Category Archives: Refugees

Passing the Parcel: The European Union and Refugees in the Mediterranean

The modern UN Refugee Convention is now so flea-bitten it’s been put out to the garbage tip of history.  At least the enthusiastic fleas think so, given their conduct as political representatives across a range of parliaments keen on barbed wired borders and impenetrable defences.  Across Europe, the issue of refugees arriving by sea – in this case, the Mediterranean – has become a matter of games and deflection. Lacking any coherence whatsoever, the approach to certain, designated arrivals is to push them on to the next port in fits of cruel deflection, hoping that the next recipient will give in.  Such conduct demonstrates how states have adopted notions of penalisation and discrimination against the arrival who seeks sanctuary, positions severely in breach of international humanitarian law.

Australia remains the undisputed pioneer in this, at least in the last two decades.  Incapable of establishing a decent environmental policy, hostage to the gunpoint of the mining lobby, and suspicious of enshrined rights, its backwater parliamentarians have been dazzling with other efforts: finding a suitably bestial policy to repel maritime arrivals, for instance.  Boats have been towed back to Indonesia, a country which many of its representatives grudgingly do business with.  People smugglers, the very same ones demonised as “scum” by Australian politicians, have been paid when and where necessary.  A veil of secrecy has been cast with suffocating effect across the operations of the Royal Australian Navy, and criminal provisions have been passed punishing any whistle-blower who dares disclose the nature of operations in the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

Countries hugging the Mediterranean are also attempting to make a dash up the premier league of refugee cruelty.  In January, Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini bellowed in disdain that rescue ships heading to Italy were provocations. “No one will disembark in Italy.”  This has been accentuated by a change in funding policy.  The European Union has distanced itself from the anti-smuggling Operation Sophia, which ran for four years and involved the rescue of thousands of refugees with the use of EU vessels.  Any united front on the part of EU states has effectively collapsed.

Vessels are now being refused docking rights as a matter of course.  Sixty-two migrants on the German rescue ship Alan Kurdi found themselves being refused and moved on.  Having been rescued on April 3 near Libya, the vessel owned by the German non-governmental organisation Sea-Eye faced a rhetoric, and approach, long favoured in the isolated Australian capital of Canberra.  Those attempting to enter the ports of Malta and Italy were initially refused.  To permit them entry would be tantamount to encouraging human trafficking.

It took 10 days of torment before an agreement was struck: the individuals in question would be allowed to reach Valetta in Malta.  As with everything else, political representatives saw a chance to make hay.  Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat claimed a victory in ending the stand-off, scolding conservatives who believed in abortion.  “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  We are speaking about the same human life, and I can no longer take the hypocrisy in people who have these double standards.”

There was a twist, suggesting that the government could still be selective.  The crew of the Alan Kurdi were refused entry, thereby revealing that Malta was happy to spare the refugee but punish the rescuer.  “We condemn,” a dissatisfied Sea-Eye chairman Gorden Isler claimed, “the abuse of state power and the illegal restriction of our crew members’ freedom, who risked their own health to save lives.”  Captain Werner Czerwinski has proceeded to head to Spain with the express purpose of finding a harbour.  The impediments on its movement have been costly, meaning that it will be unable to embark on its next mission to the central part of the Mediterranean.

A statement from the Maltese government revealed the parcelling scheme: four countries would be involved, divvying out the human misery.  “Through the coordination of the European Commission, with the cooperation of Malta, the migrants on board the NGO vessel Alan Kurdi will be redistributed among four EU states: Germany, France, Portugal and Luxembourg.”  Hardly a stellar outcome, and certainly an ad hoc outcome that bodes ill for any consistency.

“These negotiations,” went a joint statement from Sea-Eye with a host of other rescue organisations, “are illegitimate and unsustainable practices that violate international law, fundamental principles of human rights and disregard the dignity of the rescued.”  The law of the sea, international law more generally speaking, and human rights law, had been flouted in not permitting an immediate disembarkation “at the nearest place of safety.”

