Category Archives: Lebanon

Did Israel Inspire Trump’s Family Separation Policy?

This past May, the United States Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, announced the government’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy at US border crossings. It was a matter of weeks before the new policy began yielding tragic outcomes. Those attempting to unlawfully cross into the US were subject to federal criminal prosecution, while their children were taken away by federal authorities, which placed them in cage-like facilities.

Expectedly, the policy caused outrage and was eventually reversed. However, many of those who have chastised the administration of President Donald Trump seem willfully ignorant of the fact that Israel has been carrying out far worse practices against Palestinians.

In fact, many within the American ruling classes, whether Republicans or Democrats, have been captivated with the Israeli model for decades. For years, US pundits have praised, not just Israel’s supposed democracy, but also its security apparatus as an example to be emulated. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, a renewed US love affair with Israel’s security tactics blossomed, where Tel Aviv raked billions of American taxpayers’ dollars in the name of helping secure US borders against perceived threats.

A new, even more appalling chapter in the ongoing cooperation was penned soon after newly-elected Trump declared his plan to build a ‘great’ wall at the US-Mexico border. Even before Israeli companies jumped on the chance to build Trump’s wall, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeted approvingly of Trump’s “great idea”, claiming that Israel’s own wall has been a “great success” for it “has stopped all illegal immigration.”

‘Birds of a feather flock together,’ is an English proverb. Netanyahu and Trump have flocked together for over a year and a half in perfect harmony. Alas, their personal affinity, opportunistic style of politics and, more alarmingly, ideological meeting points have made matters worse.

In the case of Israel, the word ‘democracy’ is hardly fitting. At best, Israel’s democracy can be described as unique. The Jewish State’s former Supreme Court President, Aharon Barak, was quoted as saying that “Israel is different from other countries. It is not only a democratic state, but also a Jewish state.”

At a Tel Aviv conference earlier this year, Israel’s divisive Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, offered her own version of Barak’s assertion. “Israel is a Jewish state,” she said. “It isn’t a state of all its nations. That is, equal rights to all citizens but not equal national rights.”

In order for Israel to preserve its version of ‘democracy’, it must, in the words of Shaked, “maintain a Jewish majority even at the price of violation of rights.”

Israel spins the concept of democracy in whichever direction that would allow it to ensure the dominance of the Jewish majority at the expense of Palestinians, the native inhabitants of the land, whose rising numbers are often seen as a ‘demographic threat’, a ‘bomb’ even.

Israel, to this day, has no formal constitution. It is governed by what it is known as ‘Basic Law‘. Having no moral code or legal foundation according to which the state’s behavior can be judged, the Israeli parliament (Knesset) is, therefore, free to draft and impose laws targeting Palestinian rights without having to wrangle with such notions as these laws being ‘constitutionally’ challenged.

One of the reasons that Trump’s family separation law at the border failed is that, despite flaws in its democratic system, the US has a constitution and a relatively strong civil society that can utilize the country’s moral and legal codes to challenge atrocious state conduct.

In Israel, however, this is not the case. The government invests much energy and funds to ensure Jewish dominance and to establish physical links between illegal Jewish settlements (built on Palestinian land in defiance of international law) and Israel itself. At the same time, it invests equal resources to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their own land, while keeping their communities everywhere separated and fragmented.

The sad truth is that what Americans have witnessed at their southern border in the last couple of months is what Palestinians have experienced as a daily reality at the hands of Israel for the last 70 years.

The kind of separation and segregation that Palestinian communities endure goes even beyond the typical outcomes of war, siege and military occupation. It is something that is enshrined in Israeli law, crafted mainly to weaken, even break down the cohesiveness of Palestinian society.

For example, in 2003, the Knesset voted in favor of the ‘Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law’, which placed severe restrictions on Palestinian citizens of Israel who were applying for family unification. When rights groups challenged the law, their efforts failed as the Israeli Supreme Court ruled, early 2012, in favor of the government.

In 2007, that same law was amended to include spouses from ‘enemy states’ – namely Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Iraq. Unsurprisingly, citizens of some of those ‘enemy states’ were included in Trump’s ban on citizens of mostly Muslim countries from entering the US.

It is as if Trump is following an Israeli blueprint, fashioning his decisions around the principles that guided Israeli policies towards the Palestinians for many years.

Even the idea of caging children is an Israeli one, a practice that was exposed by the rights group, the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI).

The policy, which has allegedly been discontinued, allowed for the placing of Palestinian detainees, including children in outdoor cages, even during severe winter storms.

The ‘caging’ of Palestinians, however, is an old practice. Today, the Israeli Apartheid wall separates Palestinians from their land and segregates between Arabs and Jews on racial grounds. As for Gaza, the entire Strip, which hosts 2 million people, mostly refugees, has been turned into a massive ‘open air prison‘, of walls and trenches.

While many Americans are relieved by Trump’s decision to end the practice of family separation at the border, US politicians and media are oblivious to the fate of Palestinians who have endured horrific forms of separation for many years. Even more troubling is the fact that many among Republicans and Democrats see Israel, not as a liability to real democracy, but as a shining example to be followed.

What Dead GIs Would Say To the World on Memorial Day About Being Praised As Heroes

A lot of people in Third World nations previously invaded, currently being invaded, or suffering sanctions and the threat of invasion by Americans, will be watching telecasts via satellite of festive celebrations on Memorial Day in the great United States of America.

Telecasted news coverage of the Memorial Day holiday in the USA will show video clips of parades and speeches glorifying America’s military and sanctifying war itself, obscuring the mourning of the deceased soldiers by families and friends. Many people watching in countries Americans invaded, will surely be wincing, their gaze turning serious and solemn, as they hear American GIs, who died while dutifully taking part in the killing, maiming and destroying in dozens of smaller countries all around the world, praised as heroes.

Many people watching the telecast in the countries Americans invaded will have gotten to know these mostly young American men who died invading their country in a deeper and more poignant sense than even their own parents. For example, of the two and a half million uniformed Americans, who were sent to Vietnam, hundreds of thousands mingled with Vietnamese up close in following out criminal orders and experienced a variety of emotions, some feeling guilt, shame and anger about the horrific suffering they were creating within a soft-spoken Buddhist population.  Final body count statistics show fifteen Vietnamese defenders killed for every one American GI killed – imagine how many Americans GIs felt about this sickening ratio which they were perpetrating. This author, during Veterans For Peace meetings, has heard members speak personally of never-forgotten-atrocities they were pained to take part in. I remember one veteran telling of picking up the cap of a Vietcong his unit had killed and finding a picture of what must have been the Vietcong’s wife and child secured in the cap’s lining, and thinking ‘we just created another orphan and widow.’ The citizens of nations bombarded and invaded must sometimes wonder what the dead American soldiers being thanked and praised on Memorial Day by politicians and generals, would say if they could speak out from their graves.

Your author can well imagine what his four basic training bunk buddies, whose bodies were thrown into a hole somewhere in North Korea, would say about being thanked for dying for their country every Memorial Day. During sixteen weeks of basic training, how very full of life and fun they were, as most 18 or 19 olds are. Likable Ed, Joe, Bob and Bill found themselves in a very poor country – people speaking a language they could not understand – in mortal combat with Koreans in their Korea. They were told they were fighting communism, but they would have realized while dead in that hole that they were sent to die to protect capitalism, colonial capitalism, the opposite of freedom for most of the world. They would have been pissed to know criminal media portrays them as just so stupid to have been suckered into killing fellow human beings and dying young – for who and for what?

Granted that many who died in military action, remained to the end duped and loyal to the propaganda they had been fed, gung-ho to kill anyone designated as ‘communist’ or ‘terrorist,’ but a much greater multitude of those GIs who lost their lives in combat in someone else’s country, had come to see the truth of an imperialist USA, ruled by its wealthy speculative investors on Wall Street, who use the nation’s armed forces, as Martin Luther King said, “to make atrocity wars and covert violence to protect unjust predatory investments overseas.”1

Let’s suppose these hundreds of thousands of savvy dead Americans chose someone well spoken from their midst to be a spokesperson for all of them – the dead GIs who died fighting citizens of some country far from America – dead GIs who finally lost faith in their countrymen, their ministers, priests and rabbis, their universities.

