Category Archives: Land Theft

Muna is Palestine, Yakub is Israel: The Untold Story of Sheikh Jarrah  

There are two separate Sheikh Jarrah stories – one read and watched in the news and another that receives little media coverage or due analysis.

The obvious story is that of the nightly raids and violence meted out by Israeli police and Jewish extremists against Palestinians in the devastated East Jerusalem neighborhood.

For weeks, thousands of Jewish extremists have targeted Palestinian communities in Jerusalem’s Old City. Their objective is the removal of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. They are not acting alone. Their riots and rampages are directed by a well-coordinated leadership composed of extremist Zionist and Jewish groups, such as the Otzma Yehudit party and the Lehava Movement. Their unfounded claims, violent actions and abhorrent chant “Death to the Arabs” are validated by Israeli politicians, such as Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir and the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Arieh King.

Here is a little introduction to the political discourse of Ben-Gvir and King, who were caught on video shouting and insulting a wounded Palestinian protester. The video starts with MK Ben-Gvir disparagingly yelling at a Palestinian who was apparently wounded by Israeli police, yet returned to protest against the evictions planned for Sheikh Jarrah.

Ben-Gvir is heard shouting, “Abu Hummus, how is your ass?”

“The bullet is still there, that’s why he is limping,” responds the Deputy Mayor, King, to Ben-Gvir.  King continues, “Did they take the bullet out of your ass? Did they take it out already? It is a pity it did not go in here,” King continues, pointing to his head.

Delighted with what they perceive to be a whimsical commentary on the wounding of the Palestinian, Ben-Gvir and King’s entourage of Jewish extremists laugh.

While “Abu Hummus”, wounded yet still protesting, is a testament to the tenacity of the Palestinian people, King, Ben-Gvir, the settlers and the police are a representation of the united Israeli front aimed at ethnically cleansing Palestinians and ensuring Jewish majority in Jerusalem.

Another important participant in the ongoing Israeli ethnic cleansing campaign in Jerusalem is Israel’s court system which has provided a legal cover for the targeting of Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem.

The legal foundation of the Jewish settlers’ constant attempts at acquiring more Palestinian properties can be traced back to a specific 1970 law, known as the Legal and Administrative Matters Law, which allowed Jews to sue Palestinians for properties they claim to have owned prior to the establishment of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine in 1948. While Palestinians are excluded from making similar claims, Israeli courts have generously handed Palestinian homes, lands and other assets to Jewish claimants. In turn, these homes, as in the case of Sheikh Jarrah and other Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, are often sold to Jewish settler organizations to build yet more colonies on occupied Palestinian land.

Last February, the Israeli Supreme Court awarded Jewish settlers the right to many Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah. Following a Palestinian and international backlash, it offered Palestinians a ‘compromise’, whereby Palestinian families relinquished ownership rights to their homes and agreed to continue to live there as tenants, paying rents to the very illegal Jewish settlers who have stolen their homes in the first place, but who are now armed with a court decision.

However, the ‘logic’ through which Jews claim Palestinian properties as their own should not be associated with a few extremist organizations. After all, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 was not the work of a few extreme Zionists. Similarly, the illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 and the massive settlement enterprise that followed was not the brainchild of a few extreme individuals. Colonialism in Israel was, and remains, a state-run project, which ultimately aims at achieving the same objective that is being carried out in Sheikh Jarrah – the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to ensure Jewish demographic majority.

This is the untold story of Sheikh Jarrah, one that cannot be expressed by a few news bytes or social media posts. However, this most relevant narrative is largely hidden. It is easier to blame a few Jewish extremists than to hold the entire Israeli government accountable. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is constantly manipulating the subject of demographics to advance the interests of his Jewish constituency. He is a strong believer in an exclusive Jewish state and also fully aware of the political influence of Jewish settlers. For example, shortly before the March 23 elections, Netanyahu made a decision to greenlight the construction of 540 illegal settlement units in the so-called Har-Homa E Area (Abu Ghneim Mountain) in the occupied West Bank, in the hope of acquiring as many votes as possible.

While the Sheikh Jarrah story is garnering some attention even in mainstream US media, there is a near-complete absence of any depth to that coverage, namely, the fact that Sheikh Jarrah is not the exception but the norm. Sadly, as Palestinians and their supporters try to circumvent widespread media censorship by reaching out directly to civil societies across the world using social media platforms, they are often censored there as well.

One of the videos initially censured by Instagram is that of Muna al-Kurd, a Palestinian woman who had lost her home in Sheikh Jarrah to a Jewish settler by the name of Yakub.

“Yakub, you know this is not your house,” Muna is seen outside her home, speaking to Yakub.

Yakub answers, “Yes, but if I go, you don’t go back. So what’s the problem? Why are you yelling at me? I didn’t do this. I didn’t do this. It’s easy to yell at me, but I didn’t do this.

Muna: “You are stealing my house.”

Yakub: “And if I don’t steal it, someone else is going to steal it.”

Muna: “No. No one is allowed to steal it.”

The untold story of Sheikh Jarrah, of Jerusalem – in fact, of all of Palestine – is that of Muna and Yakub, the former representing Palestine, the latter, Israel. For justice to ever be attained, Muna must be allowed to reclaim her stolen home and Yakub must be held accountable for his crime.

The post Muna is Palestine, Yakub is Israel: The Untold Story of Sheikh Jarrah   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arson attacks

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

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

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

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

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

Machinery of oppression

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

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

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

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

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

Dragged out of bed

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

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

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

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

Uppity natives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tired of half measures

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

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

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

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

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

Turning a blind eye

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

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

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

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

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

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Jerusalem protests: The mob “breaking faces” learned from Israel’s establishment first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Recognition of Palestine is ‘Symbolic’ but also Critical: The Australian Case

Australia’s Labor Party’s recognition of Palestine as a State on March 30 is a welcomed position, though it comes with many caveats.

Pro-Palestinian activists are justified to question the sincerity of the ALP’s stance and whether Australia’s Labor is genuinely prepared to fully adopt this position should they form a government following the 2022 elections.

The language of the amendment regarding the recognition of Palestine is quite indecisive. While it commits the ALP to recognize Palestine as a State, it “expects that this issue will be an important priority for the next Labor government”. ‘Expecting’ that the issue would be made an ‘important priority’ is not the same as confirming that the recognition of Palestine is resolved, should Labor take office.

Moreover, the matter has been an ‘important priority’ for the ALP for years. In fact, similar language was adopted in the closing session of the Labor conference in December 2018, which supported “the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure and recognized borders,” while adding this important clause: The ALP “calls on the next Labor government to recognize Palestine as a State”.

Unfortunately for Labor, they lost the May 2019 elections, where the Liberal Party maintained the majority, again forming a government under the leadership of Scott Morrison.

Morrison was the Prime Minister of Australia when, in 2018, the ALP adopted what was clearly a policy shift on Palestine. In fact, it was Morrison’s regressive position on Israel that supposedly compelled Labor to develop a seemingly progressive position on Palestine. Nine days after former US President, Donald Trump, defied international law by officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – and subsequently relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – Morrison flirted with the idea as well, hoping to enlist the support of the pro-Israel lobbies in Australia prior to the elections.

However, Morrison did not go as far as Trump, by refraining from moving his country’s embassy to the occupied city. Instead, he developed a precarious – albeit still illegal – position where he recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, promising to move his country’s “embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of, and after, final-status determination.”

Canberra, however, did take ‘practical’ steps, including a decision to establish a defense and trade office in Jerusalem and proceeded to look for a site for its future embassy.

Morrison’s self-serving strategy remains a political embarrassment for Australia, as it drew the country closer to Trump’s illegal, anti-Palestinian stance. While the vast majority of United Nations member states maintained a unified position regarding the illegality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, asserting that the status of Jerusalem can only be determined based on a negotiated agreement, the Australian government thought otherwise.

As Palestinians, Arabs and other nations mobilized against Australia’s new position, the ALP came under pressure to balance out the Liberal party’s agenda, seen as blindly supportive of military occupation and apartheid.

Since the ALP lost the elections, their new policy on Palestine could not be evaluated. Now, according to their latest policy conference conclusion, this same position has been reiterated, although with some leeway, that could potentially allow Labor to reverse or delay that position, once they are in power.

Nonetheless, the Labor position is an important step for Palestinians in their ‘legitimacy war’ against the Israeli occupation.

In a recent interview with Professor Richard Falk, former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, the international law expert explained the need to “distinguish symbolic politics from substantive politics”.

“In the colonial wars that were fought after 1945, the side that won usually was the side that won what I call the legitimacy war, which is the ‘symbolic battlefield’, so to speak, and maintain the principled position that was in accord with the anti-colonial flow of history,” Falk said.

Practically, this means that, often, the militarily weaker side which may lose numerous military battles could ultimately win the war. This was as true in the case of Vietnam in 1975 as it was in South Africa in 1994. It should also be true in the case of Palestine.

This is precisely why pro-Israeli politicians, media pundits and organizations are fuming in response to the ALP’s recognition of Palestine. Among the numerous angry responses, the most expressive is the position of Michael Danby. He was quoted by Australian Jewish News website as saying that ALP leaders, Anthony Albanese and Richard Marles, have done more than adopting the pro-Palestinian position of former British Labor leader, Jeremy Corbyn, by also adopting “his Stalinist methods by suppressing debate on the foreign policy motions”.

Israel and its supporters fully understand the significance of Falk’s ‘legitimacy war’. Indeed, Israel’s military superiority and complete dominance over occupied Palestinians may allow it to sustain its military occupation on the ground a while longer, but it does very little to advance its moral position, reputation and legitimacy.

