dot org, and sleight-of-hand artists like Tzeporah Berman at Tar Sands Solutions Network, Buffett, Gates, Rockefeller and Clinton have become thick as thieves in producing political theatre to distract us from the parade of refugees in their caravan of doom.”

— Jay Taber, Wrong Kind of Green, October 2013

Hollywood acts as an arm to this media intoxication when it comes to the military. Watch virtually any action, sci-fi or suspense movie these days and notice how militarism is seamlessly laced through most of the plot lines. Military hardware is easily available for these productions. Soldiers are almost always cast as virtuous. And this also demonstrates the strain of pernicious authoritarianism within American culture. FBI and CIA agents, detectives, prosecutors, all of them are portrayed with an air of troubled, perhaps flawed, but intact unassailable nobility.

— Kenn Orphan, Counterpunch, 2019

There has been a rightward shift in nearly every field one can find or think of. Recently in Norway I read this…

A majority in Parliament asked the government in 2015 to replace its appeals court jury system with a combination of professional and lay judges. Now the historic reform has taken shape, reports newspaper Aftenposten. Instead of having a 10-member jury decide on guilt or innocence in Norway’s most serious criminal cases, they’ll now be heard in Norwegian appeals courts by two professional judges and five lay judges chosen from the public. The reform changes the way cases have been decided for 130 years.

— News in English Norway Aftenposten

In other words, this is a shift toward a bias for conviction. Two judges will simply determine the case and manipulate or bully if need be, the citizen jurors. The change was made because juries were increasingly found to be unable to follow the complexity of many cases. Lay another gold star on the destruction of public education in Europe and North America.

The racism of most Americans can be tracked, too, in how they digest mainstream propaganda about Venezuela. Many feel kinship with Maher’s position. This is OUR backyard. How dare that uppity “dead communist dictator”(to use Bernie Sanders description) Chavez deign to GIVE us free heating fuel and gas. The presumption. For many this was like the help talking back. Americans by and large are quite indifferent to the accuracy or not of the demonizing of official US enemies. From Castro to Milosevic to Aristide to Assad and Gadaffi …to the DPRK or Mao or Hugo Chavez. As the national front used to say in England…’the wogs start at Calais’. For white America there is always a residual racism and Puritanism at work in their thinking.

Also, one sees the confusion in anti nuke protests. Dennis Riches has done great work in compiling info and arguing the case. He wrote:

If this recent anti-nuclear drive actually succeeded in getting the nuclear powers to ratify an international treaty declaring nuclear weapons illegal, the world would be left with the United States undeterred with a vastly predominant power in conventional weaponry. Intercontinental ballistic missiles would be refitted with precision conventional bombs capable of putting any nation on earth back in the Stone Age within a matter of weeks. This was already achieved with the attacks in attacks on Serbia (1999), Iraq (1991, 2003~) and Libya (2011). All of these were illegal under international law, which raises the question of how the international community would enforce compliance with a new international law banning nuclear weapons. In addition to the fact that international law is ignored continually during so-called peacetime, Russell and Einstein pointed out in their 1955 manifesto that treaties banning nuclear weapons would be abrogated the minute world war breaks.

— Dennis Riches, Lit by Imagination, a blog of Dennis Riches

In other words, nuclear disarmament is seen through the lens of American exceptionalism. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

Secondly, insofar as it breeds in itself tendencies which— and here too we must differ—directly converge with fascism. I name as symptomatic of this the technique of calling for a discussion, only to then make one impossible; the barbaric inhumanity of a mode of behaviour that is regressive and even confuses regression with revolution; the blind primacy of action; the formalism which is indifferent to the content and shape of that against which one revolts, namely our theory. Here in Frankfurt, and certainly in Berlin as well, the word ‘professor’ is used condescendingly to dismiss people, or as they so nicely put it ‘to put them down’, just as the Nazis used the word Jew in their day.

— Adorno, Letter to Marcuse, 1969

Adorno was wrong in much of what he did in that later period (calling in the cops for one). But there is a seed of truth in his complaint, too (the Ocasio Cortez phenomenon is evidence of this, I’d say). Much of today’s green left seems profoundly uncritical of the US state department apparatus for propaganda and its infiltration (or creation) of NGOs and activists groups. Or just the predatory capitalists of Al Gore’s Generation Investment…

At this juncture, seeing as we are being led to believe that “sustainable investments” are the pathway to solving our planetary crisis, it might be wise to ask in what sustainable corporations Generation Investment is investing. Generation Investment has created a focus list of some 125 companies around the world in which it invests not based on how sustainable the business is, but rather, “on the quality of their business and management”.