The entire system of responding to refugees has become a toxic spread.  Organisations dedicated to the venture of saving potential victims of drowning have been designated a problem as grave as the people they assist.  Those wishing to help are imperilled by the very process of assistance which should be protected by the right to asylum.  There are bureaucratic issues on which waters the refugees might be found in.  Drownings have been inevitable, showing that red tape can be a lethal affair.

In various perverse instances, the rescuers can themselves find themselves facing investigations for actually providing needed assistance.  Miguel Rodan, a Spanish firefighter who found himself helping distressed refugees in June 2017, was duly informed that he, along with his fellow rescuers, were being investigated by officials of the Italian government that they might have been responsible for “facilitating illegal immigration”.

The looming tragedy here is that more numbers are bound to find their way into the waters of the Mediterranean, given the rapid escalation of hostilities in a crippled Libya.  Assessments vary depending on which panicked account is consulted, but a figure of 800,000 migrants has been floated.  The assault on Tripoli by Khalifa Hafter has the potential, according to Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of the UN-recognised government, to become a “new Syria”, a “war of aggression that will spread its cancer through the Mediterranean, Italy and Europe.”  The language is crudely apt: refugees as a cancerous spread; Europe’s response, a chemotherapeutic, if inconsistent harsh counter.

Rising Politics of Intolerance and the Need for Unity

Over the last 20 years extreme right-wing groups have been on the rise throughout the world. They share a belief in white supremacism and conspiracy theories that allege there is a global plot to replace white Christian populations with Muslims and people of color.

As socio-economic inequality has grown and immigration increased the reactionary ideology of tribal nationalism has become more popular and bled into mainstream politics. Far right groups have garnered support and won political power in a number of countries, including Austria, Poland, Hungary, Italy, the US and India.

Rising far-right terror

Within the spectrum of the far right there are varying degrees of bigotry and Neo-Fascist ideals; at the darkest extreme there are the Neo-Nazi’s, a small percentage that holds the most violent views; next are the pro-white, anti-Semitic social conservatives, they form the majority and want a separation of the races; then there is the more moderate wing or Alt Lite, staunchly anti-feminist, anti-political correctness, pro-western chauvinism. All are abhorrent, all are dangerous; a hint of prejudice no matter where it comes from adds to the collective atmosphere of intolerance, fans the flames of division and can incite violence.

While overall terrorism throughout the world is declining, The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) states that, “there has been a real and significant increase in far-right terrorist activity.”

Since 2014, the number of attacks from right-wing extremists has been greater than attacks from Jihadists, and, the Anti-Defamation League reports that during 2018 “right-wing extremists were linked to at least 50 murders in the United States [up 35% on 2017].” Globally, between 2013 and 2017 there were 113 attacks “by far-right groups and individuals…. of those 47 attacks took place in 2017.

On 15th March, 50 Muslims were murdered in Christchurch, New Zealand: the indiscriminate attack on two mosques during Friday prayers was carried out by Brenton Tarrent, a 28-year-old Australian white supremacist. Prior to the attack Tarrent published a 78-page document entailed The Great Replacement, online. In it he states that the aim of the Christchurch murders was “to take revenge on the [Muslim] invaders for the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders in European lands throughout history…and the thousands of European lives lost to terror attacks throughout European lands.” The manifesto title and many of the ideas promoted in it come from Le Grand Remplacement by 71-year-old Jean Camus and published in 2012.

Camus claims that the white Christian European population is being ousted by immigrants from the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. His views have become highly influential on right-wing groups, nationalist and identitarian movements across Europe, the US and elsewhere. Although Camus is particularly concerned with France and preserving French culture, he believes that all Western countries are faced with what he calls, “ethnic and civilizational substitution”, in which over the course of a single generation a civilization is transformed by immigration.

As a result of wars in the Middle East and economic insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa large numbers of migrants have indeed fled to Europe and elsewhere seeking safety and a new life. The influx of migrants/refugees into western countries presents societal challenges and change, but is not a threat or an act of ‘replacement’. The vast majority of migrants do not want to leave their homeland and travel to a country they do not know; people migrate to escape conflict, persecution and economic hardship, much of it caused by the foreign policies of western powers over decades, the exploitation of poor countries over centuries and the concentration of global economic wealth.