Further suppose that having lost faith in their own countrymen, who had sent them to a ignominious death, these angry dead Americans had their spokesperson speak to the whole world, and especially to that great majority of humanity living in the Third World in nations once attacked or being attacked by Americans in uniform today, figuring that only the people in the nations attacked are capable of uniting and using their huge numerical superiority to halt America’s blood lust. Here below, in this author’s imagination, is what this intelligent phantom spokesperson for the dead GIs might best say:

(What Dead GIs Would Say To the World on Memorial Day About Being Praised For Their ‘Heroic Sacrifice’ – if They Could)

On Memorial Day, while our family and friends mourn our permanent absence, conglomerate-owned criminal media, having used our patriotism to have us fight unjust wars based on fake news and lies, now hypes our humiliating death as beautiful military service. All this unctuous praise is heard from commentators whose TV channels deceived us into participating in senseless massacres of millions of innocent human beings right inside their own beloved countries.

We expect those who mourn us as fallen comrades, must do so in bitter heartbreak and anger. For more than a half century, all of us veterans, both living and dead, were tricked into criminal disservice, in many cases genocidal disservice, to our country and humanity. While only some relatively few of us paid with our lives for our ignorance and naive belief in our country’s honorability, tens of thousands of living veterans are physical or mental cripples.

Confronted with constant indoctrination to love of war by fear promoting corporate mass disinformation media, veterans, who have survived, must remember that we who have paid the highly profiled ‘ultimate sacrifice’ [read threw away our lives for worst than nil] were sent to our death by capitalists to make money on the deaths of those we were killing. Our own vastly smaller number of deaths are praised as heroic, but the death of millions we were sent to attack are carefully never mentioned.

Whether we gave our lives in that ‘good war’ against the fascism that American industrialists and bankers seeking huge profits helped build up by rearming Germany, or died during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which presidential candidate Obama fluffed off as “a dumb war,” our politicians pat our families on the back with the same ‘compassionate’ thank you.

For whether we died fighting the powerful land, sea and air forces that had attacked and declared war on our country, or died after being lied to and deceived into committing war crimes in near defenseless small nations, it makes no difference to Wall Street. The Street makes money either way – from the death and destruction of a ‘good’ and officially declared war, or atrocious crimes against humanity and crimes against peace.

Whether we lose a war, after murdering millions of Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians, or stalemate, after bringing death to  three million Koreans, our deaths are considered to have contributed to saving all those millions from having to live under communist governments.  We note that our government today, ironically enjoys lucrative trade, and has the warm relations, with the communist governments of China and Vietnam.  Today, no one repeats the slogan ‘better dead (like us), than red!‘

Whether some hundreds of us died killing Afghanis in Afghanistan to be better able to chase the Saudi Arabian, Osama bin Laden for years, or merely a dozen of us fell during the manslaughter of a thousand Panamanians, who stood in the way of America’s successful capture of their former CIA enrolled drug dealing President, we receive the same gratitude from the industrial-military-complex during commercial TV programing

Whether we were two dozen, dying during our invasion of the Dominican Republic to prevent the restoration of democracy and their elected but overthrown President, or three hundred blown away in our sleep by a suicide truck bomber in Lebanon, we all died in government issued clothes and were worthy of a thank you from the Presidential advisors whose plans our commanding generals were carrying out (for the profits of Wall Street scions).

Whether we fell serving atrocities happening before our very eyes or were victims of errant friendly fire, we receive the same level of appreciation from politicians and media. They hold us up as exemplary, to entice ever new bamboozled young men and women recruits to aspire to similar glorification.

We, the guilt ridden American military dead, appeal to the good people in all the nations invaded by Americans and Europeans to effect the same level of solidarity that the racist neocolonial speculative investment banker driven imperialists of the countries of mostly Caucasian population display2, and bring their five centuries of genocidal plunder to an end earlier than otherwise.

Confronted with constant indoctrination to love war by fear promoting corporate mass disinformation media, veterans, who have survived, must remember that we who have paid the highly profiled ‘ultimate sacrifice’ [read threw away our lives for worst than nil], are watching from our graves as criminal media portrays us as just so God damned willing to have forgone forty or fifty years of mornings, love, friendship, sunsets, and the sheer exhilaration of being alive, to have been shot like pig in a poke or shredded by some stupid land mine, as some mentally challenged moral failures as human beings chart the value of their dividends and derivatives watching the stock market figures while their hired CIA criminals keep their beholden politicians and media personalities in line.

And just one more thing. Let the Third World understand that that dippy ‘why me worry,’ Mr. and Mrs. average American overwhelmed with their personal enjoyments, it is they who are responsible for the murderous crimes of their US government. They, yes, the American-entertainment/news-advertising-TV-mesmerized public, glued to the flashing screens of idiot boxes, and suckered by charming commentators reading them the fake news from the prompter above their TV camera, unseen on the screen being watched.  They are responsible for all the deaths of the millions we were ordered to kill. Some day they will hear that Martin Luther King held all of them, that is, all Americans and himself responsible, not reelected government officials.3 The US  President is just one public servant, don’t let Americans shrug their responsibility off on him foolishly, for his being so highly profiled in the criminally collaborating fake news networks.

On Memorial Days no one should focus obsequiously on us. We paid both the price of our ignorance and our parents and teachers indifference to their citizen responsibilities.  Though they saw a good deal of the death and dying on TV they had no or too little compassion to act. Quite apart from the loving attention of dear families and acquaintances, we voiceless dead veterans despise your media anchors feigned pious interest in ‘honoring’ our cadavers.

Let a Third World in solidarity get Americans to join the human race and mourn the people we were sent to kill but fell in love with before dying ourselves. Everyone who died, died because of American indifference. Those millions of innocent beautiful people that we killed in their own beloved country, be it Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Congo, Guatemala, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Syria, their dead children now belong to America more than to their parents. Americans violently took these children from their parents and sunshine and games, saw to these children never growing up to be men and women (oh, collaterally, of course).

Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark in his book The Fire This Time: US War Crimes in the Gulf wrote, and has since kept repeating, “the greatest crime since World War II has been US foreign policy.” America’s most famous defector from the war establishment would, of course, would be gratified to hear this spoken of by activists who present themselves as anti-imperialists and protest their government’s deadly use of America’s Armed Forces on innocent populations overseas, but do not tell the whole truth; namely, that the atrocities they protest are in reality prosecutable crimes against humanity and crimes against peace under the Nuremberg Principles of International Law, which former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark reminds us, are part of the law of the land by Article Six of the United States Constitution.

This is why the spokesperson for the GIs, who died in warfare on innocent populations directed an appeal to Majority Humanity in the ever targeted for plunder Third World and not to intellectuals and professors of the still plundering First World. It is the beautiful ordinary people of the Third World, less neutered by commercialized modernity, who will eventually throw forth leaders, who will not continue the mesmerizing diplomatic gentlemen’s agreement not to ever mention the law in regard to the First World’s free handed destruction of country after country of the former outrightly colonial Third World.

Crimes are meant to be prosecuted, and criminals made to pay for what they have done! Otherwise, how on earth will the US-led Western speculative investors in profitable genocidal crimes against humanity ever stop investing in the massive murder of millions of children in their own beloved countries, often as not in their own homes in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Congo, Guatemala, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Syria, just to name some of the nations in which lives have been taken to a total of tens of millions in order to maintain, as Martin Luther King cried out, “unjust predatory investments.”3

  1. Martin Luther King’s New York Sermon that shook the world, “Beyond Vietnam – a Time to Break Silence“.
  2. Every single nation of majority Caucasian population, even tiny Lichtenstein, Andorra and Monaco, is a member nation of the coalition that murderously occupies Afghanistan.
  3. Ibid.

Selective Reporting Increases the Risk of a Greater Middle East War

The mainstream media news in recent days has carried reports of an exchange of rockets between forces based in Syria and what has been generally characterized as an Israeli “response.”  The Israelis claim that Iranian forces fire the rockets aimed at the Golan Heights. There are conflicting accounts as to whether or not the Iranian’s are responsible or whether the rockets were in fact fired by Syrian forces.

The claim and counterclaim have obscured more significant points that are not mentioned by the mainstream media. The first of these is that the latest round of attacks by the Israeli forces on military positions in Syria is not the first such attack.