Generation Investment’s portfolio and investments include multinational corporations with horrendous records of malfeasance, such as Amazon, Nike, Colgate, MasterCard, and the Chipotle restaurant chain, with heavy investments in health and technology. And as all of these corporations are heavily invested and/or dependent on fossil fuels, how an investment firm can justify investing in these companies is anyone’s guess. Generation Investment board members include eco-luminaries such as Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland and the founder of nonprofit Mary Robinson Foundation. Robinson serves as president to Richard Branson’s B Team, which is managed by Purpose – the public relations arm of Avaaz.

— Cory Morningstar, The Wrong Kind of Green

The problem with discussions of global warming and the destruction of the planet is that so much of that discussion has been coopted by Capital. And it’s often very difficult to quickly know who to trust. One response I get a lot is, well, YOU have to change. This I take it means doing all kinds of feel good greeny things. And yet none of what I can do is going to matter to Bolsonaro as he burns down the Amazon. For that is political. And he is a fascist. And when Bernie Sanders and Ocasio Cortez, or Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris sign off on the coup in Venezuela, this is not and cannot be separated from the occupation of Afghanistan or the slaughter in Yemen, or mass incarceration and a violent militarized domestic police. The deep colonial Orientalism of American culture is tied to how one must start to talk about the environment. They are not separate issues. Sanders, besides slandering Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution, also trashes the BDS movement. What is one to make of this, exactly? And yet his popularity stays intact.

Any green change starts with the overthrow of capital. And that means that it rejects all military activity by the U.S. and NATO. Global warming drove the apocalyptic California wild fires last summer. But thirty or forty years of urban building, of the wrong shrubbery being planted, and crowded subdivisions intensified the fires. And, the practices of fire prevention.. paradoxically made those fires much worse.
Building in or near fire-prone forests has also led to fire prevention land management practices that paradoxically increase fire risk. For instance, policies for preventing wildfires have in some areas led to an accumulation of the dry vegetation that would ordinarily burn away in smaller natural blazes. “The thing that gets missed in all of this is that fires are a natural part of many of these systems,” said Matthew Hurteau, an associate professor at the University of New Mexico studying climate impacts on forests. “We have suppressed fires for decades actively. That’s caused larger fires.
— Umair Irfan, Vox, December, 2017
The frame is not to protect nature but to protect property, and that leads to problems.
The short equation then is this: if it’s a business opportunity, it’s not going to help anything. And if you find yourself on the same page as the US state department and Pentagon you might have to step back and take a breath. The supreme irony is Democrats in particular, who continue to drive the Russia-gate story, having no problem with getting rid of Maduro and replacing him with — for the moment — Juan Guaido. But the real purpose behind the attack on Venezuela is to get rid of socialism in ‘our back yard’. Getting massive oil reserves is a nice bonus but the priority is to turn back the so called Pink Tide. Much as Yugoslavia had to go, so does Venezuela. With Bolsonaro, and Macri in Argentina, and Ivan Duque in Colombia, the forces of reaction are being put in place. (It is worth noting that while Trump’s cabinet is stocked with Domionists, the Supreme Court has had a heavy influence of Opus Dei members and that in Brazil Opus Dei rules the third largest bank…fascism and religion are always intwined). And for white America, this feels almost nostalgic. Adding Elliot Abrams to the mix only heightens that nostalgic feeling. For this suddenly feels like Reagan’s America again. Cowboys and the frontier — and the shining light on the hill. Only now, it all takes place, this kitsch B western, in the shadow of global ecological crises. Crises caused by Capital. By Wall Street and an elite class of 2% that owns more than the bottom 50% of the planet. By a system of exploitation in which human suffering is a foundational component. It’s just like Reagan’s Norman Rockwell fantasy, except now with an all child cast.
The political spectacle is now narrated by ten year olds. Bana Al-Abed is only the latest in this line of manufactured wag the dog props for the Western spin machine. The White Helmets are another branch of the fake. Absolutely invented, only in their case of a particularly grave robber morbidity. The aforementioned Pussy Riot, and AOC is in a sense another version of this. Young lithe and almost (!) childlike. Certainly not fecund and maternal. For that is a threat. Americans see the world as a Hollywood period film. Bring back the Casinos in Havana, that’s so romantic. Same as the Romanoff balls were romantic. Same as colonial salons from Calcutta to Singapore were romantic. An afternoon tea on the verandah at the Raffles Hotel, now those were the days. Nostalgia is a safe psychic retreat now. Even if it’s all make believe. In fact, there is a strange psychic disposition that desires the fake. That wants the artificial. I think it is perhaps fake is associated with fantasy, with the world as if it is a children’s book.
American’s idea of politics is also shaped in large measure by Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing. This is probably not even a tiny exaggeration. This is the vision and fantasy of the educated liberal class in America. But for all their self described tolerance and progressiveness, they will still vote for those Democrats who want a coup in Venezuela and who signed off on all of Trump’s defense spending increases. For the bourgeoisie always side with fascism. That’s simply a fact. In the end they will side with the authoritarian and far right wing, and protect their small corner of the sandbox. And even if one tries to explain that sandbox may well become a sweatshop — they seem undeterred. In the end the liberal press will embrace Bolsonaro, too. As they now do Bush Jr, and well, Elliott Abrams. Negroponte can’t be far behind. The plan is clearly to rehabilitate fascism. Globally. The School of the Americas is due a feature film, no doubt.
  1. See Depa Provera and other reproductive health services.
  2. Aspects of India’s Economy, No 57, 2014.