Cries of hate; modes of tolerance

Far-right terrorism is a transnational issue; extremists from different countries are more connected than ever and work together. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies relates the example of how in early 2018 members of the Rise Above Movement  (RAM, a white supremacist group based in California) “traveled to Germany, Ukraine, and Italy to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday and to meet with members of European white supremacist groups.” They posted photographs on Instagram with the RAM logo and words like “RAPEFUGEES ARE NOT WELCOME HERE”.

In Ukraine RAM members are reported to have met with Azov Battalion, a paramilitary unit of the Ukrainian National Guard believed to be training and radicalizing white supremacist organizations based in the United States.

The internet plays a crucial role in the work of such groups: social media platforms are employed by both Islamist and right-wing extremists to spread propaganda, organize training, make travel arrangements for events/protests, raise funds and recruit members. Extreme right-wing Internet channels spread lies, exaggerate and mislead; when challenged the sacred cow of freedom of speech is invoked to justify the use of inflammatory language. Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, but when it leads to murderous violence it violates the most basic human right, the right to life; freedom of speech needs to be conditioned by a sense of social responsibility, respect and understanding of others.

Acts of hate and intolerance of all kinds have been increasing exponentially across the western world in recent years. The 2016 election of Donald Trump in the US, the highly divisive EU referendum in Britain the same year and the influx of refugees fleeing wars and economic hardship triggered a wave of crimes against immigrants, particularly Muslims, as well as other minority groups. Liberal politicians, especially women, have also been targeted, many receiving hate mail and violent threats from right-wing extremists.

The current hatred of Muslims was aroused by the 9/11 attacks and inflamed by the ‘War on Terror’ announced by President George W. Bush in 2007; prejudice normalized, the far right flourished. A 2010 poll conducted by Gallup found that almost half of Muslim Americans experienced racial or religious discrimination, which is on par with “Hispanic Americans (48%) and African Americans (45%),” and, according to research by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency a third of Muslims in Europe say they face discrimination effecting employment, access to public services and housing.

Mainstream politicians stir up discrimination and incite hate; President Trump openly expresses hostility to foreign nationals and consistently makes and retweets Islamophobic comments, he has banned people from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, talks of the US being invaded and is building a ‘wall’ on the Mexican/US border. He is not alone in pandering to prejudice, many right and far right leaning politicians in western democracies have been guilty of fanning the fires. A striking example was the recent action by UK Home Secretary, Sajid David when he stripped Shamima Begum of her British citizenship. The 19 year old, who was in the final days of pregnancy when the announcement was made, had made the mistake of going to Syria in 2016 to support ISIS and marry an ISIS fighter. Her baby was born inside a refugee camp in Syria and, due to lack of proper medical care, died three weeks later.

Not only is the action to make her stateless illegal, it panders to the rhetoric of right wing populism and, instead of fostering forgiveness and compassion, adds to the creation of an environment in which judgment, intolerance and retribution flourish.

Unity not division

Protectionist ideals flourish in an atmosphere of fear, of economic instability and an unstable political environment; such insecure conditions strengthen inward-looking insular attitudes allowing the divisive ‘us versus them’ ideology to become the norm. Divisions of all kinds feed the idea of separation, create distrust, suspicion and fear; and fear leads to conflict and hate.

A cornerstone of the economic system and many aspects of contemporary life is competition; competition encourages division. Competition and aggression go together: the sense that we must compete or fight to survive, that others – especially others that are dissimilar – are regarded as opponents, rivals, competitors wanting what we have, which we must defend at all costs. Trust is nowhere in such an unjust world, society fractures along flag waving lines, violence erupts.

One of the consequences of this combative socio-economic system is inequality – of wealth, income, opportunity, influence, access to culture etc., etc. This social poison fuels a range of ills including mistrust, particularly of ‘the other’, someone who looks, talks and prays differently. Societies with the highest levels of inequality have the lowest levels of trust.