The fact that ALP’s position advocates a two-state solution – which is neither just nor practical – should not detract from the fact that the recognition of Palestine is still a stance that can be utilized in the Palestinian quest for legitimizing their struggle and delegitimizing Israel’s apartheid.

Falk’s theory on ‘substantive politics’ and ‘symbolic politics’ applies here, too. While calling for defunct two-states is part of the substantive politics that is necessitated by international consensus, the symbolism of recognizing Palestine is a crucial step in dismantling Israel’s monopoly over the agenda of the West’s political elites. It is an outright defeat of the efforts of pro-Israeli lobbies.

Politicians, anywhere, cannot possibly win the legitimacy war for Palestinians, or any other oppressed nation. It is the responsibility of the Palestinians and their supporters to impose their moral agenda on the often self-serving politicians so that the symbolic politics may someday become substantive. The ALP recognition of Palestine is, for now, mere symbolism. If utilized correctly, through pressure, advocacy and mobilization, it could turn into something meaningful in the future.  This is not the responsibility of Labor, but of Palestinians themselves.

The post Recognition of Palestine is ‘Symbolic’ but also Critical: The Australian Case first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Israel election: The Far-right is Triumphant: The Only Obstacle Left is Netanyahu

As 13 parties struggle with Israel’s complex post-election maths, seeking alliances that can assure them power, the most significant outcome of the vote is easily missed. The religious fundamentalists and settler parties – Israel’s far right – won an unprecedented and clear-cut victory last week.

Even on the most cautious assessment, these parties together hold 72 seats in the 120-member parliament. For more than a decade they have underwritten Benjamin Netanyahu’s uninterrupted rule. That is why all the current talk in Israel and the western media about two equal camps, right and left, pitted against each other – implacably hostile and unable to build a majority – is patent nonsense.

The far right has a large majority. It could easily form a government – if it wasn’t mired in a now seemingly permanent crisis over the figure of Netanyahu.

Standing against the far right are what are loosely termed the “centrists”, equally committed to the takeover of swaths of the occupied territories, if in their case more by stealth.

There are two parties on the “centre-right” – Yesh Atid and Blue and White – that won between them 25 seats. The “centre-left”, represented by the Labor party and Meretz, still struggling to maintain the pretence that they comprise a “peace camp”, secured 13 seats. A final 10 seats went to the various parties representing Israel’s large minority of Palestinian citizens.

Both the far right and the “centrists” subscribe to versions of the settler-colonial ideology of Zionism. To outsiders, the similarities between the two camps can sometimes look stronger than the differences. Ultimately, with the possible exception of Meretz, both want the Palestinians subjugated and removed.

The “centrists” may best be understood as the apologetic wing of Zionism. They worry about Israel’s image abroad. And that means they have, at least ostensibly, emphasised dividing territory between Jews and Palestinians – as the Oslo accords proposed – rather than visibly dividing rights. The centrists’ great fear is that they will be seen as presiding over a single apartheid state.

Jewish Supremacy

The 60 percent of the parliament now in the hands of extreme religious and settler parties takes the opposite view. They prefer to divide rights – to create an explicit apartheid system – if they can thereby avoid dividing the territory. They want all of the region, and ideally only for Jews.

They care little what others think. All subscribe to an ideology of Jewish supremacy, even if they differ on whether “Jewish” is defined in religious or ethnic-nationalist terms. In 2018 Netanyahu’s government began the process of legislating this worldview through the Jewish Nation State Law.

The far right explicitly views Palestinians, the native people whose homeland the European-led Zionist movement has been colonising for the past 100 years, as interlopers or unwelcome guests.

Unlike the centrists, the far right places little weight on the distinction between Palestinians under occupation and the fifth of Israel’s population who are Palestinian and have degraded citizenship. All Palestinians, wherever they live and whatever their status, are seen as an enemy that needs to be subdued.

Allying with Centrists

So why, given the far right’s incontestible triumph last week, are the media filled with analyses about Israel’s continuing political impasse and the likelihood of a fifth election in a few months’ time?

Why, if a clear majority of legislators are unapologetic Jewish supremacists, has Netanyahu kept courting centrists to stay in power – as he did after the last election, when he ensnared battle-hardened general Benny Gantz into his coalition? And why after this election is he reported to be reaching out for the first time to a Palestinian party for support?

Part of the answer lies in a deep disagreement within the far right, between religious fundamentalists and its more secular components, on what “Jewish rule” means. Both sides focus on the supremacy of Jews over Palestinians and refuse to make a meaningful distinction between the occupied territories and Israel. But they have entirely different conceptions of Jewish sovereignty. One faction thinks Jews should take their orders from God, while the other looks to a Jewish state.

Further, they disagree on who counts as a Jew.

It is hard, for example, for Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, to break bread with the extremist rabbis of Shas and United Torah Judaism, when those rabbis don’t regard many of his supporters – immigrants from the former Soviet Union – as real Jews. To them, “Russians” no more belong to the Jewish collective than Palestinians.

Oppressive Shadow

But an even bigger obstacle is to be found in the figure of Netanyahu himself, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

The far-right is largely unperturbed by Netanyahu’s trial on multiple corruption charges. Israel’s short history is full of major crimes: wars of aggression, forcible population transfer, executions and looting, land theft and settlement building. All Israeli leaders, Netanyahu included, have had a hand in these atrocities. The current focus on allegations against him of fraud and acceptance of bribes looks trivial in comparison.

The far right’s problem with Netanyahu is more complex.

He has been presiding over this bloc, relatively unchallenged, since the early 1990s. He has become by far the most skilled, experienced and charismatic politician in Israel. And for that reason, no other far right leader has been able to emerge from under his oppressive shadow.

He may be King Bibi – his nickname – but the far right’s more ambitious princes are getting increasingly restless. They are eager to fill his shoes. Their knives are out. Gideon Saar, his Likud protege, created a party, New Hope, to run in last week’s election precisely in the hope of ousting his old boss. But equally, Netanyahu is so wily and experienced that he keeps outsmarting his rivals. He has managed to avoid any of his opponent’s lethal lunges by exploiting the far right’s weaknesses.

Netanyahu has employed a twofold strategy. Despite perceptions abroad, he is actually one of the more moderate figures in the extreme religious and settler bloc. He is closer ideologically to Benny Gantz of Blue and White than he is either to the rabbis who dictate the policies of the religious parties or to the settler extremists – or even to the bulk of his own Likud party.

Netanyahu has become a bogeyman abroad chiefly because he is so adept at harnessing the energy of the religious and settler parties and mobilising it to his own political and personal advantage. Israeli society grows ever more extreme because Netanyahu has for decades provided an aura of respectability, statesmanship and intellectual heft to the rhetoric surrounding the far right’s most noxious positions.

In this election he even brokered a deal helping to bring Jewish Power – Israel’s most fascistic party – into parliament. If he has to, he will welcome them into the government he hopes to build.

Wearing Thin

But Netanyahu’s relative moderation – by Israel’s standards – means that he has, at least until recently, preferred to include centrists in his coalitions. That has helped to curb the excesses of a purely far right government that might antagonise the Europeans and embarrass Washington. And equally, it has kept the extreme right divided and dependent on him, as he plays its parties off against the centrists.

If the princes of the settlements push him too hard, he can always tempt in a Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), or a Gantz (Blue and White), or an Ehud Barak (Labor) to replace them.

He has been loyal to no one but himself.

Now that strategy is wearing thin. His corruption trial and the resulting campaign he has waged to weaken Israel’s legal and judicial systems to keep himself out of jail has left a sour taste with the centrists. They are now much warier of allying with him.

After last year’s election, Gantz only dared join a Netanyahu government after citing exceptional grounds: the urgent need to fight the pandemic in an emergency government. Even so, he destroyed his party in the process. Now, it seems, only a rookie, conservative Islamist leader like Mansour Abbas may be willing to fall for Netanyahu’s trickery.

Sensing Netanyahu’s weakness and his loss of alternative partners, parts of the far right have grown unruly and fractious.

Netanyahu has kept the extreme religious parties on board – but at a steep cost. He has given them what they demand above all else: autonomy for their community. That is why Israeli police have turned a blind eye throughout the pandemic as the ultra-Orthodox have refused to close their schools during lockdowns and turned out in enormous numbers – usually without masks – for rabbis’ funerals.

But Netanyahu’s endless indulgence of the ultra-Orthodox has served only to alienate the more secular parts of the far right.

Betrayed on Annexation

Worse, as Netanyahu has focused his energies on ways to draw attention away from his corruption trial, he has chosen to play fast and loose with the far right’s political and emotional priorities – most especially on annexation. In the recent, back-to-back election campaigns he has made increasingly earnest promises to formally annex swaths of the West Bank.

But he has repeatedly failed to make good on his pledge.

The betrayal hit hardest after the election a year ago. With then-President Donald Trump’s blessing, Netanyahu vowed to quickly begin annexation of large sections of the West Bank. But in the end Netanyahu ducked out, preferring to sign a “peace deal” with Gulf states on the confected condition that annexation be delayed.

The move clearly indicated that, if it aided his political survival, Netanyahu would placate foreign capitals – behaviour reminiscent of the centrists – rather than advance the core goals of the far right. As a result, there is a growing exasperation with Netanyahu. Sections of the far right want someone new, someone invested in their cause – not in his own political and personal manoeuvrings.

In the fashion of Middle Eastern dictators, Netanyahu has groomed no successor. He has cultivated a learnt helplessness in his own ideological camp, and the princes of the settlements are fearful of how they will cope without him. He has been their nursemaid for too long.

But like rebellious teenagers, they want a taste of freedom – and to wreak more havoc than Netanyahu has ever allowed.