Benny Gantz and Israel’s Drive to Become a Modern-day Sparta

With April’s elections looming, sr Benjamin Netanyahu has good reason to fear Benny Gantz, his former army chief. Gantz has launched a new party, named Iaeli Resilience, just as the net of corruption indictments is closing around the prime minister.

Already, at this early stage of campaigning, some 31 per cent of the Israeli public prefer Gantz to head the next government over Netanyahu, who is only months away from becoming the longest-serving leader in Israel’s history.

Gantz is being feted as the new hope, a chance to change direction after a series of governments under Netanyahu’s leadership have over the past decade shifted Israel ever further to the right.

Like Israel’s former politician generals, from Yitzhak Rabin to Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, Gantz is being portrayed – and portraying himself – as a battle-hardened warrior, able to make peace from a position of strength.

Before he had issued a single policy statement, polls showed him winning 15 of the 120 parliamentary seats, a welcome sign for those hoping that a centre-left coalition can triumph this time.

But the reality of what Gantz stands for – revealed this week in his first election videos – is far from reassuring.

In 2014, he led Israel into its longest and most savage military operation in living memory: 50 days in which the tiny coastal enclave of Gaza was bombarded relentlessly.

By the end, one of the most densely populated areas on earth – its two million inhabitants already trapped by a lengthy Israeli blockade – lay in ruins. More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the onslaught, a quarter of them children, while tens of thousands were left homeless.

The world watched, appalled. Investigations by human rights groups such as Amnesty International concluded that Israel had committed war crimes.

One might have assumed that during the election campaign Gantz would wish to draw a veil over this troubling period in his military career. Not a bit of it.

One of his campaign videos soars over the rubble of Gaza, proudly declaring that Gantz was responsible for destroying many thousands of buildings. “Parts of Gaza have been returned to the Stone Age,” the video boasts.

This is a reference to the Dahiya doctrine, a strategy devised by the Israeli military command of which Gantz was a core member. The aim is to lay waste to the modern infrastructure of Israel’s neighbours, forcing survivors to eke out a bare existence rather than resist Israel.

The collective punishment inherent in the apocalyptic Dahiya doctrine is an undoubted war crime.

More particularly, the video exults in the destruction of Rafah, a city in Gaza that suffered the most intense bout of bombing after an Israeli soldier was seized by Hamas. In minutes, Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment killed at least 135 Palestinian civilians and wrecked a hospital.

According to investigations, Israel had invoked the Hannibal Procedure, the code name for an order allowing the army to use any means to stop one of its soldiers being taken. That includes killing civilians as “collateral damage” and, more controversially for Israelis, the soldier himself.

Gantz’s video flashes up a grand total of “1,364 terrorists killed”, in return for “three-and-a-half years of quiet”. As Israel’s liberal Haaretz daily observed, the video “celebrates a body count as if this were just some computer game”.