Israel has long taken to itself the right to attack Syrian military positions. These attacks have intensified in recent years and are part of Israel’s dual aims with regard to Syria. The first aim is to expedite the overthrow of Syria’s President Bashar al Assad. The Israeli attacks generally benefit the various terrorist groups fighting the Syrian army and its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies.

Israeli support for the terrorist groups further extends to the use of Israeli military hospitals in the Golan Heights treating wounded terrorists.

The second important factor is that the Iranians, like the Russians and Hezbollah, are in Syria at the request of the legitimate sovereign Syrian government, recognised as such and by the United Nations and other international bodies. The almost invariable use of the pejorative nomenclature “Syrian regime” is a non-subtle attempt to propagandize the view of the US government and its lackeys that the Syrian government is in some way illegitimate.

The third omission in the news reports is that the area being shelled by the Syrians and/or Iranians is that the sole target is the Golan Heights. This is a significant (700 mi.²) piece of land, the western two thirds of which has been occupied by Israel since the six-day war in 1967.

It is a fundamental principle of international law that territory conquered in a war cannot be retained by the conquering power, in this case Israel. This principle is restated in Security Council resolution 242 (1967) which in the preamble emphasized “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war,” and further emphasized the requirement of all member states “to act in accordance with article 2 of the charter” (prohibiting force in the resolution of disputes).

The resolution went on to require (clause 1 (i) the “withdrawal of Israel Armed Forces from territories occupied in the recent (6 Day War) conflict.” Israel simply ignored this resolution is it ignores all obligations under international law that do not record with its geopolitical goals.

On 14 December 1981 Israel went further and purported to annex the territory it had illegally occupied since 1967. Three days later on 17 December 1981 the United Nations Security Council unanimously (with no abstentions) in Resolution 497 declared that Israel’s Golan Heights Law, which gave effect to  the annexation, was “null and void and without international legal effect”, and called on Israel to rescind its action.

Again, that was ignored by Israel, as was a later General Assembly resolution on 29 January 2007 which expressed the General Assembly’s deep concern that Israel had it not withdrawn from the Syrian Golan, contrary to relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, and stressed the illegality of Israel’s settlement constructions and other activities in the occupied Syrian Golan since 1967.

The resolution went on to state that the occupation and de facto annexation constituted a “stumbling block in the way of achieving a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region.”  It demanded once more that Israel withdraw to the pre-June 1967 lines.

In a familiar pattern, voting was 107 in favour, 6 against and 60 abstentions.

Apart from ignoring Israel’s continuing disregard of UN resolutions condemning its occupation and annexation of Syrian Golan, the media also fail to examine why Israel should continue its defiance of the overwhelming wishes of the international community.

There are two major factors in operation here. The first is that the geographical expansion of Israel’s territory has been a central plank of Israeli policy since at least the publication of the Yinon Plan in February 1982, which set out the blueprint for a “greater Israel.”  The Plan envisaged the incorporation into Israel wholly or significant parts of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

There is no possible legal basis upon which such a plan could be an advanced, but as noted, considerations of international law are rarely factored into Israel’s geopolitical considerations.

The second factor in operation here is that the Syrian Golan is, according to a November 2015 article in the UK journal The Economist (7 November 2015) the site of three test drillings conducted by a subsidiary of the US company Genie Energy. These drillings indicated oil reserves “with a potential of billions of barrels.”  Again according to the Economist, the Israeli government is being urged by lobby groups to take advantage of the chaos in Syria to demand international recognition of Israel’s annexation.

One clue as to why Genie Energy should receive so little media coverage of its activities, including the potential theft of Syrian resources, can be found in the composition of the board of directors. That board includes Jacob Rothschild of the UK banking dynasty, Dick Cheney, former US vice president under GW Bush, James Wolsey, a former head of the CIA, and Rupert Murdoch. The latter’s media empire ensures that coverage of Israel is rarely critical. Murdoch, whose 1700 worldwide newspapers unanimously editorialized in favour of the 2003 Iraqi invasion, also ensures that the public is not given vital relevant information.

That was never clearer than in the current (non) coverage of the sustained illegal interventions in the Syrian war by the United States, United Kingdom, France, Saudi Arabia and Australia or the astonishingly one-sided coverage of the current massacre of Palestinian civilians by Israeli soldiers as they protest the theft of their land and destruction of their human rights. Also completely missing from the media commentary is a discussion of what Robert Kennedy Jr aptly called “another pipeline war” (www.ecowatch.com 25 February 2016).

The Syrian war is a highly relevant component of the wider geopolitical issues affecting the region. These include, but are not limited to, the US plan to use Qatari gas via a pipeline to Europe with the overall objective of reducing or eliminating European reliance upon Russian gas. This pipeline necessarily transits Iraq and Syria. The hybrid war waged on Iran since 1979, and most recently including the unilateral withdrawal of United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is also part of this wider geopolitical framework.

Iran and Syria are also key elements in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a transformative infrastructure program that the US and some of its key allies are seeking to undermine.

The Australian government is very fond of proclaiming its belief in and support for the “international rules based order.” The disjunction between the rhetoric and the reality is again something that is ignored by the mainstream media. By its continuing failure to fully and accurately inform its readership of Middle Eastern realities, the risk of a wider war is measurably increased.

Hizbollah’s Victory and the US-Iran Conflict

Among the things that the Iran deal critics demand is a broader, better deal that curbs ballistic missile construction and prevents Iran from supporting “terrorists.” The media never questions the proposition that Iran in fact supports such people. Who are these terrorists? Hizbollah in Lebanon tops the list. (Hamas is usually next, and then the Houthis of Yemen, the Shiite militias in Iraq, the Syrian Arab Army, etc. Even the Revolutionary Guards a division of the Iranian military, is listed by the State Department as a “terrorist organization.”)

The elections in Lebanon last Sunday gave Hizbollah and its allies (mostly Maronite Christians, actually) a majority in Parliament. They won 67 out of 128 seats. Israeli politician and leader of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett declares that now “Lebanon equals Hizbollah.”  (Since Israel has invaded its northern neighbor in 1982 and 2006, resulting in thousands of civilian deaths, including at least 400 in the Shatila-Sabra massacre of Palestinians in West Beirut in two days in September 1982, such talk must worry most Lebanese.)

Hizbollah is little known to people in this country. Maybe some have seen that Anthony Bourdain “Parts Unknown” episode from Lebanon in 2015. Bourdain spent some time with a Maronite Christian family in Beirut who had a Hizbollah poster on the wall; the host praised their role in resisting Israeli attacks. (Bourdain  in his typical way was nonjudgmental. It’s unfortunate that some of the best, most objective commentaries on some countries are provided by this professional cook on CNN.) Maybe some question the routine designation, by the State Department echoed by the media, of the organization as “terrorist.” I myself do. But we doubters are surely few. Few organizations have been more systematically vilified.

Why has Hizbollah been designated a “terrorist” organization by Israel and the US, followed (somewhat reluctantly) by the EU in 2013 under US pressure? Germany continues to refuse to designate Hizbollah “in its entirety” as terrorist; like the EU in general it distinguishes between the “military wing” and the political party. Neither Russia nor China see it as terrorist. They realize that Hizbollah is a large political movement based in the Shiite community but enjoying an alliance with Christian and other minorities. It maintains a robust militia, more powerful than the Lebanese Army. It also maintains radio and TV stations, charities, hospitals. It has a genuine social base in Lebanon; that, rather than Iranian aid, is the key to its success. But instead of examining it in its specificities, successive US administrations have simply condemned it while emphasizing its Iranian ties.

Just like the current administration smears Houthis in Yemen as Iranian proxies. Or the Alawi-led government of Syria as a pawn of an Iran striving for regional dominance. Anyone paying attention knows that while the Houthis practice a form of Shiism it is very different from that of Iran; that a Shiite imamate ruled Yemen for 1000 years; and that there is little evidence for Iranian arms support for the Yemeni rebels. They know too that the Damascus government is led by the secular Baathist Party, which is ideologically at odds with Iran’s Islamic republicanism; the alliance is based on mutual security in the face of ongoing imperialist encroachment. But the Saudi-promoted specter of a “Shiite crescent” extending from Iran through Iraq (the only majority-Shiite Arab nation) into Syria and Lebanon, threatening to absorb Yemen and perhaps Bahrain, ruled by the Iranian ayatollahs, guides the minds of the benighted US policy makers.