Competition, socio-economic inequality and poverty are not the cause of right-wing extremism, neither is the spread of misinformation or the use of inflammatory language, but collectively they form a powerful force in the creation of circumstances in which negative human tendencies like fear and aggression, are inflamed.

Division in any form, including nationalism, and competition go against human nature; if we are to free the world of all forms of extremism and hate they need to be driven out of society and from the systems under which we live. Unity is the keynote of the times, unity with the greatest level of diversity; modes of living that encourage tolerance and unite people must be actively inculcated. This means rejecting competition and embracing cooperation; it means sharing resources, information and wealth equitably; it means building trust and right relationships. Only then will there be peace within our communities and the wider world.

On My Visit to New Zealand

I visited the city of Christchurch on May 23, 2018, as part of a larger speaking tour in New Zealand that also took me to Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton and Dunedin.

New Zealand is an exceptional country, different from other countries that are often lumped under the generalized designation of the ‘western world.’ Almost immediately after my arrival to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest and most populous city, I was struck by the overt friendliness, hospitality and diversity.

This is not to downgrade the ongoing struggles in the country, lead among them being the campaign for land rights as championed by the Maori people, the original inhabitants of New Zealand; but, indeed, there was something refreshingly different about New Zealanders.

Just the fact that the Maori language, “Te Reo”, is one of the three official languages in the country, the others being English  and Sign Language, immediately sets New Zealand apart from other colonized spaces, where indigenous peoples, cultures, languages and rights are, to various extents, inconsequential.

It is due to the empowered position of the indigenous Maori culture, that New Zealand is, compared to other countries, more inclusive and more accepting of refugees and immigrants. And that is likely why New Zealand – and Christchurch, in particular – was chosen as a target for the terrorist attacks carried out by an Australian national on March 15.

The Australian terrorist – whose name will not be mentioned here in honor of a call made by the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, as not to celebrate the infamy of the senseless murderer – wanted to send a message that immigrants, particularly Muslims, are not safe, not even in New Zealand.

But his attempt backfired. Not only will he live “the rest of his life in isolation in prison”, as promised by New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, who was speaking at the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) emergency conference in Turkey on March 22, but the horrific crime has brought New Zealanders even closer together.

There is something sorrowful, yet beautiful, about Christchurch. This small, welcoming city, located on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, was devastated on February 22, 2011 by a massive earthquake that killed 185 people and destroyed much of the town.

Last May, I spoke at Christchurch’s Cardboard Cathedral, an innovative structure that was built as a temporary replacement to the Anglican Cathedral that was destroyed in the earthquake.

In my talk, I commended the people for their beautiful church, and for their own resilience in the face of hardship. The diversity, openness and solidarity of the audience reflected the larger reality throughout the city, in fact, throughout the country. For me, Christchurch was not a place of tragedy, but a source of hope.

My audience, which also included members of the Muslim community, some coming from Al Noor Mosque – the main target of the recent attack – listened and engaged me as I argued that the genuine authentic voices of ordinary people should be placed at the core of our understanding of the past, and our hope for a better future. While the focus of my talk was the history of the Palestinian people, the message exceeded the struggle for freedom in Palestine into the struggle and rights of all indigenous groups, guided by such uplifting experiences as that of the Maori people of New Zealand itself.

I also had the chance to meet with Marama Davidson, co-leader of the Green Party, among other MPs. It was strange to be in a position where solidarity from politicians came across as genuine as that of the unconditional solidarity of ordinary activists – once again, highlighting the uniqueness of New Zealand’s progressive politics and leadership.

Experiencing that myself, it was no surprise to see the outpouring of genuine love and support by Prime Minister Ardern and many members of her cabinet and parliament following the mosque attack. The fact that she, along with numerous women throughout the country, wore symbolic head-scarves in order to send a message to Muslims that they are not alone, while countless thousands of New Zealanders mourned the victims who perished in Al Noor and Linwood mosques, was unprecedented in the recent history of Western-Muslim relationship.