They hope to break free of the political centre of gravity he has engineered for himself. If they finally manage it, we may yet look back on the Netanyahu era as a time of relative moderation and calm.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Israel election: The Far-right is Triumphant: The Only Obstacle Left is Netanyahu first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Nakba of Sheikh Jarrah: How Israel Uses ‘the Law’ to Ethnically Cleanse East Jerusalem

A Palestinian man, Atef Yousef Hanaysha, was killed by Israeli occupation forces on March 19 during a weekly protest against illegal Israeli settlement expansion in Beit Dajan, near Nablus, in the northern West Bank.

Although tragic, the above news reads like a routine item from occupied Palestine, where shooting and killing unarmed protesters is part of the daily reality. However, this is not true. Since right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced, in September 2019, his intentions to formally and illegally annex nearly a third of the occupied Palestinian West Bank, tensions have remained high.

The killing of Hanaysha is only the tip of the iceberg. In occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a massive battle is already underway. On one side, Israeli soldiers, army bulldozers and illegal armed Jewish settlers are carrying out daily missions of evicting Palestinian families, displacing farmers, burning orchards, demolishing homes and confiscating land. On the other side, Palestinian civilians, often disorganized, unprotected and leaderless, are fighting back.

The territorial boundaries of this battle are largely located in occupied East Jerusalem and in the so-called ‘Area C’ of the West Bank – nearly 60% of the total size of the occupied West Bank – which is under complete and direct Israeli military control. No other place represents the perfect microcosm of this uneven war like that of the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem.

On March 10, fourteen Palestinian and Arab organizations issued a ‘joint urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Procedures on forced evictions in East Jerusalem’ to stop the Israeli evictions in the area. Successive decisions by Israeli courts have paved the way for the Israeli army and police to evict 15 Palestinian families – 37 households of around 195 people – in the Karm Al-Ja’ouni area in Sheikh Jarrah and Batn Al-Hawa neighborhood in the town of Silwan.

These imminent evictions are not the first, nor will they be the last. Israel occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem in June 1967 and formally, though illegally, annexed it in 1980. Since then, the Israeli government has vehemently rejected international criticism of the Israeli occupation, dubbing, instead, Jerusalem as the “eternal and undivided capital of Israel”.

To ensure its annexation of the city is irreversible, the Israeli government approved the Master Plan 2000, a massive scheme that was undertaken by Israel to rearrange the boundaries of the city in such a way that it would ensure permanent demographic majority for Israeli Jews at the expense of the city’s native inhabitants. The Master Plan was no more than a blueprint for a state-sponsored ethnic cleansing campaign, which saw the destruction of thousands of Palestinian homes and the subsequent eviction of numerous families.

While news headlines occasionally present the habitual evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and other parts of East Jerusalem as if a matter that involves counterclaims by Palestinian residents and Jewish settlers, the story is, in fact, a wider representation of Palestine’s modern history.

Indeed, the innocent families which are now facing “the imminent risk of forced eviction” are re-living their ancestral nightmare of the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine in 1948.

Two years after the native inhabitants of historic Palestine were dispossessed of their homes and lands and ethnically cleansed altogether, Israel enacted the so-called Absentees’ Property Law of 1950.

The law, which, of course, has no legal or moral validity, simply granted the properties of Palestinians who were evicted or fled the war to the State, to do with it as it pleases. Since those ‘absentee’ Palestinians were not allowed to exercise their right of return, as stipulated by international law, the Israeli law was a state-sanctioned wholesale theft. It ultimately aimed at achieving two objectives: one, to ensure Palestinian refugees do not return or attempt to claim their stolen properties in Palestine and, two, to give Israel a legal cover for permanently confiscating Palestinian lands and homes.

The Israeli military occupation of the remainder of historic Palestine in 1967 necessitated, from an Israeli colonial perspective, the creation of fresh laws that would allow the State and the illegal settlement enterprise to claim yet more Palestinian properties. This took place in 1970 in the form of the Legal and Administrative Matters Law. According to the new legal framework, only Israeli Jews were allowed to claim lost land and property in Palestinian areas.

Much of the evictions in East Jerusalem take place within the context of these three interconnected and strange legal arguments: the Absentees’ Law, the Legal and Administrative Matters Law and the Master Plan 2000. Understood together, one is easily able to decipher the nature of the Israeli colonial scheme in East Jerusalem, where Israeli individuals, in coordination with settler organizations, work together to fulfill the vision of the State.

In their joint appeal, Palestinian human rights organizations describe the flow of how eviction orders, issued by Israeli courts, culminate into the construction of illegal Jewish settlements. Confiscated Palestinian properties are usually transferred to a branch within the Israeli Ministry of Justice called the Israeli Custodian General. The latter holds on to these properties until they are claimed by Israeli Jews, in accordance with the 1970 Law. Once Israeli courts honor Israeli Jewish individuals’ legal claims to the confiscated Palestinian lands, these individuals often transfer their ownership rights or management to settler organizations. In no time, the latter organizations utilize the newly-acquired property to expand existing settlements or to start new ones.

While the Israeli State claims to play an impartial role in this scheme, it is actually the facilitator of the entire process. The final outcome manifests in the ever-predictable scene, where an Israeli flag is triumphantly hoisted over a Palestinian home and a Palestinian family is assigned an UN-supplied tent and a few blankets.

While the above picture can be dismissed by some as another routine, common occurrence, the situation in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem has become extremely volatile. Palestinians feel that they have nothing more to lose and Netanyahu’s government is more emboldened than ever. The killing of Atef Hanaysha, and others like him, is only the beginning of that imminent, widespread confrontation.

The post The Nakba of Sheikh Jarrah: How Israel Uses ‘the Law’ to Ethnically Cleanse East Jerusalem first appeared on Dissident Voice.

From the Murder of Berta Cáceres to Dam Disaster in Uttarakhand

March 2, 2021 was the five year anniversary of the murder of Berta Cáceres, who opposed the Agua Zarca dam in Honduras.  That date was less than one month after the deaths of dozens of people from Tehri Dam disaster in Uttarakhand, India.  The two stories together tell us far more about consequences of the insatiable greed of capitalism for more energy than either narrative does by itself.

In addition to being sacred to the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras, the Gualcarque River is a primary source of water for them to grow their food and harvest medicinal plants.  Dams can flood fertile plains and deprive communities of water for livestock and crops.  The Lenca knew what could happen if the company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) were to build the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque.  As Nina Lakhani describes in Who Killed Berta Cáceres?, the La Aurora Dam, which started generating electricity in 2012 “left four miles of the El Zapotal River bone dry and the surrounding forest bare.”

In 2015, Cáceres won the Goldman Environmental Prize for organizing opposition to the Agua Zarca.  She had been a co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).  The following year, thousands of Lenca marched to the capital Tegucigalpa demanding schools, clinics, roads and protection of ancestral lands.  Indigenous groups uniting with them included Maya, Chorti, Misquitu, Tolupan, Tawahka and Pech.  Lakhani describes that “From the north coast came the colorfully dressed, drumming Garifunas: Afro-Hondurans who descend from West and Central African, Caribbean, European and Arawak people exiled to Central America by the British after a slave revolt in the late eighteenth century.”

A Garifuna leader, Miriam Miranda remembered that Berta stopped to sketch anti-imperialist murals on the US airbase in Palmerola.  As Berta and Miranda became close during the more than two decades of joint work Berta began to identify with the Garifuna.  She loved going with Miranda to the town of Vallecito to join Garifuna rituals with drums, smoke and dancing while enjoying herb-infused liquor.

She knew that the Garifuna suffered landgrabs parallel to rivergrabs the Lencas experienced.  Lakhani relates how the government ignored the ancestral land claims of the Garifuna as it gave land to “settlers” who sold them to palm oil magnates.  In less than a decade lands held by Garifuna communities plummeted from 200,000 to 400 hectares.

Similarly, in the Bajo Aguán region the government allowed construction of a resort on ancient Garifuna burial sites and ancestral lands. The community was not consulted prior to the landgrab and 150 people died resisting it.

Manufacturing Impressions

The dam-building elite had a thorn in its side that threatened the megaprojects.  Due in no small part to 1995 efforts of Berta’s mother Doña Austra, Honduras had signed onto the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of the International Labor Organization (known as ILO 169).  It guarantees the right of indigenous communities to have “free, prior and informed consultations” for any development affecting their land, culture or way of life.

The first tactic of the elite for getting around this obstacle was to promise enormous benefits such as building roads and schools.  Or else, they claimed that the project would bring electricity for homes, a health clinic, an ambulance, and a flood of jobs.  By the time the project was completed, few or no benefits had materialized.  Who Killed Berta Cáceres? documents what happened in communities that did not fall for empty promises.  For the Honduran Los Encimos dam, the power brokers bused in hundreds of people from neighboring El Salvador to sign a decree favoring the project.  Following an October 2011 town hall meeting when residents voted 401 to 7 against the Agua Zarca dam, the mayor curried favor of the elite by issuing a permit for it two months later.

Representatives of the company owning the future dam, DESA, repeated the absurd claim that they only bought land from willing sellers.  Dam proponents then denounced Berta’s COPINH organization as causing the division.  In other words, the developers were skilled at shouting that project opponents were doing what they, the dam pushers, were, in fact, doing.  Outside observers would then have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction.  If these impression management tricks failed to overcome Earth defenders, the method of threats and violence remained.

Threats and Hit Lists

Berta was rare as she “could understand and analyze local struggles in a global context and had the capacity to unite different movements, urban and rural, teachers and campesinos, indigenous groups and mestizos.”  More than any other reason, this meant that Berta would be targeted by the cabal of business owners, government heads, military brass and foreign investors.