Trump apparently demands a new deal with Iran that curbs its ballistic missile program and ends its support for (whatever the boss calls) “terrorism.” The principle recipients of this aid, always mentioned, are Hizbollah and Hamas. Hamas of course is the Palestinian party that governs the vast concentration camp of Gaza. It swept the Palestinian legislative election, the first and only free Palestinian election, in 2006. It has responded to Israeli occupation with violence on occasion; this itself, for the Israelis and US, constitutes terrorism. Iran-backed terrorism.

Why would Iran withdraw support from Hizbollah, even as it rises in electoral popularity and strength? Even as it successfully assists the Syrian Arab Army in fighting al-Qaeda and ISIL forces challenging the Assad government in Syria? It is an unreasonable imperialist demand. The demand of the Syrians and Iranians that the 2000 US Special Forces illegally in Syria withdraw is eminently reasonable, but US efforts to remold the Middle East through military intervention are outrageous. The US demand to determine who the world views as terrorist is similarly outrageous.

By demanding that Iran renegotiate the nuclear deal to include the irrelevant question of Tehran’s ties to different political groups in the region, Trump does what the US has done time and time again with those targeted for regime change: he sets the bar too high, and paves the way for war.

In 2002 the French and Germans made clear that they did not accept the US justification for the impending war on Iraq. But the Brits were on board, reliably, and some other NATO allies. US prestige took a blow in the court of world public opinion as the savage attack and occupation produced civil war, half a million died, and the US engaged in the types of torture revealed in the Abu Ghraib torture photos. In 2011 Germany opposed NATO airstrikes on Libya, but France and Britain strongly advocated it, and drew in Hillary Clinton who convinced a hesitant Obama.

This time, however, all the US’s top three European allies (with the 4th, 5th and 7th largest GDPs in the world), join China (2nd) and Russia (12th) in firmly opposing the US action against Iran. (Japan–3rd–is opposed but will not speak up. All major powers think Trump is crazy to try to sabotage a deal that’s good for them, Iran and the world. The only ones applauding are the Israelis (who fantasize that Iran is an “existential threat”) and the Saudis (who see Tehran as the headquarters of Shiite heresy, and in their republicanism threatening to Sunni monarchies throughout the Gulf).

Many must marvel at how the absolutely clueless Trump has been influenced by the snake oil salesman Netanyahu, who tried so hard to dissuade Obama from signing the deal–from a US Senate podium at that, and railed against it at the UN, and lectured Trump in English with a power point presentation a couple days before the announcement. And by the Saudi King Salman and Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who flattered him during his sword-dance visit last year. These are not the most reputable or trusted people in Europe or the world in general. Trump is choosing his friends on the basis who flatters him best.

Meanwhile Hizbollah, a big Iran ally, expands its control and hence Iran’s influence over Lebanon–through peaceful electoral means. And Bashar al-Assad, another big ally, militarily defeats his opponents with Russian, Iranian, Hizbollah and Iraqi Shiite militia assistance. The (Shiite, allegedly ) Houthis of Yemen hold out against the savage (Sunni) Saudi assault. These forces are not mere Iranian proxies but agents acting in their own right, with varying degrees of Iranian support.

Hizbollah was founded in 1982 as a response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The group was inspired by the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, and the ideology of Ayatollah Khomeini. But to see it as a mere proxy is to deny agency to the Lebanese people who support it, for reasons that have nothing to do with Iran but everything to do with resistance to Israeli aggression.

To demand that Iran, in addition to the major concessions it has already made on its nuclear program, withdraw support from the various groups it supports (to some extent; sometimes the extent is exaggerated) in the region, is to demand it concede the field to the US, Israelis and Gulf Arabs and their own favored terrorist proxies. It’s a demand that the whole world accept the US State Department’s evolving list of “terrorist organizations” as universally definitive. Enough already.

The Iranian organization Mujahadin-e Khalq (MEK), founded in the 1960s to violently oppose the Shah’s regime, was considered a terrorist organization by the US until 2012. Why did the designation change? Hint: It had nothing to do with any change of behavior, but had something to do with ongoing ties to US and Israeli intelligence in relation to producing regime change in Iran.

MEK famously sided with Saddam’s Iraq during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. It has allegedly killed US citizens. But now it’s cool, while Hizbollah is not. While the US embraces MEK Iran is supposed to abandon Hizbollah, because the US demands it, threatening to destroy a UNSC-approved treaty if Tehran persists in supporting this group which–did I mention?–just with its bloc swept the Lebanese elections. The arbitrary reasoning is obvious, and unjustifiable.

The US under Trump has truly lost reason. Europe should now say, “It was a fun 70 years together. But now, it’s just not working. You’ve become offensive, unreasonable. You may overestimate your power. We will for our part resist your efforts to curb our trade with Iran or any other country where we have the right to operate

Do You Want to Travel Around the Middle East? Think Twice!

Do you think it is that simple to travel around the Middle East? Think twice!

Ask Palestinians, about trying to get from a point A to a point B in their own nation.

Some time ago, sitting in an old Ottoman hotel in Bethlehem, I asked a waiter what it takes to travel from there to Gaza, where he said, several of his relatives were living. He looked at me as if I had fallen from the Moon:

There is no way I could travel there. If my relatives get very sick or die, then, in theory, I could apply for an Israeli travel permit to go there, but there is absolutely no guarantee that they would approve, or that I could get to Gaza on time…

Israeli wall in Bethlehem

I tried to appear naïve: “And what if someone from an Arab country which does not recognize Israel, wants to come here, to Bethlehem? Like, a Lebanese pilgrim or just a tourist? Could he or she enter from Jordan?”

The waiter weighed for a while whether to reply at all, but then had mercy on me:

West Bank… You know, it only appears on the maps as some sort of autonomous or independent territory. In reality, the borders and movement of the people have been fully controlled by the Israelis.

My friend, a legendary left-wing Israeli human rights lawyer and a staunch Palestinian independence supporter, Linda Brayer, downed another cup of coffee and made several cynical remarks. She was actually illegally ‘smuggled’ by me into Bethlehem. As an Israeli citizen, she was not allowed to enter the West Bank at all, but since I was driving and she was with me, a foreigner, and on top of it she wore a headscarf (she converted to Islam several years earlier), the Israeli soldiers just let us pass without askin too many uncomfortable questions.

Bizarre, disgusting, and even mind-blowing? Not for us who live or operate in this part of the world! All this is by now considered as “business as usual”.

During the last Intifada, I hired a taxi in Jerusalem to the border with Gaza driven by a Russian-Israeli Jew, a student, who literally clashed with a border guard, demanding to be allowed to enter Gaza, in order to “see what my fxxxxing government is doing to the Palestinian people.”

They did not let him into Gaza. They detained him. As a foreigner, I entered. During my work in Gaza, an Israeli helicopter gunship fired at my hired car. It missed… But at least I was allowed to enter and work in Gaza. It is like Russian roulette: sometimes you get in, sometimes you don’t, and no explanations are given.

That was the time when the new Gaza International Airport had just opened. After few days of fighting, the runway was bombed by the Israelis, all flights cancelled, and I had to, eventually make my way out through Egyptian Sinai.

Later, I also witnessed how brutal the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights has been; how it has divided countless families and communities. People are forced to shout at each other through the Israeli barbed-wire electric fences. The only way for the families to reunite, at least for a day or two, was to somehow get to Jordan.

An Israeli tank being moved towards Syrian Golan Heights

The Syrian Golan Heights used to be famous for its delicious apples and ancient Druze community. It used to attract travelers from all over the world. Now it is occupied by Israel, and it is de-populated and monstrously militarized.

You want to travel there? You cannot; not anymore. It is off limits.

*****

For years and decades, this insanity of travel bans and restrictions, as well as barbed wire and watch towers, has been applying mainly (although not exclusively) to the territories occupied by Israel. However, now almost the entire Middle East is divided by conflicts, insane regulations and travel prohibitions.

Empty Jordan-Syrian border

Unless you are a war correspondent, a Western ‘advisor’, an intelligence agent or a ‘development worker’, don’t even think about going to Iraq. Almost like Afghanistan and Libya, Iraq had been thoroughly wrecked by the Western coalition and its allies. On top of it, to get visa there is now close to impossible. In the recent past, the Westerners flooded Erbil and its surroundings; the main city of what was called, unofficially, ‘Iraqi Kurdistan’. The place used to be governed by the independence-seeking and shamelessly pro-Western ‘elites’, and it used to have its own visa regime. Now even this area is more or less off limits to foreigners.