But the casualty figure cited by Gantz exceeds even the Israel army’s self-serving assessment – as well, of course, as dehumanising those “terrorists” fighting for their freedom.

A more impartial observer, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, estimates that the Palestinian fighters killed by Israel amounted to 765. By their reckoning, and that of other bodies such as the United Nations, almost two-thirds of Gazans killed in Israel’s 2014 operation were civilians.

Further, the “quiet” Gantz credits himself with was enjoyed chiefly by Israel.

In Gaza, Palestinians faced regular military attacks, a continuing siege choking off essential supplies and destroying their export industries, and a policy of executions by Israeli snipers firing on unarmed demonstrators at the perimeter fence imprisoning the enclave.

Gantz’s campaign slogans “Only the Strong Wins” and “Israel Before Everything” are telling. Everything, for Gantz, clearly includes human rights.

It is shameful enough that he believes his track record of war crimes will win over voters. But the same approach has been voiced by Israel’s new military chief of staff.

Aviv Kochavi, nicknamed the Philosopher Officer for his university studies, was inaugurated this month as the army’s latest head. In a major speech, he promised to reinvent the fabled “most moral army in the world” into a “deadly, efficient” one.

In Kochavi’s view, the rampaging military once overseen by Gantz needs to step up its game. And he is a proven expert in destruction.

In the early stages of the Palestinian uprising that erupted in 2000, the Israeli army struggled to find a way to crush Palestinian fighters concealed in densely crowded cities under occupation.

Kochavi came up with an ingenious solution in Nablus, where he was brigade commander. The army would invade a Palestinian home, then smash through its walls, moving from house to house, burrowing through the city unseen. Palestinian space was not only usurped, but destroyed inside-out.

Gantz, the former general hoping to lead the government, and Kochavi, the general leading its army, are symptoms of just how complete the militaristic logic that has overtaken Israel really is. An Israel determined to become a modern-day Sparta.

Should he bring about Netanyahu’s downfall, Gantz, like his predecessor politician-generals, will turn out to be a hollow peace-maker. He was trained to understand only strength, zero-sum strategies, conquest and destruction, not compassion or compromise.

More dangerously, Gantz’s glorification of his military past is likely to reinforce in Israelis’ minds the need not for peace but for more of the same: support for an ultranationalist right that bathes itself in an ethnic supremacist philosophy and dismisses any recognition of the Palestinians as human beings with rights.

Benny Gantz and Israel’s Drive to Become a Modern-day Sparta

With April’s elections looming, sr Benjamin Netanyahu has good reason to fear Benny Gantz, his former army chief. Gantz has launched a new party, named Iaeli Resilience, just as the net of corruption indictments is closing around the prime minister.

Already, at this early stage of campaigning, some 31 per cent of the Israeli public prefer Gantz to head the next government over Netanyahu, who is only months away from becoming the longest-serving leader in Israel’s history.

Gantz is being feted as the new hope, a chance to change direction after a series of governments under Netanyahu’s leadership have over the past decade shifted Israel ever further to the right.

Like Israel’s former politician generals, from Yitzhak Rabin to Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, Gantz is being portrayed – and portraying himself – as a battle-hardened warrior, able to make peace from a position of strength.

Before he had issued a single policy statement, polls showed him winning 15 of the 120 parliamentary seats, a welcome sign for those hoping that a centre-left coalition can triumph this time.

But the reality of what Gantz stands for – revealed this week in his first election videos – is far from reassuring.

In 2014, he led Israel into its longest and most savage military operation in living memory: 50 days in which the tiny coastal enclave of Gaza was bombarded relentlessly.

By the end, one of the most densely populated areas on earth – its two million inhabitants already trapped by a lengthy Israeli blockade – lay in ruins. More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the onslaught, a quarter of them children, while tens of thousands were left homeless.

The world watched, appalled. Investigations by human rights groups such as Amnesty International concluded that Israel had committed war crimes.

One might have assumed that during the election campaign Gantz would wish to draw a veil over this troubling period in his military career. Not a bit of it.

One of his campaign videos soars over the rubble of Gaza, proudly declaring that Gantz was responsible for destroying many thousands of buildings. “Parts of Gaza have been returned to the Stone Age,” the video boasts.