In fact, on Friday March 22, when all of New Zealand’s TV and radio stations transmitted the call for Muslim prayer, and as Muslims and non-Muslims rallied together in a massive display of human solidarity while mourning their dead, for a moment, all Muslims became New Zealanders and all New Zealanders became Muslims.

At the end of my talk, a group of Muslims from the mosque approached me with a gift, a box of dates to break my fast, as it was the month of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and repentance for Muslims worldwide. With much gratitude I took the box of dates and promised to visit Al Noor when I return to the country in the future.

A few months later, as I watched the horrific images on television of the terrorist attack that struck this peaceful city, I immediately thought of the Cardboard Cathedral, of the beautiful solidarity of the Maori, of the numerous embraces of so many New Zealanders, and, of the kindly Muslims and the box of dates.

I also understood why the undeserving-to-be named terrorist chose to strike Christchurch, and the underlying message he wanted to send to Muslims, immigrants, New Zealanders and all of those who champion peaceful co-existence and tolerance worldwide.

But he failed. In fact, all other foot soldiers of racism and hate will continue to fail because tragedy often unites us. Collective pain helps us see each other as human beings first, where our differences, however great, can never be enough to justify or even explain why 3-year-old Mucad Ibrahim had to die, along with 49 other, beautiful and innocent people.

However, one can be comforted by the Maori saying, “Ka mate te kāinga tahi, ka ora te kāinga rua” – “when one house dies, the second lives”. It means that good things can always emerge from misfortune.

It will take much time for Christchurch, and the whole of New Zealand, to heal from this terrible misfortune. But the strength, will and courage of so many communities should be enough to turn a horrific terrorist act into an opportunity to heal our collective wounds, not just in New Zealand, but the world over.

Death by Video: Morrison Combats Refugees By Film

Caught in the backwater of the world’s existence, Australia struggles for relevance in various ways. It might show itself a leader in creating a sovereign fund (too late for that now); it might demonstrate, in various ways, a singular approach to solar energy (impossible, we are told, on that score). Lacking a decent number of terrorist attacks, it feels left out, stranded in a provincialism that ignores the decent, maiming bombing that might signal a boost in security funding. Lacking the millions of refugees Jordan and Turkey host, it feels cast aside, preferring to persecute the few that it has. Being a US satellite sometimes stings, if only to remind the policy makers here that a good education and service for Australia leads to a pledge to a foreign Queen and, yes, functionaries in Washington.

But there is always room to impress. Australia, land girt by sea, and terrified by what will approach via it. A fixation, one that should fill the psychiatric manuals, has captivated Australian politicians since it became unfashionable to avoid paperwork and get on a boat to head Down Under. In the late 1990s, the regulatory framework to punish and condemn those without documentation was established. The document became sovereign: lacking it landed you, not only in a spot of bother, but a spot of derision. The Migration Act scolded; the Australian immigration minister dispensed with. Australians like their queues; why did you, amidst falling bombs, murderous thugs and the odd exploitative pimp, show consideration and wait in line till we called you?

A certain literature – and to that, a good deal of ghastly celluloid – has been produced on the subject. All are, in essence, in violation of the United Nations Refugee Convention. No mention on the right to asylum is ever made; nor to the right not to be prejudiced against as an asylum seeker in terms of means of arrival. And that’s merely the start. In gazing at these amateurish compilations of self-entitled guff, one is left with the conclusion that no one involved in this process has ever consulted a human rights manual, let alone familiarised themselves with the hideous post-Second World War period. There was a time when the term Displaced Person was not entirely revolting.

Such cinematic barrel scraping features warnings about arriving in Australia. It targets individuals at various stages of their travel. Farid Rasuli, as a 17-year-old refugee, managed to catch a video on YouTube, with production credits due to the Australian Border Force, a few years ago. Moving through Indonesia and hoping to conduct a search for videos in his language, Rasuli found a dull, austere Australian major general popping up. It starts like this: “This video is produced in English by the Australian Government to ensure transparency of translated anti-people smuggling communication material being delivered to audiences offshore.” Such breathtaking, granular authenticity!