Syria is still a war zone, although its government, which is supported by the majority of the Syrian people, is clearly winning the brutal conflict ignited and fueled by the West and its ‘client’ states.

Syria used to be one of the safest, the most educated and advanced countries in the region, built on solid socialist principles. It used to have an impressive scientific base, as well as dozens of world-class tourist attractions. Therefore, applying Western imperialist logic, it had to be first smeared, and then attacked and destroyed.

Logically, Syria is not issuing tourist visas to the citizens of the countries that are trying to destroy it.

Next door, Lebanon is still suffering from the flood of refugees, from geographical isolation and from the various dormant and semi-active terrorist cells.

Travelling from Lebanon to Syria is now almost impossible, or at least very dangerous and difficult. Lebanese citizens can still enter, but ‘at their own risk’.

In the not so distant past, people used to drive from Beirut to Europe and vice-versa, via Turkey and Syria. Now this option is just a sweet memory. But then again, in the very distant past, I am often reminded, it was not unusual for the Lebanese middle class to spend a weekend in Haifa, driving their own cars. Now the border between Lebanon and Israel is hermetically sealed. Both countries are technically at war. The U.N. patrols the so-called Blue Line. Apart from drones and Israeli war planes en-route to bombing Syria, nothing can cross.

Turkey building a new huge wall on the Syrian border

All along the Turkish-Syrian border, both sides are suffering. Of course, the Syrian people are suffering much more, being victims of the direct Turkish military adventures. But also Turks are now paying a very high price for the war: they are suffering from terrorist attacks, as well as from the total collapse of trade between the two countries. Many villages around Hatay and Gaziantep are quickly turning into ghost towns.

For instance, cities like Adana in Turkey and Aleppo in Syria used to be connected by motorways, enjoying constant flows of people from both ends. There was bustling trade, as well as tourism, and social visits. Now, Ankara has been building an enormous concrete wall between the two countries. No traffic can pass through the border, except Turkish military convoys.

*****

For years and decades, it has been impossible to enter Saudi Arabia as a tourist. This fundamentalist Wahabbi ‘client’ state of the West simply does not recognize the existence of tourism, or leisure travel. To enter the KSA, it has to be either for business or religious pilgrimage.

With its huge territory, the KSA effectively divides the entire Gulf region, when it comes to transportation and the movement of people. There are some loopholes, and ‘transit visas’ can be obtained (with some luck, difficulties and expense), for instance, for those people driving their own vehicles or taking a bus from Jordan to Bahrain, or to Oman.

Traveling to culturally the most exciting country in the Gulf – Yemen – is now absolutely impossible. Yemen used to be one of the jewels of historic architecture and civilization, counting such cities as Sanaa, Zabid and Shiban. Now the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is occupying the city of Aden and the coast, while Saudi forces are brutally bombing the rest of the country, which is controlled by the rebels.

Then, there is a bizarre conflict which is brewing between Qatar (the richest country in the Gulf with the substantial U.S. military presence as well as huge local business-controlled media conglomerate Al-Jazeera), and several other Arab allies of the West, including Saudi Arabia. Borders are presently closed and insults are flying. There is the growing possibility of a military confrontation. Qatar is being accused, cynically, of ‘supporting terrorism’, as if the KSA was not doing precisely the same.

*****

Flying around the region has become a Kafkaesque experience.

Flight from Doha to Nairobi

All Middle Eastern and Gulf airlines are avoiding Israel. Some fly over Syria but most of them, don’t. The once mighty and now deteriorating Qatar Airways is clearly forbidden to enter the airspace of Saudi Arabia as well as of the United Arab Emirates.

Recently I travelled with Qatar from Beirut to Nairobi, Kenya. It used to be a simple, comfortable commute, which has recently turned into a terrible nightmare. Unable to fly over Syrian and Saudi airspace, a plane has to first fly in totally the opposite direction, northwest, over Turkish airspace, then over Iran, making a huge, almost 90 minutes detour. On the second leg, a trip of less than 4 hours now takes more than 5 hours and 30 minutes! The plane flies directly away from Africa, towards Iran, and then makes a huge loop, avoiding both the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Lebanese MEA (Middle Eastern Airlines) is one of the few airlines that ignores all this, flying directly over Syria, and towards the Gulf states. Most of the others don’t dare. But MEA has to avoid Israeli airspace, making often interesting final approaches to Rafik Hariri Int’l Airport.

The exception is Turkish Airlines which basically flies over everything and into everywhere, including Israel itself.

*****

This essay is not only about the politics and what has led to the present situation, although it is clear that we are talking here, above all, about the neo-colonialist arrangement of the world.

Political nightmare unleashed by the ‘traditional’ Western colonialist powers and their ‘client states’, has led to the geographical divisions; to a perverse state of affairs in this part of the world. Increasingly, the people are losing control over their own nations and the entire region. They have already lost the ability to move about freely through it.

Of course, something similar exists in many other places, including the South Pacific. There, I described the situation in my book Oceania. An entire huge part of the world has been literally cut to pieces by the neo-colonialist powers and their geo-political interests and designs: the U.S., France, Australia and New Zealand have plainly overrun and shackled Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. A once proud and unique part of the world has been fragmented internally: people are brutally separated and forced to depend almost exclusively on the West.

In the Middle East, divisions, walls and barbed wire, are now everywhere; they are visible to the naked eye, but they are also ‘inside’ peoples’ minds, damaging the human psyche, making dreams of unity and a common future look very unlikely, and sometimes even impossible.

A bridge blown up by ISIS near Mosus, Iraq

This used to be one of the cradles of our civilization – a deep, sane and stunningly beautiful part of the world. Now everything is fragmented. The West rules, mainly through its ‘client’ states, such as Israel, the KSA and Turkey. It controls everything. It governs almost the entire Middle East; nothing moves without its knowledge and permission.

A suicide car bomb near Mosul, Iraq

Yes, nothing and no one moves here, unless it suits the West. We don’t read about it often. It is not discussed. But that is how it is. This bizarre concept of ‘freedom’ implanted from the outside. The rulers who were injected into the Gulf and various other occupied nations. The result is horrid: the electric wires, walls and travel restrictions everywhere; the old pathological British ‘divide and rule’ concept.

*****

As I am working on this essay, my plane which is supposed to be flying south-west, is actually hovering north-east, in order to avoid the airspaces of the various so-called hostile states.

Local people may be getting used to the fact that their part of the world has already been ‘re-arranged’. Or perhaps they have already stopped noticing.

The computer, however, keeps showing the absurd flying path of the airliner. Computers can be programmed and re-programmed, but they cannot be indoctrinated. Without judging, they are simply demonstrating the absurdity that is unrolling around them, on their screens.

• First published in New Eastern Outlook

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

The Irony of Election Fraud: Staggering Election Loss for the West, Huge Win for Lebanon!!

In what can only be considered a staggering loss for western influence in Lebanon, Hizbullah doubled its seats in the new Lebanese parliament as a result of this first election in nine years…and the far too obvious attempt by these same western powers to influence the result.

The desperation of Saad Hariri’s western backers had been shown by his image shadowing the many candidates’ campaign poster images whom he hoped would be part of his own new coalition, one that would have resulted in additional influence for him and the western backers he met with two weeks ago in Paris. This was exemplified by the vote-buying scandal — ignored by western media — designed to negate Hizbullah’s continued rise in influence.

In a political blunder of geopolitical importance, during the days leading up to this past Sunday’s Parliamentary election this supposedly secret vote buying (for as much as $2000 per vote) was anything but a secret in the minds of Lebanese voters as they went to the polls. The disgust of voters for this attempt to thwart their first move towards democracy after almost a decade served up a defeat that could see Hariri relegated to the dustbin of politics since many of the candidates he counted on were thrashed, losing more than a third of their existing seats, while Hizbullah doubled their seats to twenty-four and many of their coalition partners also made strong gains. This means that, as predicted, the Hizbullah coalition will not only be a block to remaining western influence in the Parliament, this coalition will also now set the agenda and with their new majority have the ability to strongly influence the election of the three most important leaders: the President, Speaker of Parliament and Prime Minister — who will not likely be Hariri.