Berta had told Lakhani that “Seventy million people were killed across the continent for our natural resources.”  When a researcher for the Goldman prize committee visited Berta in Tegucigalpa, she asked him what would happen if she died before receiving the prize money, a question no recipient had asked before.  She had been warned not to stay in the same hotel two nights in a row.

Nina Lakhani documents how widespread and intensely grisley the murders in Honduras were.  “Olvin Gustavo García Mejía was widely feared by COPINH.”  He boasted of having a personal hit list with Berta’s name on it.  In March 2015, Olvin used his machete to chop off the fingers of a dam opponent.

Even more revealing were eyewitness reports to Lakhani from First Sergeant Rodrigo Cruz who saw a military hit list which included Berta.  Cruz had survived a specialist training so grueling that only 8 of 200 completed it. The graduation ceremony included killing a dog, eating the raw meat, and getting a hug from the commander.

On one mission Cruz reported being “ordered to shovel decomposing human remains into sacks which they took to an isolated forest reserve, doused them in diesel, petrol and rubbish and burned.”  At Corocito he saw “torture instruments, chains, hammers and nails, no people, but fresh clots of blood.”  During his Trujillo mission “naval colleagues handed over plastic bags containing human remains.  Later that night they tossed them into a river heaving with crocodiles.”  After seeing Berta’s name on a hit list belonging to his lieutenant, Cruz was sent on an extensive leave.  When he heard that Berta was dead, he fled from Honduras fearing that he himself would be murdered.

The Honduran elite discovered another weapon for its arsenal against environmental defenders: criminalization.  During a 2020 interview with InSight Crime, Lakhani reported a pattern suggestively similar to that practiced in the US and many other countries: “People are still being killed but really the main weapon being used currently is criminalization.  There’s so much fear involved, and it can really break up and silence a movement. All of your energy and resources go to trying to stay out of prison.”

2009 Coup as a Game Changer

On January 27, 2006 Manuel Zelaya was inaugurated as president of Honduras as an advocate of modest reforms such as reforestation, small business assistance, reduction of fossil fuels and an end to open pit mining.  But even these baby steps were too much for the country’s increasingly corrupt elites, who had the military march him out of his home in pajamas and into exile on June 28, 2009.  As bad as the situation was before 2009, the coup intensified the violence.

Though Barack Obama acknowledged that the coup was a coup, his underling Hillary Clinton quickly altered the official rhetoric, claiming that it was not a coup.  She explained “in her 2014 memoir, Hard Choices, the US ensured that elections could take place before the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, was restored to office.”  This helped the coup ensure that Zelaya and his tiny improvements would not show their face again.

The economic consequences of the coup were an avalanche of projects attacking the country’s land, water, air and indigenous cultures.  The congress rushed to approve them without studies or oversight required by Honduran law.  During the next eight years, almost 200 mining projects received a nod.  Lakhani records how, during one late night session in September 2010 congressional president Juan Orlando Hernández “sanctioned 40 hydroelectric dams without debate, consultation or adequate environmental impact studies.”  John Perry wrote in CounterPunch that “Cáceres received a leaked list of rivers, including the Gualcarque, that were to be secretly ‘sold off’ to produce hydroelectricity. The Honduran congress went on to approve dozens of such projects without any consultation with affected communities. Berta’s campaign to defend the rivers began on July 26, 2011 when she led the Lenca-based COPINH in a march on the presidential palace.”

Dubious Partners of Green Energy

So-called “green” energy companies profited at least as much as other corporations from the great sell-off of Honduran treasures.  Lakhani’s research reveals that on June 2, 2010, the National Electric Company approved contracts for eight renewable energy corporations, including DESA, the owners of the Agua Zarca dam project.  Though it had no track record of constructing anything, it received permits, a sales contract, and congressional approval.  A 50-year license for the dam sailed through without any free, prior or informed consent from the Lenca people.  Lakhani also documents that January 16, 2014 was a particularly good day

… for solar and wind entrepreneurs as congress approved 30 energy contracts for 21 companies in one quick sitting.  There was no bidding process… After the rivers were all sold, they started on wind and solar contracts…  Honduras boasts more than 200 tax exemption laws, which cost state coffers around $1.5 bn each year.  Renewable energy entrepreneurs have benefited enormously, saving a whopping $1.4 bn between 2012 and 2016.

Even the World Bank had its finger in the pie, despite its requirement to give socially responsible loans.  It sought to cover up its role in Agua Zarca by channeling funds through intermediaries.

Lakhani also relates stories of (a) how six members of congress embezzled $879,000 using a fake environmental group, Planeta Verde (Green Planet); (b) connections between a criminal family and the solar company Proderssa; and, (c) the link between the solar plant in Choluteca and Douglas Bustillo, who was sentenced to 30 years for his role in the murder of Berta.

Jorge Cuéllar writes that:

DESA’s Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, like similar megaprojects, effectively reconfigures communities into sacrifice zones for insatiable energy needs. “Alternative” energy (Alt E) is just one more category of energy which is added to the mix with fossil fuels.  Increases in Alt E are not replacing fossil fuels, but are mainly being used to create feelings of do-goody.  In cases where there is a preference for Alt E, it is due to short term profit.  As Lakhani explains, “African palms were the most profitable crops because the oil was sold to North America and Europe for biofuel and could be traded in the carbon credit market.

A Farcical Trial

On March 2, 2016 Berta Cáceres was brutally murdered in her hometown of La Esperanza in western Honduras.  The trial that followed was a transparent cover up.  As Vijay Prashad notes, none of the executives of DESA, the dam company responsible for the murder, were charged with the crime.  Lakhani reported in the InSight Crime interview that “The crime was never framed as political murder, as gender-based violence or a hate crime against indigenous people despite the vitriolic and racist language that was used in phone chats about the Lenca people. There was a decision to make sure that anybody political, and the military and police as institutions, would be completely left out.”

Adam Isacson hit the nail on the head in his blog when describing those found guilty as “… just trigger-pullers, mid-level planners, or scapegoats… They are employed by Honduras’s elite, but they aren’t of the elite. They’re on the make, and have found a rare path to social mobility in Honduras, beyond gang membership and drug trafficking.”

Lakhani’s own account reflects how bizarre and contrived the trial was.  She recalls that “My request to read the admitted documents was denied. ‘Yes, it’s a public trial, yes, the documents are public, no, you can’t read them,’ said the court archivist.”  She heard international observers being told “Don’t worry, people will be convicted” as if it was common knowledge that the outcome had been prescripted.   It was yet another exercise in impression management.

US Role

Though there is no evidence that the US directly planned and executed the 2009 coup, its role has been to ensure that the coup remains intact.  As Isacson asks, “Why did 1 in every 37 citizens of Honduras end up detained at the US-Mexico border in 2019, after fleeing all the way across Mexico? Why did 30,000 more Hondurans petition for asylum in Mexico that same year?”  People are fleeing Honduras in such numbers in large part because the coup gang has shown that if it can get away with murdering someone as well known as Berta, it can murder anyone.

In the New York Journal of Books, Dan Beeton observes that “authors of the assassination have yet to be brought to justice. The US government could insist that this happen; it could pressure Honduran authorities to find and arrest them, but it has not…”  In fact, Lakhani points out that the US is doing the opposite by persecuting those trying to escape from the violence: “… in 2010 US border patrol detained 13,580 Honduran nationals.  The numbers jumped to over 91,000 in 2014 under Deporter-in-Chief Barack Obama.”

Though the US insists that it does not train the executioners in the Honduran militarized police, it does not deny that it trains the trainers – many of torturers in Central America attended the notorious School of the Americas.  Even if the US were to withdraw its support from individual criminals in Honduras, they would be replaced by clones who would preserve the post-coup structure and power.  Control was successfully passed from a mildly reformist Zelaya government to a criminal extractionist network which permeates state and corporate institutions.  With aide and comfort from the US, the Honduran energy mob has reinvented itself.

Coming to Uttarakhand

The story of dams in India may seem highly different from events on the other side of the globe.  But lurking deep beneath surface appearances an eerie consistency links the two.  One similarity between the widely separated areas is that, as in Honduras, the Indian government has aggressively pursued a development strategy of mines, logging and hydro-power.  This often results in tribal people suffering the disruption of their farming systems and relocation.

On February 7, 2021 a deluge washed away two power plants of the Tehri Dam on the Bhagirathi River in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, India.  At least 32 people were found dead and more than 150 were missing.  The event barely made it to US media but has been extensively covered by the progressive Indian online publication Countercurrents.  With 34 people trapped, “Rescue workers armed with heavy construction equipment, drones and even sniffer dogs were struggling to penetrate the one-and-a-half-mile long tunnel that filled with ice-cold water, mud, rocks and debris.”

Years before construction of the Tehri Dam began, there was controversy regarding if it should even be built.  Bharat Dogra, a regular contributor to Countercurrents, wrote that “the Environmental Appraisal Committee (River Valley Projects) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India … has come to the unanimous conclusion that the Tehri Dam Project, as proposed, should not be taken up as it does not merit environmental clearance.”

The region has a history of dam disasters:

At least 29 workers were killed in a serious accident at the Tehri dam site (in Uttarakhand) on August 2 2004… On 14 February 2010 six workers died and 16 were seriously injured in Kinnaur district (Himachal Pradesh) when stones and boulders destabilized by the blasting work carried out for dam construction… Over 154 workers were killed in a span of 12 years, as over one worker was killed every month during the construction of the Nagarjunasagar dam.