The video proceeds in unequivocal manner. In bold type, it claims that, “You will be turned back.” The particular production, dull vintage 2016, insists that the arrangement with the United States to settle refugees that would, otherwise, find themselves in Australia’s holiday gulag, is a “one-off.” Potential arrivals are told that they will not be able to avail themselves of such an option, should they wish to leap on the off chance. What is not explained is that the US administration at the time offers no guarantees that such a measure would even work. (A certain President Donald Trump was going to get the wobbles on that one.)

In 2014, Angus Campbell, the commander of the unfortunately named Operation Sovereign Borders, Australia’s own secret mission of oppression, was co-opted in making another video. It featured, in rather ugly fashion, the bold capitalised words “NO WAY” followed by the imperative shout, “You will not make Australia Home.” Above the message: an Australia with a line through it; a deleted, forbidden Australia. The duration of this ghastly pap is a mere minute. “The message is simple, if you come to Australia illegally by boat, there is no way you will ever make Australia home.”

The message is designed as a punch against both the smuggler and the cargo. “It is the policy and practice of the Australian government to intercept any vessel that is seeking to illegally enter Australia and safely remove it beyond our waters.” (The wording is important: whose safety are we really referring to?)

The Australian propaganda units have been busy – far busier than many of the citizens care to reflect upon. Money best reserved for Australia’s declining education system has found a home in other projects. In addition to film, the form of the graphic novel has been deployed. Going for 18-pages, one had a specific audience: Afghan asylum seekers. The message: should you dare make the journey to Australia, Nauru’s infamous hospitality awaits. The production positively reeks of persecution.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the hardened advertising man of the government, has retreated into something he knows best: the shallow, bucket swilling call of the advert. This is interesting in a way: the same man condemned his opponents for doing something similar when they got on the anti-refugee video show. When Labor, then in government, introduced material to justify its “PNG solution” in July 2013, Morrison claimed that the party was “ramraiding the taxpayer’s ATM”. The then coalition opposition snortingly dismissed the effort by Labor as “propaganda”.

Shortened memories prevail. A two-minute video message is now ambling its way through 10 countries, though it will have to be translated, however accurately, on its crooked journey. “Make no mistake, if you attempt to come to Australia illegally by boat, you will not succeed.” Spare your pennies, insists Morrison. “So do not waste your money or risk your life, or anyone else’s life, for nothing.” Such is the awareness of a person who has never had to consider the throbbing, genuine feeling human rights conjures up in the breast of the oppressed.

Morrison is selling the measure as a necessity, a band aid to what the opposition parties have done to his cherished border protection policy. “Our government will be doing everything within our power – despite what the Labor Party have done to undermine our border protection regime – to ensure these boats don’t come.” Videos, and up at them.

Sickness and Paranoia: The Morrison Government’s Refugee Problem

The passage of amendments to the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) by the Australian House of Representatives and the Senate this week was less a case of celebration than necessitous deliverance.  The mental wellbeing of asylum-seekers on Manus Island and Nauru, or lack thereof, has been documented extensively from Australian legal representatives to members of Médecins Sans Frontières.

The Medevac Bill is scripted in clunky fashion typical of Australian drafting, but it does what other items of legislation have not: privilege, to some extent at least, medical opinion on the desperate situation of those kept in indefinite detention.  Australia’s own crude experiment of what might be termed “biopolitical” control has had predictably disastrous consequences on health and well-being.

The legislation supplies the lawful basis for refugees and asylum seekers to be transferred to Australia for “medical or psychiatric assessment or treatment”.  “Aside from being a circuit breaker to current arrangements,” claim Nicholas Proctor and Mary Anne Kenny, “the bill is a new opportunity to establish agreed governance arrangements and a clinical pathway for recognising and responding to medical need without political interference.”

Previously, Australian governments have fought any transfer arrangements of refugees and asylum seekers from Canberra’s tropical gulag with rabid ferocity.  Be it men, women or children, any show of compassion has been given the cold sneer.