This is a reference to the Dahiya doctrine, a strategy devised by the Israeli military command of which Gantz was a core member. The aim is to lay waste to the modern infrastructure of Israel’s neighbours, forcing survivors to eke out a bare existence rather than resist Israel.

The collective punishment inherent in the apocalyptic Dahiya doctrine is an undoubted war crime.

More particularly, the video exults in the destruction of Rafah, a city in Gaza that suffered the most intense bout of bombing after an Israeli soldier was seized by Hamas. In minutes, Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment killed at least 135 Palestinian civilians and wrecked a hospital.

According to investigations, Israel had invoked the Hannibal Procedure, the code name for an order allowing the army to use any means to stop one of its soldiers being taken. That includes killing civilians as “collateral damage” and, more controversially for Israelis, the soldier himself.

Gantz’s video flashes up a grand total of “1,364 terrorists killed”, in return for “three-and-a-half years of quiet”. As Israel’s liberal Haaretz daily observed, the video “celebrates a body count as if this were just some computer game”.

But the casualty figure cited by Gantz exceeds even the Israel army’s self-serving assessment – as well, of course, as dehumanising those “terrorists” fighting for their freedom.

A more impartial observer, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, estimates that the Palestinian fighters killed by Israel amounted to 765. By their reckoning, and that of other bodies such as the United Nations, almost two-thirds of Gazans killed in Israel’s 2014 operation were civilians.

Further, the “quiet” Gantz credits himself with was enjoyed chiefly by Israel.

In Gaza, Palestinians faced regular military attacks, a continuing siege choking off essential supplies and destroying their export industries, and a policy of executions by Israeli snipers firing on unarmed demonstrators at the perimeter fence imprisoning the enclave.

Gantz’s campaign slogans “Only the Strong Wins” and “Israel Before Everything” are telling. Everything, for Gantz, clearly includes human rights.

It is shameful enough that he believes his track record of war crimes will win over voters. But the same approach has been voiced by Israel’s new military chief of staff.

Aviv Kochavi, nicknamed the Philosopher Officer for his university studies, was inaugurated this month as the army’s latest head. In a major speech, he promised to reinvent the fabled “most moral army in the world” into a “deadly, efficient” one.

In Kochavi’s view, the rampaging military once overseen by Gantz needs to step up its game. And he is a proven expert in destruction.

In the early stages of the Palestinian uprising that erupted in 2000, the Israeli army struggled to find a way to crush Palestinian fighters concealed in densely crowded cities under occupation.

Kochavi came up with an ingenious solution in Nablus, where he was brigade commander. The army would invade a Palestinian home, then smash through its walls, moving from house to house, burrowing through the city unseen. Palestinian space was not only usurped, but destroyed inside-out.

Gantz, the former general hoping to lead the government, and Kochavi, the general leading its army, are symptoms of just how complete the militaristic logic that has overtaken Israel really is. An Israel determined to become a modern-day Sparta.

Should he bring about Netanyahu’s downfall, Gantz, like his predecessor politician-generals, will turn out to be a hollow peace-maker. He was trained to understand only strength, zero-sum strategies, conquest and destruction, not compassion or compromise.

More dangerously, Gantz’s glorification of his military past is likely to reinforce in Israelis’ minds the need not for peace but for more of the same: support for an ultranationalist right that bathes itself in an ethnic supremacist philosophy and dismisses any recognition of the Palestinians as human beings with rights.

Inside Banksy’s The Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem

Anonymous British street artist Banksy made headlines in October when his $1.4 million artwork Girl with Balloon self-destructed by passing through a shredder concealed in its frame at a London auction moments after it had been bought.

But in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, a much larger Banksy art project – a hotel boasting “the worst view in the world” – appears to be unexpectedly saving itself from similar, planned destruction.

When it opened in March last year, The Walled Off Hotel – hemmed in by the eight-metre-high concrete wall built by Israel to encage Bethlehem – was supposed to be operational for only a year. But nearly two years on, as I joined those staying in one of its nine Banksy-designed rooms, it was clearly going from strength to strength.

Originally, The Walled Off Hotel was intended as a temporary and provocative piece of installation art, turning the oppressive 700-kilometre-long wall that cuts through occupied Palestinian land into an improbable tourist attraction. Visitors drawn to Bethlehem by Banksy’s art – both inside the hotel and on the colossal wall outside – are given a brief, but potent, taste of Palestinian life in the shadow of Israel’s military infrastructure of confinement.