Actually Existing Dangers in the Himalayas 

Several factors compound dangers of dams which are built in hazard-prone region of the Himalayas.  First is the observation by seismologist Prof. James N. Brune that “No large rock-fill dam of the Tehri type has ever been tested by the shaking that an earthquake in this area could produce… Given the number of persons who live downstream, the risk factor is also extreme.”  Second, the reservoirs created by the dams can themselves increase the likelihood of quakes, a phenomenon called reservoir induced seismicity.  Third is the huge tectonic plate below India called the “Indian Plate.”

As economist Bharat Jhunjhunwala explains, “The rotation of the earth is causing this plate to continually move northward just like any matter moves to the top in a centrifugal machine. The Indian Plate crashes into the Tibetan Plate as it moves to the north. The pressure between these two plates is leading to the continual rise of the Himalayas and also earthquakes in Uttarakhand in particular.”   The result is an earthquake in the region roughly every 10 years.

Which of these was the primary cause of the February 2021 dam disaster?  None of them.  According to public health specialist Dr. Anamika Roy, the most likely cause was “retreating glaciers which result in the formation of proglacial lakes, which are often bounded by their sediments and stones, and therefore any breach in the boundaries may lead to a large stream of water rushing down the streams and lakes resulting in a flood down streams.”  Dr. Roy thinks that climate change is a leading factor in the formation of proglacial lakes.

Professor of glaciology and hydrology Dr. Farooq Azam suggests that a hanging glacier falling from 5600 meters could have caused a rock and ice avalanche, leading to the dam accident.  Taken together, these factors indicate that the Himalayan region is a very bad place to build a dam.  We might even say that the reason for the Tehri dam disaster was that the dam was built.

Social Problems of Dam Disasters 

Bharat Dogra details a host of problems for those constructing dams in very remote areas such as the Himalayas:

  • First, a large portion of those constructing dams are migrant workers who are less familiar with floods and other risks than are local residents;
  • Second, even if migrant workers begin to understand on-site risks, they have little or no ability to find other employment if companies order them to continue at their jobs;
  • Third, migrant workers typically live in temporary housing that offers little protection;
  • Fourth, not being near to family or friends, they have little ability to go to others with health problems, special needs, distress, or risk; and,
  • Fifth, it is easier for contractors to suppress information concerning accidents so that workers or surviving families may not receive compensatory payments.

Common to all of these issues is the fact that laboring in remote parts of the world leaves workers out of the pubic eye, meaning that they can easily be ignored or quickly forgotten after a tragedy.

A different type of tragedy results from the release of water from the dam reservoir.  The two types are (a) routine releases, which are typically scheduled to occur during peak demand for hydropower generation, and (b) emergency releases, which occur during heavy rain or other high water events.  Release disasters are typically due to emergency releases.  But, on April 11, 2005 thousands of pilgrims attending a religious fair at Dharaji in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh were in the water when 150 were swept away by a huge water surge, causing the death of 65.  This was caused by a routine water release from the Indira Sagar dam on the Narmada River.  Bad judgment during routine operation of a dam can be as deadly as bad judgment regarding where to build a dam.

Dams in the Time of Exponential Growth

It is an obscenity to call hydro-power “clean” when it is so closely tied to destruction of aquatic life, threats to land-dwelling flora and fauna, displacement of indigenous people and destruction of their culture, murder of Earth defenders, and exploitation of workers.  It is a double obscenity to claim that hydro-power is an “alternative” to fossil fuels when dams can produce more greenhouse gases than does coal.  Not only do their reservoirs produce methane by rotting organic matter, dams interfere with the ability of downstream ecosystems to remove carbon and they require massive amounts of fossil fuel for the manufacture of concrete and steel for their construction and removal of their debris when they reach the end of their live cycle.

Nor are dams “renewable.” They do not last nearly as long as the rivers they disrupt.  Concrete and steel eventually rot, which leads to construction of yet another dam.

A core problem of dams is their exponential growth during the 21st century as it becomes increasingly obvious that they can more rapidly replace fossil fuel energy than can solar and wind power.  The climate crisis is fundamentally due to the uncontrollable growth of capitalism, which requires exponential expansion of energy production.

Exponential expansion means that every year requires not just more energy but a larger quantity of new energy than the year before.  Eternal economic growth was the root cause behind the murder of Berta Cáceres and the hundreds or thousands of other Earth defenders in Honduras and across the globe.  The unquenchable thirst for energy is why India foreshadows a world building an increasing number of dams where dams should not be built.

To satisfy their need for energy, corporations first grab the low hanging fruit.  Energy fruit can be “low hanging” because it is in an extremely good location, and/or current land owners are eager for the development, and/or those living on the land can be easily swayed.  The nature of first picking that which is lowest hanging means that, once it is gone, the energy corporations will go to the next lowest hanging fruit.  As time goes by, capital will get closer and closer to the most difficult-to-pick fruit until the last drop of energy is sucked from the planet.  Obviously, having less corrupt politicians and an educated and organized people is much better.  But this will not stop them from being victimized – it will only place them later in line.

Is “free, prior and informed consent” real or an illusion?  As time passes, the commitment to infinite energy growth intensifies pressure to falsify consent.  What is presented to poor people throughout the world who do not have enough to feed and clothe their families is the question “Do you voluntarily choose to improve your life by giving consent to this project which will destroy the lives of your grandchildren or great-grandchildren after you are gone or do you chose to watch your children go without schools and medical care right now?  Thank you so much for your free and prior consent to this dam/wind farm/solar array.”

There are essential lessons to learn from the murder of environmentalists and dam collapses.  Capital must bring more violence to communities when using less violence for building dams is not as effective.  Capital must build in increasingly unsafe locations after the safest locations are used up.  If dams which threaten the fewest number of aquatic species are built first, then corporate expansion dictates that dams which threaten more riparian extinctions are next in line.  Capital must move into increasingly biodiverse environments after less biodiverse environments are no longer available.

This is true for the construction of dams just as it is true for fossil fuels.  It is also true for the location of solar arrays and the location of wind farms.  It is likewise the case for mining the massive number of minerals that go into the production of various type of energy.  This is why “alternative” energy cannot be “clean” or “renewable.”  Perhaps it is time to realize that there is only one form of “clean” energy – less energy.

A webinar at 7 pm CT on March 10, 2021 will honor the life of Berta Cáceres with a panel featuring Nina Lakhani, author of Who Killed Berta Cáceres?: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet.  Email the address of the author below for details.

The post From the Murder of Berta Cáceres to Dam Disaster in Uttarakhand first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Israel is hiding the truth about the killing of Ahmad Erekat

Once again, video footage reveals that Israel’s account of a Palestinian “terror attack” bears no relationship to what actually happened. Not only did Israel dissemble about the circumstances in which its soldiers shot dead 26-year-old Ahmad Erekat last June, but it is still inflicting appalling suffering on his family eight months later based on those lies.

A new forensic investigation discredits Israel’s claim that Erekat used his car to launch a ramming attack on a military checkpoint near Bethlehem. It finds that the collision was more likely an accident, and that the soldiers responded by carrying out an extra-judicial execution.

Nonetheless, Israel is still refusing to hand Erekat’s body back to his parents for burial, in what amounts to the psychological torture of the family while Israel insists on holding on to the bodies of Erekat and some 70 other Palestinians for use as bargaining chips in potential future negotiations with Hamas.

Shot six times

Erekat was shot six times by soldiers on 23 June. He had been driving through the occupied West Bank to complete errands on his sister’s wedding day, on what should have been a simple journey. But more than five decades of Israel’s belligerent – and seemingly permanent – occupation have created an obstacle course of checkpoints and traffic holdups that Erekat had to negotiate.

By mid-afternoon, he arrived at the large “Container” checkpoint, one of many Israel has built to permanently divide up the West Bank. The purpose of these checkpoints is to limit Palestinian movement and thereby help Jews living in Israel’s illegal settlements to seize more Palestinian territory for themselves. In that sense, the checkpoints are integral to Israel’s decades-long effort to stop a Palestinian state from ever being born.

Erekat’s killing was widely reported in both Israeli and international media, in part because he was a nephew of Saeb Erekat, a prominent Palestinian spokesperson until his own death late last year of complications related to Covid-19.

In reporting Ahmad Erekat’s killing, most media faithfully echoed Israel’s official line. He had rammed his car into the checkpoint in a “terror attack” that lightly injured a soldier. He was then fatally shot – or “neutralised” – when he emerged from his car to attack other soldiers.

None of this fitted with what was known even then. But Israel refused to conduct an investigation that risked clearing Erekat’s name. Witnesses were not interviewed and the the car was not checked for malfunctions.

Extrajudicial executions

Israel, however, has found it harder than usual to put Erekat’s killing in the rearview. As is often the case, Palestinians who witnessed the incident disputed the Israeli army’s account of an attack. Video from other drivers’ phones suggested that Erekat had been denied medical attention and left to bleed to death on the side of the road.

But more significantly, Saeb Erekat intervened to deny that his nephew was carrying out an attack, and accused the soldiers of executing him “in cold blood”.

Israel often refuses to release footage of these all-too-frequent checkpoint deaths. That alone should raise suspicions that in many cases, Israeli soldiers are not defending themselves – as the army claims – but carrying out extrajudicial executions when something, anything, takes them by surprise.

Trigger-happy soldiers shoot first, and the army barely bothers to ask questions later – both because Palestinian lives are considered cheap and because soldiers know they are operating in a system with no accountability. Impunity is what happens when a belligerent occupation becomes permanent rule by a master class over a serf class.

But in this case, with international pressure building, Israeli officials issued footage from one of the checkpoint’s cameras, assuming it would quiet the criticism. They were wrong.

Optical illusion

The problem for Israel is that today’s digital tools mean experts can reconstruct events in astonishing detail from even limited video.

The footage was studied by Forensic Architecture, a research group based at the University of London and headed by British Israeli academic Eyal Weizman. The team was able to create a three-dimensional reconstruction of that afternoon’s events.