Trouble for Hariri began early on election morning when, by 2 PM, voter turn out was well below expectations at a paltry 24.7%. This led to impassioned television pleas from current president Michel Aoun asking Lebanon to get out and vote. In a subsequent tweet he wrote,  “I reiterate the call, if change and a new approach are what you want, you must exercise your right. You should not miss the opportunity given by the new law which grants everyone permission to access parliament.”

Processions of cars adorned with political party banners and flags began roaming the streets with bullhorns begging voters to come out, and their candidates began soliciting votes in front of the polling stations despite both being a violation of campaign rule 78. Kataeb Party leader and MP Sami Gemayel, after casting his vote in Metn, told reporters afterwards that he was shocked at “candidates breaking the media blackout rule.” President of the Election Observation Committee, Judge Nadim Abdel Malek, next released a statement warning any media outlet that had breached the electoral silence in today’s vote that they will be referred to the Publications Court.

Hizbullah Election Support Workers in Beirut District 1

As has been the case in the lead up to the election, Hizbullah was playing it cool and by the rules. Their supporters are impassioned, well organized, pro-Lebanon down to their core and vote. Thus, the ongoing reports of low turn-out favoured their likely success. Hizbullah did not participate in election trickery, which is consistent with its eighteen-year rise in power that, among other factors, has been bolstered by a consistent adherence to ethics as demanded by their Shia doctrine and its abhorrence of corruption. This doctrine has been the proper reflection of the demonstrative corruption and divisiveness of Hariri and the other non-Shia parties. After the widespread vote-buying scandal, voters were left with only two choices, don’t vote or vote against continued corruption. Neither choice favoured Hariri, hence the low turn-out and that his party, the Future Movement Party, went down in defeat.

Election Day Begins, Democracy Wins!

There were no serious incidents reported and problems were limited to long lines, accidentally switched ballot boxes, a lack of privacy in voting booths, lack of handicap access and help for the elderly, complaints that ballot cards were too large and that several politicians were violating Rule 78.  Popular Bloc leader Myriam Skaff held a news conference saying that Lebanese Forces Party supporters struck her car with bats and criticized the Internal Security Forces for not intervening when her car was attacked while she was in it, before the Lebanese army finally intervened. Al-Jadeed TV reported that the Lebanese Army pulled a man from his car after he tried to drive through a roadblock in Choueifat.

Thumbs Up! For the First Election in Nine Years.

Chief Observer of the European Union’s Election Observation Mission Elena Valenciano said that the mission and its 131 observers across Lebanon had a “very positive” impression of the voting process in 98 percent of cases observed. “The management of the voting process is happening normally and professionally,” Valenciano said. Her comment, of course, failed to mention the voter fraud so much in everyone else’s minds. Free Patriotic Movement leader, parliamentary candidate and current foreign minister Gebran Bassil more accurately addressed this problem, stating, that there was a “financial brutality” that was “focused on buying votes and the consciences of citizens, which is dangerous.” Bassil said his party was “clean.”

The Electoral Supervisory Committee released a statement denouncing violations of a government-ordered media blackout on electoral campaigns. “Despite releasing continued statements and warnings during its direct observation of the media, it appears that some outlets are still violating the electoral media blackout and are not adhering to Article 78 of the electoral law,” the statement reads. Article 78 prevents news outlets from reporting on campaigns during Election Day.

Despite low turn out, some voting district locations were packed until closing time. Baalbeck-Hermel was given an additional 73 ballot boxes for multiple municipalities after the original allotted boxes filled up by 3:30 p.m. This led to Hizbullah Deputy head Sheikh Naim Qassem contacting the Interior Ministry overextending voting hours beyond original 7 p.m. closing time. This was denied for correct constitutional reasons; however, the compromise was to allow anyone still in line to enter the polling area before 7 PM and then vote after the doors were closed. This lead to the official close of the vote being at 8:08 PM.

At 10.32pm the Lebanese Interior Ministry revised its final turnout count in the election to 46.88. This was a disappointing turnout after nine years of anticipation and down from the previous election’s total of 55%.

The Nine Color Coded Parties and the Candidates for Beirut District 1

What the Election Means for Lebanon

On Monday, the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah spoke of a big political and electoral victory for the “Resistance,” saying that Hizbullah proved wrong any doubts about the support that it enjoys within its base.

The group’s Shia bloc of total Shia candidates emerged stronger than before. Shia dissent against Hizbullah and its allies in the Amal Movement in the south was so minimal that opposing candidates lists failed to reach the election threshold.

Besides increasing Shia representation in full, Hizbullah was able to expand its base in parliament, picking up seats for Sunni and Christian allies in Beirut and the Western Beqaa Valley.

“Hezbollah is the biggest winner in this election,” Kassem Kassir, author of the book Hezbollah between 1982 and 2016, told Middle East Eye. He added that the party and its direct allies will end up with a 50 MP bloc of the 128, not including the past coalition loyalty President Michel Aoun’s lawmakers.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement lost seats in several districts where it was previously unchallenged. His party shed a third of its previous share of parliament – down to 29 MPs.

In Tripoli, the Future Movement lost five of the district’s 11 seats to Sunni rivals and ex-prime minister Najib Mikati picked up four while Faisal Karameh, a former minister and the heir of a political dynasty in the north, was able to make it into parliament. Meanwhile, former justice minister Ashraf Rifi was soundly defeated in his hometown of Tripoli, ending his quest to challenge Hariri for Sunni leadership.

The right-wing Christian group, the Lebanese Forces (LF), is expected to expand its presence in the parliament from eight to 15 MPs, making it a major force in Christian politics. LF staunchly opposes Hizbullah and calls its weapons illegitimate, which is the height of political hypocrisy since this group operated as a brutal militia in the 1975-1990 civil war and was banned during the Syrian control of Lebanon until 2005.

With Aoun in the presidential palace, his Free Patriotic Party (FPM) looked to at least maintain its large bloc in parliament in support of the presidency. However, the FPM is set to lose a few of its 27 seats. Gebran Bassil, the foreign minister, Aoun’s son-in-law and FPM president, made it into parliament after two unsuccessful attempts in 2005 and 2009. Still, the FPM dropped seats in Mount Lebanon and the North, mostly because of proportional representation, and now it has to deal with stronger opposition from Geagea, who was vying for the presidency himself.

Independent candidates across Lebanon tried to challenge established political parties on Sunday, but they were almost completely unsuccessful which was a huge disappointment for the growing youth movement across Lebanon that detests sectarianism, patronage and corruption and largely due to the vote-buying scandal stayed home instead of vote. Nadia Shaarawi, the manager of the polling station, said that young people had largely stayed away.“The young people don’t want to vote,” she said. “I know from my nieces and nephews, they are not happy with any politicians.”

Their message was only heard in the mostly Christian Beirut 1 district, where journalist Paula Yacoubian, one of the seventy independent candidates with the Kolomna Watani Party, made it to parliament as the only successful woman candidate of the eighty-six offerings.

After the election had closed and the final tally was in, on Monday the interior minister Machnouk has hailed the election a “democratic festival”. At a press conference, Machnouk said all problems were swiftly addressed when brought to the attention of the ministry, which was substantially accurate.

Hizbullah leader, Hassan Nasrallah also dubbed the election an “accomplishment,” praising the government and President Aoun for its success.

The future of Lebanon is now firmly in the hands of those new parliamentarians who are sincere in their desire to see Lebanon prosper and bring a new kind of future — one based on inclusion and peace. As they head off to change Lebanon, this election will keep in their minds, and in the minds of the western troika one lesson, a lesson that is sure to rise again in the next election and hopefully in new elections across the world…cheaters never prosper!

Lebanon elections: less than one out of two voters

After nine years in which no national consultation on universal suffrage took place, on 6 May 2018, Lebanon held legislative elections. Each voter is assigned to a registered religious community. Which community you are allocated to is hereditary and has nothing to do with your faith or lack of faith. A new electoral law guaranteed the status quo: the number of MPs by religious community was fixed in advance. Similarly, the offices of the President of the Assembly and Prime Minister were (...)

Who’s Buying Votes at the Lebanon Election?