It proved, unexpectedly, so successful that it was soon competing as a top tourist attraction with the city’s traditional pilgrimage site, the reputed spot where Jesus was born, the Church of the Nativity. “The hotel has attracted 140,000 visitors – local Israelis, Palestinians, as well as internationals – since it opened,” says Wisam Salsa, the hotel’s Palestinian co-founder and manager. “It’s given a massive boost to the Palestinian tourism industry.”

Exception to Banksy’s rule

The Walled Off Hotel was effectively a follow-up to Banksy’s “Dismaland Bemusement Park”, created in the more familiar and safer setting of a British seaside resort. For five weeks, that installation in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England, offered holidaymakers a dystopian version of a Disney-style amusement park, featuring a nuclear mushroom-cloud, medical experiments gone wrong, boat people trapped on the high seas and the Cinderella story told as a car crash.

But unlike Girl with Balloon and Dismaland, Banksy appears uncharacteristically reluctant to follow through with the destruction of his Bethlehem creation. Some 21 months later, it seems to have become a permanent feature of this small city’s tourist landscape.

Given that Banksy is notoriously elusive, it is difficult to be sure why he has made an exception for The Walled Off Hotel. But given his well-known sympathy for the Palestinian cause, a few reasons suggest themselves. One is that, were he to abandon the hotel, it would delight the Israeli military authorities. They would love to see The Walled Off Hotel disappear – and with it, a major reason to focus on a particularly ugly aspect of Israel’s occupation. In addition, dismantling the hotel might echo rather uncomfortably Israel’s long-standing policy of clearing Palestinians off their land – invariably to free-up space for Jewish settlement.

Israel strenuously claims the wall was built to aid security by keeping out Palestinian “terrorists”. But the wall’s path outside The Walled Off Hotel seals off Bethlehem from one of its major holy sites, Rachel’s Tomb, and has allowed Jewish religious extremists to take it over.

A rare success story

In sticking by the hotel, Banksy appears to have been influenced by Palestinian “sumud”, Arabic for steadfastness, a commitment to staying put in the face of Israeli pressure and aggression. But significantly, there is a practical consideration: The Walled Off Hotel has rapidly become a rare success story in the occupied territories, boosting the struggling Palestinian economy. That has occurred in spite of Israel’s best efforts to curb tourism to Bethlehem, including by making a trip through the wall and an Israeli checkpoint a time-consuming and discomfiting experience.

Israel’s attitude was highlighted last year when the interior ministry issued a directive to travel agencies warning them not to take groups of pilgrims into Bethlehem to stay overnight. After an outcry, the government ­relented, but the message was clear.

Salsa notes that The Walled Off Hotel has not only attracted a new kind of visitor to Bethlehem, but has also persuaded many to spend time in other parts of the occupied West Bank, too.

Salsa understands the importance of tourism personally. He was an out-of-work guide when mutual friends first introduced him to Banksy in 2005, shortly after the wall cutting off Bethlehem from nearby Jerusalem had been completed. The city was economically dead, with tourists too fearful to visit its holy sites as armed uprisings raged across the occupied territories. The Second Intifada from 2000-2005 was the Palestinians’ response after Israel refused to grant them the viable state most observers had assumed was implicit in the Oslo Accords of the 1990s.

Banksy arrived in 2005 to spray-paint on what was then a largely pristine surface, creating a series of striking images. It unleashed a wave of local and foreign copycats. The wall in Bethlehem quickly became a giant canvas for artistic resistance, says Salsa.

Much later, in 2014, Banksy came up with the idea of the hotel. Salsa found a large residential building abandoned for more than a decade because of its proximity to the wall. In secret, The Walled Off was born. “It was a crazy spot for a hotel,” says Salsa. “It felt like divine intervention finding it. It was close to the main road from Jerusalem so no one could miss us.”

Palestinians’ reality

Importantly, the hotel was also in one of the few areas of Bethlehem inside “Area C”, parts of the West Bank classified in the temporary Oslo Accords as under full Israeli control. That meant the army could not bar Israelis from visiting. “Nowadays there are no channels open between Palestinians and Israelis. So The Walled Off Hotel is a rare space where Israelis can visit and taste the reality lived by Palestinians.