To the untrained eye, the footage appears to show Erekat’s car accelerating as it swerves towards a concrete blast wall protecting soldiers. But as experts found, that was an optical illusion caused by changing perspective as the car altered direction.

Forensic Architecture’s experts show that the car continued at roughly 15km per hour throughout. Had Erekat wished to, he could have driven the car much harder and faster into the checkpoint than he did.

Jeremy Bauer, a US collision expert who was part of the team, said the movement of the wheels suggests that Erekat might have tried to brake during the swerve.

‘Confirming the kill’

Many Israelis, of course, ignored this expert analysis and maintained last week that the incident was still a car-ramming. But they studiously avoided discussing the even more damning second and third parts of Forensic Architecture’s analysis.

The team also found that, after the crash, Erekat got out of the car and was moving backwards while trying to raise his hands when he was struck by the first shot. He was four metres from the nearest soldier. A further two bullets were fired in quick succession. Three more rounds were fired into him as he lay wounded on the ground. 

In other words, whether or not Erekat carried out a car-ramming – and the evidence suggests he did not – soldiers shot him even though he posed no threat.

In Israeli military parlance, the soldiers “confirmed the kill”. They followed an unwritten army code that allows them to carry out an extrajudicial execution of any Palestinian they have unilaterally decided is a “terrorist”.

Left to bleed

It was exactly the same logic that dictated what happened next. In the third part of the analysis, Forensic Architecture noted that an Israeli medical team arrived within 10 minutes. They left Erekat to bleed to death, even though footage from a driver’s phone showed him moving his arm after he was shot.

At the time, Israeli officials claimed that Erekat was given medical attention “within minutes”, but that it was determined he was dead. The truth is that Israeli paramedics attended solely to the lightly injured soldier, while a Palestinian ambulance was denied access to Erekat.

In the video footage, an Israeli soldier can be seen wandering past Erekat’s head shortly after he was shot, but the soldier offered no assistance. The Forensic Architecture report points out that the denial of medical assistance to Palestinians is an established practice of “killing by time” – a bureaucratic version of “confirming the kill”.

Erekat was left for around two hours on the ground. At some point his body was stripped of its clothes and, the report observes, he could be seen naked, surrounded by around 20 Israeli soldiers and police. How his family must feel about this additional indignity one can only imagine.

But even this degrading treatment pales in comparison to the fact that his parents have been denied access to their son’s body and the right to bury him ever since.

Erekat’s corpse – like those of 70 other Palestinians assumed to be “terrorists” – has been effectively kidnapped by the Israeli state and held as a bargaining chip.

Nothing exceptional

There is nothing exceptional about Israel’s treatment of Erekat. An earlier investigation by Forensic Architecture exposed almost identical lies justifying an extrajudicial execution in 2017 by police inside Israel of another Palestinian man – this one nominally an Israeli citizen.

Fed by a similar culture of racism to the army’s, Israeli police shot Yacoub Abu al-Qiyan, a teacher, as he was driving down a hillside track in his Negev village. Badly injured, he lost control of the vehicle and hit and killed a police officer. In seeming revenge, Abu al-Qiyan was left to bleed to death for half an hour as police and medics milled around nearby.

Even more notoriously, a video from 2016 shows an Israeli army medic, Elor Azaria, shooting a wounded Palestinian man in the head at close range as the man lies on the street in the occupied Palestinian city of Hebron.

And last May, an unarmed, autistic Palestinian man, Iyad al-Halak, was shot seven times at close range by Israeli police as he lay on the ground, and while one of his teachers begged the officers not to harm him. Afterwards, Israel claimed that all the cameras at the site of his shooting in Jerusalem’s Old City were malfunctioning.

Dark secret

Despite Forensic Architecture’s work, Israeli police last week continued to claim that Erekat’s crash was “a documented terrorist attack”.

A joint statement from the government, army and Shin Bet intelligence service still falsely claimed that Erekat moved “quickly towards Border Police fighters while waving his hands in a manner taken as threatening”, adding that the soldiers “were certain that they were in immediate mortal danger”.

In Israel’s security worldview, even a Palestinian raising his hands in surrender proves only his “terrorist” intent.

It is important to remember that last summer, in the days preceding Erekat’s execution, the Israeli army had braced for what it assumed would be a wave of “terror attacks” that ultimately failed to materialise. The military expected retaliation after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israel’s intent to annex swaths of the West Bank, in violation of international law.

The truth is that Erekat died not only because Israeli soldiers misread his intentions. He died because those same soldiers – like their military commanders and political leaders – live with the repressed knowledge that their presence on another people’s land, and their efforts to displace those people by force, can never be accepted.

Erekat was killed on his sister’s wedding day, and his body and his family continue to be abused to this day, so that Israel can avoid confronting what the occupation necessarily entails. He paid the price with his life so that Israelis can avoid facing that dark secret.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Israel is hiding the truth about the killing of Ahmad Erekat first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Imagining Palestine: On Barghouti, Darwish, Kanafani and the Language of Exile

For Palestinians, exile is not simply the physical act of being removed from their homes and their inability to return. It is not a casual topic pertaining to politics and international law, either. Nor is it an ethereal notion, a sentiment, a poetic verse. It is all of this, combined.

The death in Amman of Palestinian poet, Mourid Barghouti, an intellectual whose work has intrinsically been linked to exile, brought back to the surface many existential questions: are Palestinians destined to be exiled? Can there be a remedy for this perpetual torment? Is justice a tangible, achievable goal?

Barghouti was born in 1944 in Deir Ghassana, near Ramallah. His journey in exile began in 1967, and ended, however temporarily, 30 years later. His memoir I Saw Ramallah – published in 1997 – was an exiled man’s attempt to make sense of his identity, one that has been formulated within many different physical spaces, conflicts and airports. While, in some way, the Palestinian in Barghouti remained intact, his was a unique identity that can only be fathomed by those who have experienced, to some degree, the pressing feelings of Ghurba – estrangement and alienation – or Shataat – dislocation and diaspora.

In his memoir, translated into English in 2000 by acclaimed Egyptian author, Ahdaf Soueif, he wrote, “I tried to put the displacement between parenthesis, to put a last period in a long sentence of the sadness of history … But I see nothing except commas. I want to sew the times together. I want to attach one moment to another, to attach childhood to age, to attach the present to the absent and all the presents to all absences, attach exiles to the homeland and to attach what I have imagined to what I see now.”

Those familiar with the rich and complex Palestinian literature of exile can relate Barghouti’s reference – what one imagines versus what one sees – to the writing of other intellectuals who have suffered the pain of exile as well. Ghassan Kanafani and Majed Abu Sharar – and numerous others – wrote about that same conflict. Their death – or, rather, assassination – in exile brought their philosophical journeys to an abrupt end.

In Mahmoud Darwish’s seminal poem, ‘Who Am I, Without Exile’, the late Palestinian poet asked, knowing that there can never be a compelling answer: “What will we do without exile?”

It is as if Ghurba has been so integral to the collective character of a nation, and is now a permanent tattoo on the heart and soul of the Palestinian people everywhere. “A stranger on the riverbank, like the river … water binds me to your name. Nothing brings me back from my faraway to my palm tree: not peace and not war. Nothing makes me enter the gospels. Not a thing …,” Darwish wrote.

The impossibility of becoming a whole again in Darwish and Barghouti’s verses were reverberations of Kanafani’s own depiction of a Palestine that was as agonizingly near as it was far.

“What is a homeland?” Kanafani asks in ‘Returning to Haifa’. “Is it these two chairs that remained in this room for twenty years? The table? Peacock feathers? The picture of Jerusalem on the wall? The copper-lock? The oak tree? The balcony? What is a homeland? .. I’m only asking.”

But there can be no answers, because when exile exceeds a certain rational point of waiting for some kind of justice that would facilitate one’s return, it can no longer be articulated, relayed or even fully comprehended. It is the metaphorical precipice between life and death, ‘life’ as in the burning desire to be reunited with one’s previous self, and ‘death’ as in knowing that without a homeland one is a perpetual outcast – physically, politically, legally, intellectually and every other form.

“In my despair I remember; that there is life after death … But I ask: Oh my God, is there life before death?” Barghouti wrote in his poem ‘I Have No Problem.’

While the crushing weight of exile is not unique to Palestinians, the Palestinian exile is unique. Throughout the entire episode of Palestinian Ghurba, from the early days of the Nakba – the destruction of the Palestinian homeland – till today, the world remains divided between inaction, obliviousness, and refusal to even acknowledge the injustice that has befallen the Palestinian people.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his decades-long exile, Barghouti did not engage in ineffectual discussions about the rightful owners of Palestine “because we did not lose Palestine to a debate, we lost it to force.”

He wrote in his memoir “When we were Palestine, we were not afraid of the Jews. We did not hate them, we did not make an enemy of them. Europe of the Middle Ages hated them, but not us. Ferdinand and Isabella hated them, but not us. Hitler hated them, but not us. But when they took our entire space and exiled us from it they put both us and themselves outside the law of equality.”

In fact, ‘hate’ rarely factors in the work of Barghouti – or Darwish, Kanafani, Abu Sharar and many others – because the pain of exile, so powerful, so omnipresent – required one to re-evaluate his relationship to the homeland through emotional rapport that can only be sustained through positive energy, of love, of deep sadness, of longing.

“Palestine is something worthy of a man bearing arms for, dying for,” wrote Kanafani. “For us, for you and me, it’s only a search for something buried beneath the dust of memories. And look what we found beneath that dust. Yet more dust. We were mistaken when we thought the homeland was only the past.”