Beirut, Lebanon: Saturday, May 5, 2018 — On this lovely morning here on the coast of the Mediterranean there is not a cloud in the sky. In less than twenty-four hours voting will begin. However, on this day before the election, a howling wind is blowing from the south making the thousands of posters, banners and building-sized placards that feature the faces of the scores of potential Lebanese parliamentarians dance and sway wildly above the throngs of tomorrows voters.

But this wind, one that just yesterday seemed to bring the promise of a new future for Lebanon, will it be an ill wind that instead dashes this attempt at populist democratic reform, one cast from nine years of progress, onto the rocks of US-backed history?

Judging from the past twelve hours on the streets of Beirut, there is suddenly strong pause for concern. Someone is buying votes!

And just about everyone knows it.

Prior to arriving in the wee hours of this morning, this reporter had checked the newspaper offerings in the three airports transited for features on this very important election. In the New York Times, London Times, UK Independent, Financial Times, their Friday-before-the-election editions included not so much as a mention. In the English language papers of Turkey to the north, neither the Daily News or the Daily Sabah had a similar omission.

Why?

These same papers had news about Armenian, Moldovan and/or the Maldivian elections where the western powers were already far along in bringing their unelected candidates back to power despite contrary election results past. The many Lebanese spoken with this day did not know of this glaring omission but were not surprised. As one local commented, “Well, they always ignore us…until war breaks out, again.”

The Rules of Engagement

It’s now 7 PM on this Saturday and the bars are closing; unheard of in this town known for its vibrant nightlife that routinely parties to 4 AM even on a Sunday. It has been nine years since this nation’s last election and the Lebanese government wants everyone sober enough tomorrow to make it to the voting booth. So, if you want a drink, only a restaurant can legally serve alcohol; hopefully on a full stomach.

Voting for any of the almost seven hundred different candidates from across the country begins at 7 AM tomorrow. An interesting requirement for voting is that all Lebanese must return to their place of birth to do so, and because of the closed bars, tonight is extraordinarily quiet. As one taxi driver accurately stated, Sunday “will see the return of old Beirut.”

In what appears to be a form of Gerrymandering, when the voters return home to vote, many travelling over a hundred miles to do so, they must vote from a set list of candidates specific to their region. This would appear to be a violation of the Lebanese constitution that allows for universal suffrage and will restrict these voters from voting for more favorable candidates within the party of their choice, but not on their ballot. Despite the excitement of tomorrows historic election, many are quite unhappy about this limited choice that certainly affects their decision at the ballot box.

These separate ballots will be divided across the nation — similar to US congresspersons — by population. This means that Beirut, the largest city, has two different districts and three different ballots. The smaller cities have only one and in the rural areas of many small towns and villages, their ballots are apportioned to a set region.

One hundred and twenty-eight candidates will be elected tomorrow- the entire parliament. This has never before happened and is just as unusual in other worldwide elections where the election cycle is split instead — as in the US — to every two, four or six years. This makes this election all the more important since, post-election, it is these same parliamentarians that will subsequently elect the new Prime Minister and the very powerful three-member Cabinet that includes the President. Hence the stakes for this election have never been higher and this election will see a wholesale and long-lasting change in influence.

In an attempt to level the playing field for all candidates, all of them are currently under a national gag order that began this morning and will be enforced until the election is over and the results are in. None may, in this period, speak with any Radio, TV, Internet, or newspaper news source. Additionally, any manipulation by virtue of misleading advanced polling data has been restricted making the outcome an unknown to the voter and a further encouragement to get out and vote.

Everyone interviewed, without exception, views the many Hizbullah candidates as the status quo that will prevail. The only question is the final tally of seats. Hizbullah’s growing power has been achieved in the past by it creating various coalition alliances such as the March 7 coalition of many years ago. So the question is not whether Hizbullah will retain power, but whether it may achieve an actual majority.

While there are many other candidates in opposition to Hizbullah, they are aligned with either the Christian, Alawite, Sunni, Druze religious factions. These have previously failed to garner significant support since they have done very little, compared to Hizbullah, to bring real societal change to Lebanon. They also have repeatedly done nothing to defend their country in the three previous wars of incursion by Israel, while the people of Lebanon and Hizbullah have fought side-by-side. This memory applied at the ballot box to the horrors of war past and will have many voters discounting religious affiliations in favor of the national defence. These concerns have given current Minister of the Interior (which manages the police and domestic security), Nouhad Al Mashouk, perceived front-runner status for many who are looking beyond the Hizbullah offerings.

Mashnouk may have trouble with this since the Shia candidate, retired Colonel Ali Al Shaer, is featuring his own defensive track record as a reason for votes.

The image of Saad al-Hariri, son of venerated Rafik al-Hariri, is so prevalent by itself, and alongside those of the many candidates, that one would think he was running for election. His image and presence of support for these candidates are designed to hopefully bring him to power again via parliamentary vote. There is no doubt that he is riding the coattails of his father in a similar fashion to Justin Trudeau despite his brief resignation and defection to Saudi Arabia. This is not lost on the voters, but strangely many believe he has a chance since most have forgiven him for his treason.

Western Desperation: Who is Buying All Those Opposition Votes?

What does not bode well for a peaceful and long-lasting result of this election is that some of the opposition candidates are paying for votes. This reporter spoke with five different voters who all told the same story: The going price in South of Lebanon is $800 and the mortita for Beirut is as high as $2000…plus airfare!!

One woman voter spoke of her anguished conversation with her parents who wanted her to change her vote and had admitted to her that they had been given $1000 each for their votes. Another bar patron informed this reporter that, due to the requirement of voting in the district of one’s birth, opposition candidates were going to be bused in from across Lebanon since Beirut is the plum of this election, having far the most seats to win. One bartender spoke with disgust about an opposition staff member visiting his bar not an hour before and offering he and other patrons $1000 per vote.

Worse, yet another taxi driver spoke of his parents being contacted in Canada with an offer of airfare and $2000 per vote to come to Lebanon on Sunday.

While this might seem outrageous and expensive, it shows the panic that the opposition is in regarding the likely outcome in favor of Hizbullah. These allegations were made all the more legitimate based on this reporter’s observations and conversations with arriving passengers from Brazil, which, interestingly, has a larger Lebanese population that Lebanon itself.

On the inbound flight arriving to Beirut, a large contingent of twenty or more Brazilians was on the same flight. However, during a casual conversation, they revealed few things about their trip other than two key facts: They were staying only until just Monday morning… and had brought with them almost no luggage. This made little sense at the time; until the testimony of many in Beirut certified their true reason for an 11,000-mile, two-day vacation.

Of further concern was how these paid-for voters would be monitored in performing their deeds in the confines of a secret voting booth. With the Lebanese being known for corruption, all spoken with assumed there would be secret monitoring to be sure the opposition got what it paid for.

These facts put together and many Lebanese are concerned about some sort of Maidan Square event taking place tomorrow. So is the army.

Beirut has a strong military presence at all times, but in recent days, here in Beirut, that presence has more than doubled. This morning, this reporter witnessed a convoy of troop transport vehicles head into the city carrying over 150 uniformed soldiers. Every soldier is armed and everyone you encounter is cautious, unsmiling… and locked and loaded.

Despite these tangible concerns, the Lebanese spoken with were taking it all in stride. As one woman put it, draining here cocktail glass and cheerfully chiming in, “ They bomb…we rebuild. They bomb…we rebuild. That’s Lebanon.”

Smacking her glass down loudly on the bar for emphasis, now staring me in the eyes directly, she concluded in an accurate note of optimism, “But they have never defeated us…and they never fucking will!”

Israel’s Murderous Strikes on Syria (via “Pacified” Lebanon)

On April 9, 2018 at least 14 people were killed during the murderous strike by the Israeli air force on the Syrian T-4 airfield at Homs.

Israeli F-15 fighter jets flew over Lebanese airspace, as they have done on many previous occasions, in total disregard of international law.

Both Israel and Lebanon are still technically at war, and the latest action could easily be considered as yet another shameless provocation. Apparently, whatever terror Western allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel decide to spread throughout the region, their actions will always go unpunished.

To add insult to injury, instead of condemning Israel, the Western mass media outlets began their predictable and embarrassing servile howling against the government in Damascus, some ‘correspondents’ even calling President al-Assad an “animal” (The Sun, 9th April, 2018).