“True, Israelis mostly come to see the art. But they can’t help but learn a lot more while they are here.”

Salsa is happy that the Walled Off Hotel provides a good salary to 45 local employees and their families. His hope in setting up the hotel was to “encourage more tourists to stay in Bethlehem and for them to hear our story, our voice”.

But Banksy’s grander vision had been fully vindicated, he says. “The Walled Off Hotel gives tourists an experience of our reality.

“But it also emphasises other, creative ways to struggle and speak up. It offers art as a model of resistance.

“The hotel magnifies the Palestinian’s voice. And it makes the world hear us in a way that doesn’t depend on either us or the Israelis suffering more casualties.”

Global impact

The hotel’s continuing impact was underscored last month when it was featured for the first time at the Palestinian stand at the annual World Travel Market in London, the largest tourism trade show in the world. The event attracts 50,000 travel agents, who conduct more than $4 billion in deals over the course of the show.

Banksy had announced beforehand that he would bring a replica of one of his artworks on the wall just outside the Bethlehem hotel: cherubs trying to prise open two concrete slabs with a crowbar. He also promised a limited-edition poster showing children using one of Israel’s military watchtowers as a fairground ride. A slogan underneath reads: “Visit historic Palestine. The Israeli army liked it so much they never left!” As a result, there was a stampede to the Palestinian stand, one of the smallest, that caught the show’s organisers by surprise.

Rula Maayah, the Palestinian tourism minister, praised Banksy for changing the image of Palestinian tourism by diverting younger people into the West Bank, often during a visit to Israel. “He promotes Palestine and focuses on the occupation, but at the same time he is talking about the beauty of Palestine,” she said.

At the Walled Off Hotel, however, Israel has made it much harder to see the beauty. Most windows provide little more than a view of the wall, which dwarfs in both height and length the Berlin Wall to which it is most often compared. That is all part of the Walled Off “experience” that now attracts not only wealthier visitors keen to stay in one the hotel’s rooms, but a much larger audience of day trippers.

So successful has the Walled Off Hotel proved in such a short space of time that even some locals concede it upstages the Church of the Nativity – at least for a proportion of visitors. A local taxi driver who was guiding two French sisters along the wall outside the hotel said many independent tourists now prioritised it ahead of the church.

Only wanting to be identified as Nasser, he said: “We may not know who Banksy is, but the truth is, he has done us a huge favour with this hotel and his art.”

Sanctuary in a police state

If Dismaland created a dystopian amusement park in the midst of a fun-filled seaside resort, the Walled Off Hotel offers a small sanctuary of serenity – even if a politically charged one – in surroundings that look more like a post-apocalyptic police state.

Along the top of the wall, there are innumerable surveillance cameras, as well as looming watchtowers, where ever-present Israeli soldiers remain out of view behind darkened glass. They can emerge unexpectedly, usually to make raids on the homes of unsuspecting Palestinians.

When I made a trip to the Walled Off in October, I parked outside to find half a dozen armed Israeli soldiers on top of the hotel’s flat roof. When one waved to me, I was left wondering whether I had been caught up in another of Banksy’s famous art stunts. I hadn’t. They were real – there to watch over Jewish extremists celebrating a religious holiday nearby at Rachel’s Tomb.

The hotel’s lobby, though not the rooms, are readily accessible to the public. It is conceived as a puzzling mixture: part cheeky homage to the contrived gentility of British colonial life, part chaotic exhibition space for Banksy’s subversive street art. Visitors can enjoy a British cream tea, served in the finest china, sitting under a number of Israeli surveillance cameras wall-mounted like hunting trophies or alongside a portrait of Jesus with the red dot of a marksman’s laser-beam on his forehead.

A history of resistance

The lobby leads to a museum that is probably the most comprehensive ever to document Israel’s various methods of colonisation and control over Palestinians, and their history of resistance.

At its entrance sits a dummy of Lord Balfour, the foreign secretary who 101 years ago initiated Britain’s sponsorship of Palestine’s colonisation. He issued the infamous Balfour Declaration promising the Palestinians’ homeland to the Jewish people. Press a button and Balfour jerks into life to furiously sign the declaration on his desk. Upstairs is a large gallery exhibiting some of the best of Palestinian art, and the hotel reception organises twice-daily tours of the wall.