Millions of Palestinians continue to live in exile, generation after generation, painstakingly negotiating their individual and collective identities, neither able to return, nor feeling truly whole. These millions deserve to exercise their Right of Return, for their voices to be heard and to be included.

But even when Palestinians are able to end their physical exile, chances are for generations they will remain attached to it. “I don’t know what I want. Exile is so strong within me, I may bring it to the land,” wrote Darwish.

In Barghouti too, exile was ‘so strong’. Despite the fact that he fought to end it, it became him. It became us.

The post Imagining Palestine: On Barghouti, Darwish, Kanafani and the Language of Exile first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Picnic Video Exposes Both Faces of Israeli Apartheid

A short video taken by a family as they picnicked in the West Bank this month may be the best field guide yet to Israel’s complex apartheid system of state-sponsored Jewish supremacy.

In the clip posted to Facebook, armed Jewish settlers arrive unexpectedly to break up the picnic of a Palestinian family – including grandparents and two babies – at a scenic public space on a hillside north of Ramallah.

In the occupied West Bank, the settlers are the lords of the land and used to getting their own way. They assume that this is just another group of Palestinians to be terrorized away so that the illegal Jewish settlement they live in, one of many dozens, can further expand its jurisdiction on to Palestinian land.

For the settlers, this is all in day’s improvised ethnic cleansing.

Not as it appears

But they are in for a surprise. The scene is not exactly as it appears and things don’t go to plan.

Some distance from their homes, Palestinians would usually pack up in a hurry at the first sight of menacing armed settlers. But these Palestinians stand their ground and argue back in fluent Hebrew.

When the settlers cite the Bible as their title deeds to the land, and start grabbing the family’s things to evict the group, the grandmother shouts indignantly: “We are Israelis just like you and we’re allowed to be here.”

She is partly right. They are indeed Israelis. The family are from Nazareth, the largest and most privileged Palestinian community inside Israel. They belong to a minority formally known as “Israel’s Arabs”. But the grandmother’s claim that her family is “just like you” is an error – or more likely a bluff.

A settler corrects her: “You’re not Israelis, you’re Arabs, we did you a favor when we let you stay.”

Historical anomaly

In Israeli public discourse, “Israel’s Arabs” – or “Israeli Arabs” as the term is usually transcribed into English to make it seem less offensive – have been stripped of their real identity to sever their connection to the larger Palestinian people.

Nonetheless, they are descended from exactly the same Palestinian population that today lives either under occupation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, or as refugees exiled from their homeland by Israel’s mass ethnic cleansing campaign in 1948, known by Palestinians as the Nakba, or Catastrophe.

“Israel’s Arabs” are marked out from other Palestinians only by an historical anomaly: a small number managed to avoid the ethnic cleansing operations of 1948 and remained on their land in what was about to become Israel.

Eventually, and very reluctantly under international pressure, Israel conferred a very degraded citizenship on these “Arabs”. Today, after decades of higher birth rates than Israeli Jews, “Israel’s Arabs” are a fifth of the population.

Ugly truth

Israel proudly tells the world that its “Arab” citizens enjoy entirely equal rights with Jewish citizens. The truth is far uglier, as prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu inadvertently conceded when he used Instagram to correct an Israeli TV host who had suggested that Israel was a western-style democracy. “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the nation-state law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and not anyone else,” he wrote.

Some 70 laws explicitly offer differentiated rights depending on whether an Israeli citizen is Jewish or “Arab”.

“Israel’s Arabs” are almost entirely segregated from Israeli Jews in where they can live, where they go to school, and in many cases where they are allowed to work. The citizenship status of Jews and “Arabs” derives from separate laws. These “Arabs” are barred from living in most of Israel’s territory, and planning rules have been systematically skewed to their disadvantage.

In short, most “Israeli Arabs” live in segregated, poor, land-hungry, overcrowded and under-resourced communities.

But by historical accident they have an Israeli citizenship that confers on them – unlike Palestinians under occupation – the right to vote in Israeli elections and basic legal rights protected by Israel’s civilian courts, not its military courts.

“Israel’s Arabs” are also typically dealt with either by the ordinary Israeli police or by a paramilitary force known as the Border Police that operates in both Israel and the occupied territories. The border being policed is the segregated one between Jews and non-Jews.

But dealing with the Border Police is often preferable to being policed by the Israeli army, as is usually the case for Palestinians in the occupied territories.

No price to pay

As the settlers who disrupt the woodland picnic fail to get their way, they look confused and unsure. One says to the family: “You are not Israeli, you are Arabs. We did you a favor by letting you remain [in Israel]. Go back to Nazareth.” But what exactly are their rights in a situation like this?

If these were straightforward “Palestinians”, the settlers could throw rocks at them or shoot over their heads. Should the Palestinians refuse to flee, they could be beaten or the settlers could even consider shooting one in the leg – or worse – to make sure the rest got the message: “We are kings and you are unwelcome serfs”.

There is unlikely to be a price to pay for harming Palestinians under occupation, apart from maybe a story in Haaretz from Amira Hass, the only Israeli reporter living in the West Bank.

But the settlers can always say they had been attacked by Palestinians and were defending themselves. No real questions would be asked. If a video surfaced on YouTube showing otherwise, Israeli officials would act as press officers, claiming the footage was edited to mislead viewers – just another example of Pallywood. And anyone sharing the video could be discounted as an antisemite.

Familiar rules

This is a game whose rules the settlers – and the Israeli army and government behind them – know only too well, rules designed to work exclusively for their benefit.

But in the case of “Israeli Arabs” picnicking in the West Bank, the rules have not been properly defined. Can settlers beat with impunity these uppity natives with Israeli citizenship? Can they point their guns at them? If they do, what happens? Might there be an investigation? And if so, who will lead it – the army or the police?

Might these “Arabs” have relatives back in privileged Nazareth who are lawyers versed in the intricacies of the Israeli legal system? There are even some “Arab” judges in the court system. How might such a judge rule in a case like this?

The settlers’ uncertainty is justified. Which apartheid rules apply in the occupied territories when dealing with “Israel’s Arabs”: the occupation version of apartheid or the Israeli democracy version of apartheid? It is a grey area.

Unsure of powers

No longer confident that their powers are limitless, at least in a situation like this one, the settlers decide to delegate. They call the army. After all, soldiers of the Jewish state are there to protect other Jews, even when those Jews are armed, they are living illegally on Palestinian land and they are attacking defenseless Palestinians.

The army will know what to do.

The soldiers are soon there, but they look a little unsure too. They are more used to standing “guard” as settlers attack and terrorize Palestinians, only interfering if it looks like the settlers might be in need of help.

These picnickers aren’t Jewish, so the soldiers are under no duty to protect them. But at the same they are Israeli citizens so the soldiers cannot afford to be filmed pointing their guns at them or watching impassively as the settlers beat them up.

Gentle ethnic cleansing

There is no rule book for this situation, so the soldiers improvise. With the wisdom of Solomon, they cut the baby in half. A soldier concedes that they are indeed in a public space but warns the “Arabs” that, unlike the settlers, they are “not allowed here”. He adds: “I don’t want to use too much force.”

The soldiers prefer that the threat remains implicit. The family will have to leave immediately and cede this land to the masters, the Jews. The “Israeli Arabs” are evicted in an orderly fashion.

What we see, caught on the camera of Lubna Abed el-Hadi, is what might be termed gentle ethnic cleansing.

This short video confirms the lie of the oft-repeated claim of Israeli leaders that “Israel’s Arabs” have equal rights with Israeli Jews. In truth, Jews always have superior rights, whether it is inside “democratic” Israel or in the occupied territories.

Layers of apartheid

The original apartheid state – the one in South Africa – offers a template that can help us to decode this video. As with Israel, there were layers to South African apartheid, although those layers were much less effective than Israel’s at veiling the segregation system.

South Africa had its “Whites” – the masters – and its “Blacks” – the serfs. But it also had a group trapped between them, one that was harder to classify, called the “Coloreds”. In a system that craved clear racial categorizations, the Coloreds were a nuisance – a reminder of times before apartheid when segregation was not so strict and inter-racial relationships possible.

The Coloreds were really Blacks in the sense that they had none of the privileges of the Whites. But they also enjoyed a few exemptions from the worse racist policies faced by the Blacks, such as the requirement to carry passes to move around.

A New York Times article in 1985, in South Africa’s final apartheid years, concluded: “Despite the law that seeks to lock them into a simple group definition, South Africa’s mixed-race people defy such labeling and the ambiguity of their status is acute.”

Israel’s Coloreds

The comparison is not precise. “Israel’s Arabs” are not the descendants of mixed relationships between Jews and Palestinians. They are as native as other Palestinians, their histories indistinguishable until 1948. Like other Palestinians, “Israeli Arabs” have a relatively unified language and culture that was not true of the Coloreds in South Africa.

But their inferior legal status and ambiguous social position within the dominant apartheid system is similar to that of the Coloreds.

After the fall of South Africa’s apartheid, and in an era of 24-hour rolling news, Israel has eased the most blatant forms of discrimination faced by its “Arabs”. It has been careful to avoid the worst excesses of South Africa’s version of apartheid inside Israel. There are no separate entrances to rest rooms or shops for Israel’s “Coloreds”.

But the core segregation continues. “Israeli Arabs” are expected to live in their own 120 or so segregated neighborhoods, Israel’s version of the notorious Group Areas Act. They are banned not only from accessing the Jewish-only settlements of the West Bank, but from living in all of the territory inside Israel bar the 3% reserved for non-Jews.

‘Security’ policy

The Coloreds had “token representation” in South Africa, according to the Times. “Israeli Arabs” too have the semblance of a vote, but one that makes no impact on the parliamentary system or the shape of the government. Like the Colored counterparts, “Israeli Arab” schools are massively underfunded and under-resourced, and the police force’s policy towards them moves between neglect and open hostility.