This time, Lebanon, which in the past suffered from several brutal Israeli invasions, and where Israel is commonly referred to as ‘Palestine’, decided not to protest too loudly against the violation of its airspace. There were some statements made by individual Lebanese politicians, as well as a statement by the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which objected to the attack against Syria, claiming that Lebanon will file a complaint to the UNSC. Most of the statements, however, appeared only in the Arabic language. There was definitely no robust national response, as one would have expected.

Ms. Zeinab Al-Saffar, an Iraqi educator and television anchor based in Beirut, Lebanon, shared her thoughts on the subject:

It is not the first time that this is happening.  Israeli forces have been violating the airspace of Lebanon, as well as the land and sea belonging to Lebanon. Violation of the territory of Lebanon [by Israel] became something ‘regular’. What happened recently is a flagrant intrusion which should not go unanswered, as they were using Lebanese air space in order to attack the Syrian land. I believe this is the right time for the U.N. to do something more than just to make the reports and write numbers. This is an extremely serious situation; to use the territory of a neighboring country in order to attack a third nation; it is a barefaced crime.

*****

Why do Lebanon’s protests not resonate louder?

There are several reasons. One: the country recently ‘secured’ an enormous package of mostly loans from the West, at a ‘Paris conference’, amounting to more than 11 billion dollars.

Two: A great percentage of the ‘elites’ of Lebanon is accustomed to taking orders from the West. The West is where their villas are, where their relatives live, and their permanent residency cards issued.

A much greater war may be nearing; both the U.S. and Europe are now attacking Syria directly. In this decisive time, the Lebanese rulers are opportunistically showing where their allegiances lie: not with the people of the devastated Middle East, but with Paris, London, Riyadh and Washington.

But back to the first point – to money. As reported by Reuters on April 6, 2018:

“The pledges include $10.2 billion in loans and $860 million in grants, France’s ambassador to Lebanon Bruno Foucher said on Twitter…”

Donors in turn want to see Lebanon commit to long-stalled reforms. In a nod to those demands, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri pledged to reduce the deficit of the budget as a percentage of GDP by 5 percent in the coming five years.

Macron told Hariri in a news conference the aid aimed to give Lebanon a fresh start, adding that it put “an unprecedented responsibility” on authorities there to carry out reforms and preserve peace in the country.

“It is important to continue reforms in the coming months,” Macron said, adding: “We’ll be by your side.” …

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the conference: “… Lebanon needs major reforms of its economy, structural and sectoral.””

‘Structural reforms’ is a key term. This shameful package of loans which will further tie the hands of Lebanon could insure the complacency of the country: both economic and political obedience at the time when the West is ready to unleash a new wave of its military onslaught in the region.

There is hardly any transparency in Lebanon, and therefore almost no guarantee that the loans will be used to improve the standard of living of the suffering population. Corruption in Lebanon is endemic – it is institutionalized – to the point that it is often not even called ‘corruption’ anymore.

Social services are almost non-existent. Here, the contrasts are truly appalling. Ferraris and Lamborghinis, as well as outrageously expensive sailing boats, co-exist side-by-side with absolute misery and lack of social services, such as, at least periodically, garbage collection.

Hezbollah, a movement which is on the so-called terrorist list of many Western countries, is often the only reliable source of social services in the country.

The West will now demand more and more neo-liberal ‘reforms’. Almost nothing social will be built. Funds will disappear into the deep pockets of the shameless Lebanese ‘elites’ and ‘leaders’. It will be the poor, who will be expected to service the loans, as the rich in Lebanon hardly pay taxes.

In exchange for their booty, many Lebanese politicians will be further obliged to follow the Western line towards the region, including the neo-liberal and increasingly neo-colonialist policy of Washington and France (Lebanon’s former colonial master) towards Syria and the rest of the region.

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And across the border line, the war is still raging. Washington and London fulfilled their shameful promises to perform ‘punitive actions’; to ‘chastise Syria’ for something that was clearly invented/manufactured just in order to justify an invasion, destabilization and in the end, the destruction, of this small but strong and proud nation.

A Syrian intellectual, who lives in both Beirut and Damascus, offered his analyses for this article. However, he requested not to be identified by his name, afraid of repercussions from both Lebanon and the West:

The Israeli attack comes at a time when the Syrian army is winning its fight against terrorist groups in Damascus suburbs, and it could be read as an indirect answer to these wins. It is also a dangerous move since the T4 airbase is heavily involved in the fight against the remaining of ISIS in Syria. This attack is unacceptable aggression against a sovereign nation and it is a violation of international laws. It also shows that Israel is helping directly and indirectly various terrorists groups operating on the Syrian territory.

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However, the commentaries that are being spread by the Western mainstream press are increasingly defying all logic. They are progressively turning out to be racist, supremacist. Well, actually now they are what they have always been earlier, throughout the centuries of European and then North American colonialism.

In Damascus, shelling a park right next to the Four Seasons Hotel, the UN acommodation from East Ghouta

Just read The Guardian article from April 9th, 2018- “Israel has launched countless strikes in Syria. What’s new is Russia’s response”:

Israel has launched many previous strikes into Syria, mainly to protect its borders from a buildup of Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces and armaments on the Golan Heights. Israel, has not, as a rule, attacked al-Qaida or Islamic State positions in Syria.

On all previous occasions, Russia – which has controlled Syrian air space since it sent troops to defend the regime of Bashar al-Assad in 2015 – has turned a blind eye. There had been an understanding that Israeli interests in Syria would be preserved by Russia, primarily by limiting the presence of Iranian-backed troops in Syria’s south-west. The Israeli fear is that access to the Syrian side of the Golan Heights allows Hezbollah to launch attacks into Israel.

At least The Guardian does not pretend that it believes in the Western fabrications that President Assad is poisoning his own people…

But the article is clearly trying to justify and find logic behind the Israeli terrorist attacks against the independent nation.

‘Poor Israel – it is worried about ‘Hezbollah forces and armaments on the Golan Heights.’

Spy-surveillance base on the hill overlooking Syria

But the Golan Heights is by international law an inseparable part of Syria. I repeat: by all international norms! Including, the United Nations Security Council UN Resolution 497. Golan Heights had been attacked, occupied and forcefully (and it looks like indefinitely) annexed by Israel, during the so-called ‘Six-Day War’ in 1981.

I visited the Golan Heights. I worked there, for several days, clandestinely, some 5 days ago. What I encountered there was true horror: ancient villages were totally destroyed, most of the original population deported from their land, Israeli-paid spies and provocateurs approaching and scrutinizing random visitors. All around – scattered rich Israeli agricultural enterprises protected by barbed wire and tall concrete walls. It all felt like working in Angola or Namibia, during the South African apartheid, or perhaps even worse; divided communities, stolen land, electric wire, and omnipresent fear and oppression.

Horrid border at Majdal al-Shams

But it is Israel which now has the right to ‘worry’ and to murder people in the name of its ‘security’. That is precisely what the tone of the Western mainstream periodicals clearly suggests.

Israel had stolen more than a thousand kilometers square of the Syrian territory in 1981, and now it is mercilessly bombing its victim; from Lebanese territory, in order to assure its ‘safety and security’. It is doing so from the territory of Lebanon, a country which was invaded by the Israeli military, on several occasions.

And the West is cheering.

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Of course, Israel is acting with total impunity, because it enjoys both the support and encouragement from its allies: The United States, the U.K. and Macron’s France.

Lebanon is panicking. Its’ ‘elites’ are trying to both survive, and not to anger the West.

Syrians have, it often appears, nerves of steel.

They worry but are determined not to give one single inch of their land to the invaders.

My friend in Damascus wrote to me, just a few hours before I submitted this report:

People are worried and they constantly follow up the news. My brother asked us to go to Safita for one month, as it is safer there. I’m not sure if we do it, but we are closely monitoring the situation.

My colleagues and comrades on the ground in Syria are angry, very angry. They can clearly see through the lies, which are being spread by the West.

Israel is repeatedly bombing heroic Syria.

On April 29, 2018, the Israeli attacks killed 26 Syrians and Iranians, just before Midnight, near Hama and Aleppo.

The U.S. and Europe are bombing and threatening to cause even more damage.

But this is 2018, not those dark years when the West could murder and rape without any consequences. If these attacks continue, there will be a counterpunch: fully justified, determined and powerful.

Then even the tiny Lebanon would have to decide where it stands.

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• First published by New Eastern Outlook – NEO

• Photos by Andre Vltchek