Entry to the rooms is hidden behind a secret door, disguised as a bookcase. Guests need to wave a room key, shaped like a section of the wall, in front of a small statue of Venus that makes her breasts glow red and the door open.

A stairway leads to the second and third floors, where the landings are decorated with more fading colonial splendour and Banksy art. Kitsch paintings of boats, landscapes and vases of flowers are hidden behind tight metal gauze of the kind Israel uses to protect its military Jeeps from stone-throwers.

A permanent “Sorry – out of service” sign hangs from a lift, its half-open doors revealing that it is, in fact, walled up.

No mementos

Although the rooms are designed thematically by Banksy, only a few contain original artworks, most significantly in the Presidential Suite.

Hotels may be used to customers taking shampoos and soaps, even the odd towel, as mementos of their stay. But at the Walled Off, the stakes are a little higher. Guests are issued with an inventory they must sign on departing, declaring that they have not pilfered any art from their room. But it is the wall itself that is the dominant presence, towering over guests as they come and go, trapping them in a narrow space between the hotel entrance and an expanse of solid grey.

A proportion visit the neighbouring graffiti shop, Wall Mart, where they can get help on how to leave their mark on the concrete. Most of the casual graffiti is short-lived, with space regularly cleared so that new visitors can scrawl their messages and use art as a tool of resistance.

Protest pieces

Banksy’s better-known artworks, however, are saved from the spray-paint pandemonium elsewhere.

The crowbar-armed cherubs he brought to London were painted in time for Christmas last year, when he recruited film director Danny Boyle – of Slumdog Millionaire fame – to stage an alternative nativity play for local families in the hotel car park. The “Alternativity”, featuring a real donkey and real snow produced by a machine on the Walled Off’s roof, became a BBC documentary. Banksy had once again found a way to persuade prime-time TV to shine a light on Israel’s oppressive wall.

Another artwork is his “Er sorry”, a leftover from the Walled Off’s “apologetic street party” of November last year, marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration’s signing. Children from two neighbouring refugee camps were invited to wear Union-Jack crash helmets and wave charred British flags. A person dressed as Queen Elizabeth II unveiled “Er Sorry” stencilled into the wall. It served both as a hesitant apology on behalf of Britain and as a play on the initials of the Queen’s official Latin title, Elizabeth Regina.

The event, however, illustrated that Banksy’s subversive message, directed chiefly at western audiences, does not always translate well to sections of the local Palestinian population. The party was hijacked by local activists who stuck a Palestinian flag into the Union Jack-adorned cake and chanted “Free Palestine”.

Is this ‘war tourism’?

Salsa outright rejects claims from some locals and foreign critics that the hotel is exploiting Palestinian misery and is an example of “war tourism”.

He points out: “The Balfour party got the media interested in a story they probably would not have covered otherwise, because it lacked violence and bloodshed.”

He adds that the area of Bethlehem in which the Walled Off is located would have been killed off by the wall were it not for Banksy investing his own money and time in the project. As well as the staff, it has brought work to tour guides, taxi drivers, neighbouring and cheaper hotels, shops and petrol stations. “That is a very important form of resistance,” he says.

It is also a rare example of Palestinians reclaiming land from the Israeli army. On the other side of the wall there had been a large army camp until the hotel started drawing significant numbers of visitors.

“The army didn’t like lots of tourists taking pictures nearby, so they moved further away, out of sight.”

Eternal memories

Canadian tourist Mike Seleski, 30, visited the hotel to see Banksy’s art before standing in front of the wall. He said he had heard about the Walled Off from an Israeli he befriended in Vietnam during a year of travelling.

This was a detour from his stay in Israel – his only stop in the occupied territories. “I don’t like the usual tourist experiences,” he said. “It is important to hear the other side of the story when you travel.”

In every one of the 32 countries he has visited, he has stood to be photographed before a famous local spot holding a cardboard sign with words to reassure his worried mother: “Mum – I’m OK.”

In Bethlehem, he said it was obvious he’d take the photo in front of Banksy’s art on the wall, rather than the Church of the Nativity. “You see the wall on TV and forget about it. You get on with your life. But when you stand here, you realise Palestinians don’t have a choice. They simply can’t ignore it.”

• First published at The National