As happened in 1966 at District Six, a Colored community near Cape Town, “Israel’s Arabs” can be forced off their lands at the drop of the hat – as is currently happening at Umm al-Hiran in the Negev – if the state deems that the land is needed more by the masters than the serfs.

The New York Times article notes that apartheid South Africa’s policy towards its Coloreds and Blacks was governed by a “security” approach that treated them as an enemy. Just such an official policy towards “Israel’s Arabs” was highlighted nearly 20 years ago by a state commission of inquiry.

Another observation by the Times will echo with “Israeli Arabs”: “Most black townships, for instance, have few entrances and are thus easily sealed.” Similarly, “Arab” communities in Israel typically have one or two ways in or out – a legacy of the military government that in Israel’s first two decades tightly controlled all “Arab” movement.

In recent months those memories were revived in Nazareth, for example, when the police again blockaded the city’s entrances during periods of lockdown.

Desirable or undesirable

Very belatedly it has finally dawned on Jewish human rights groups in Israel that the country’s apartheid system can no more be separated between a “democratic” Israel and a non-democratic occupied territories than South Africa’s could be between its white areas and the so-called black homelands, the Bantustans.

One group, B’Tselem, concluded last month that Israeli apartheid is indivisible, just as South Africa’s was. Its executive director, Hagai El-Ad, observed: “There is not a single square inch in the territory Israel controls where a Palestinian and a Jew are equal. The only first-class people here are Jewish citizens such as myself.”

The division, El-Ad noted, was not primarily between Israelis – Jews and “Arabs” – and Palestinians but between the segregated treatment of people under Israeli rule as either “desirable or undesirable”.

Those picnicking “Arabs” are the undesirables just as much as are the Palestinians living close by in Ramallah. Which is why the settlers were determined to move them off the land, and why the soldiers were only too happy to assist.

Israel upholds a system of Jewish supremacy over the land, and it matters not one jot whether those challenging its apartheid rule are Palestinian subjects without rights or “Arab” citizens supposedly with full rights.

• First published in Mondoweiss

The post Picnic Video Exposes Both Faces of Israeli Apartheid first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Farmers’ Protest in India: Price of Failure Will Be immense

Globally, there is an ongoing trend of a handful of big companies determining what food is grown, how it is grown, what is in it and who sells it. This model involves highly processed food adulterated with chemical inputs ending up in large near-monopoly supermarket chains or fast-food outlets that rely on industrial-scale farming.

While the brands lining the shelves of giant retail outlets seem vast, a handful of food companies own these brands which, in turn, rely on a relatively narrow range of produce for ingredients. At the same time, this illusion of choice often comes at the expense of food security in poorer countries that were compelled to restructure their agriculture to facilitate agro-exports courtesy of the World Bank, IMF, the WTO and global agribusiness interests.

In Mexico, transnational food retail and processing companies have taken over food distribution channels, replacing local foods with cheap processed items, often with the direct support of the government. Free trade and investment agreements have been critical to this process and the consequences for public health have been catastrophic.

Mexico’s National Institute for Public Health released the results of a national survey of food security and nutrition in 2012. Between 1988 and 2012, the proportion of overweight women between the ages of 20 and 49 increased from 25 to 35 per cent and the number of obese women in this age group increased from 9 to 37 per cent. Some 29 per cent of Mexican children between the ages of 5 and 11 were found to be overweight, as were 35 per cent of the youngsters between 11 and 19, while one in ten school age children experienced anaemia.

Former Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, concludes that trade policies had favoured a greater reliance on heavily processed and refined foods with a long shelf life rather than on the consumption of fresh and more perishable foods, particularly fruit and vegetables. He added that the overweight and obesity emergency that Mexico faces could have been avoided.

In 2015, the non-profit organisation GRAIN reported that the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) led to the direct investment in food processing and a change in Mexico’s retail structure (towards supermarkets and convenience stores) as well as the emergence of global agribusiness and transnational food companies in the country.

NAFTA eliminated rules preventing foreign investors from owning more than 49 per cent of a company. It also prohibited minimum amounts of domestic content in production and increased rights for foreign investors to retain profits and returns from initial investments. By 1999, US companies had invested 5.3 billion dollars in Mexico’s food processing industry, a 25-fold increase in just 12 years.

US food corporations began to colonise the dominant food distribution networks of small-scale vendors, known as tiendas (corner shops). This helped spread nutritionally poor food as they allowed these corporations to sell and promote their foods to poorer populations in small towns and communities. By 2012, retail chains had displaced tiendas as Mexico’s main source of food sales.

In Mexico, the loss of food sovereignty induced catastrophic changes to the nation’s diet and many small-scale farmers lost their livelihoods, which was accelerated by the dumping of surplus commodities (produced at below the cost of production due to subsidies) from the US. NAFTA rapidly drove millions of Mexican farmers, ranchers and small business people into bankruptcy, leading to the flight of millions of immigrant workers.

Warning for India

What happened in Mexico should serve as a warning as Indian farmers continue their protest against three recent farm bills that are designed to fully corporatize the agrifood sector through contract farming, the massive roll-back of public sector support systems, a reliance on imports (boosted by a future US trade deal) and the acceleration of large-scale (online) retail.

If you want to know the eventual fate of India’s local markets and small retailers, look no further than what US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in 2019. He stated that Amazon had “destroyed the retail industry across the United States.”

And if you want to know the eventual fate of India’s farmers, look no further than the 1990s when the IMF and World Bank advised India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture in return for up to more than $120 billion in loans at the time.

India was directed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies, run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops for export to earn foreign exchange. Part of the strategy would also involve changing land laws so that land could be sold and amalgamated for industrial-scale farming.

The plan was for foreign corporations to capture the sector, with the aforementioned policies having effectively weakened or displaced independent cultivators.

To date, this process has been slow but the recent legislation could finally deliver a knock-out blow to tens of millions of farmers and give what the likes of Amazon, Walmart, Facebook, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midlands, Louis Dreyfus, Bunge and the global agritech, seed and agrochemical corporations have wanted all along. It will also serve the retail/agribusiness/logistics interests of India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, and its sixth richest, Gautam Adani.

During their ongoing protests, farmers have been teargassed, smeared and beaten. Journalist Satya Sagar notes that government advisors fear that seeming to appear weak with the agitating farmers would not sit well with foreign agrifood investors and could stop the flow of big money into the sector – and the economy as a whole.

And it is indeed ‘big’ money. Facebook invested 5.5 billion dollars last year in Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Platforms (e-commerce retail). Google has also invested 4.5 billion dollars. Currently, Amazon and Flipkart (Walmart has an 81% stake) together control over 60% of the country’s overall e-commerce market. These and other international investors have a great deal to lose if the recent farm legislation is repealed. So does the Indian government.

Since the 1990s, when India opened up to neoliberal economics, the country has become increasingly dependent on inflows of foreign capital. Policies are being governed by the drive to attract and retain foreign investment and maintain ‘market confidence’ by ceding to the demands of international capital. ‘Foreign direct investment’ has thus become the holy grail of the Modi-led administration.

Little wonder the government needs to be seen as acting ‘tough’ on protesting farmers because now, more than ever, attracting and retaining foreign reserves will be required to purchase food on the international market once India surrenders responsibility for its food policy to private players by eliminating its buffer stocks.

The plan to radically restructure agrifood in the country is being sold to the public under the guise of ‘modernising’ the sector. And this is to be carried out by self-proclaimed ‘wealth creators’ like Zuckerberg, Bezos and Ambani who are highly experienced at creating wealth – for themselves.

According to the recent Oxfam report ‘The Inequality Virus’, Mukesh Ambani doubled his wealth between March and October 2020. The coronavirus-related lockdown in India resulted in the country’s billionaires increasing their wealth by around 35 per cent, while 170,000 people lost their jobs every hour in April 2020 alone.

Prior to the lockdown, Oxfam reported that 73 per cent of the wealth generated in 2017 went to the richest 1 per cent, while 670 million Indians, the poorest half of the population, saw only a 1 per cent increase in their wealth.

Moreover, the fortunes of India’s billionaires increased by almost 10 times over a decade and their total wealth was higher than the entire Union budget of India for the fiscal year 2018-19.

It is clear who these ‘wealth creators’ create wealth for. On the People’s Review site, Tanmoy Ibrahim writes a piece on India’s billionaire class, with a strong focus on Ambani and Adani. By outlining the nature of crony capitalism in India, it is clear that Modi’s ‘wealth creators’ are given carte blanche to plunder the public purse, people and the environment, while real wealth creators – not least the farmers – are fighting for existence.

The current struggle should not be regarded as a battle between the government and farmers. If what happened in Mexico is anything to go by, the outcome will adversely affect the entire nation in terms of the further deterioration of public health and the loss of livelihoods.

Consider that rates of obesity in India have already tripled in the last two decades and the nation is fast becoming the diabetes and heart disease capital of the world. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), between 2005 and 2015 the number of obese people doubled, even though one in five children in the 5-9 year age group were found to be stunted.

This will be just part of the cost of handing over the sector to billionaire (comprador) capitalists Mukesh Ambani and Gautum Adani and Jeff Bezos (world’s richest person), Mark Zukerberg (world’s fourth richest person), the Cargill business family (14 billionaires) and the Walmart business family (richest in the US).

These individuals are poised to siphon off the wealth of India’s agrifood sector while denying the livelihoods of many millions of small-scale farmers and local mom and pop retailers while undermining the health of the nation.

The post Farmers’ Protest in India: Price of Failure Will Be immense first appeared on Dissident Voice.