The assessment of each patient is to be conducted by two doctors, either in person or remotely, keeping in mind psychiatric and treatment needs. Crucial here is the consideration about whether those supposedly five star facilities in Nauru or Manus Island supply any adequate basis for treating psychiatric and medical disorders.

It would be foolish to presume that the new provisions somehow alleviate the prospects of political interference.  The 72-hour window limit for the Minister for Home Affairs merely imposes a note of urgency; he otherwise retains power of approval or refusal over the recommendations regarding transferrals.  A firestop of sorts restraining the minister has been put in place, one involving an Independent Health Advice Panel, but this is hardly the end of the matter.  Traditional grounds for refusal are also available: a person having a “substantial criminal record” or facing an adverse security assessment might be refused leave to be treated in Australia.

The Coalition was hoping to catch out the opposition on grounds of constitutionality.  (All about inappropriate expenditure, you see.)  That was swiftly remedied by another amendment by the Labor party deeming all members sitting on the medical panel pro bono officials.

Stung and out manoeuvred in parliament, the Morrison government turned savage; facing electoral defeat (the latest poll figures show that a farm slaughter awaits), the signal to abandon reason was there.  Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann, Attorney-General Christian Porter and a host of worthies from the government side have been drumming the same note of feral abandon: opposition politicians are weak on protecting Australia’s sacred borders; refugees should be tarred and feathered as criminals of various sorts.

Labor, tweeted Morrison, “have learned nothing from their past failures and cannot be trusted to keep our borders and Australia strong.”  The Coalition’s border protection policy, he reiterated with confidence trickster’s gumption, “stopped the boats, stopped the deaths at sea, closed the detention centres, removed all children from detention and from Nauru.”

Former Prime Minister and backbencher Tony Abbott has been doing his bit as spear thrower, arguing that, “If you lose control of the border, you lose control of the country.” (Is this code for bowel and body?)

Porter’s reasoning is imaginatively skewed: the bill as passed permits individuals to be transferred to Australia who are either charged and not convicted; or convicted yet not sentenced. “At the very last moment, Labor put an amendment in that would give some discretion to the minister to stop people who are criminals, in effect, from coming to Australia.” Such a measure would fail, given that sentencing was “a very long tunnel”, and that ministerial discretion could not be exercised to keep the rotters out.

Fancifully, Porter’s nasty bout of demonization ignores the effects the detention regime have had on the individuals in question.  Prisons are schools for crime; detention centres are sites for mental ruination.  In some cases, these have resulted in sexual predation and desperation, hardly a cause of justification, but perfectly understandable in Canberra’s desire to degrade a certain class of refugee. If you treat people like animals, expect certain results.

A broader principle is also ignored: those either charged or convicted are not entitled to decent medical care.  They are, whatever their legal status, to suffer.  Yet again, Australia’s inherent penal mentality manifests.

Rounding the list of terrors involved, government representatives have been focusing on that permanently rich gift that keeps giving: the morally depraved and corrupt people smuggler, a phantom menace who has done wonders to keep members of parliament elected and secure.  Such a being, it would seem, is always there, awaiting to do the terrible thing and exploit an asylum seeker’s right to, well, seek asylum.  People smugglers, claims Abbott, “will be saying to their potential customers ‘look what Labor has been able to do in opposition, think how better they’ll be for you when they’re in government.”

In an effort to shore up its failings on the vote, the Morrison government has sought to use Christmas Island as a replacement option.  In Morrison’s resigned words, “We have approved putting in place the re-opening of the Christmas Island detention facilities, both to deal with the prospect of arrivals as well as dealing with the prospect of transfers.”

Local officials on Christmas Island were none too amused; if the facilities were not adequate on Manus or Nauru, they are hardly going to reach par on Christmas Island.  But refugee politics in Australia, at least since the late 1990s, has not been about the sensible and the generous, but about the punitive and the preventative.

The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba

The game is afoot. Israel, believe it or not, is demanding that seven Arab countries and Iran pay $250 billion as compensation for what it claims was the forceful exodus of Jews from Arab countries during the late 1940s.

The events that Israel is citing allegedly occurred at a time when Zionist Jewish militias were actively uprooting nearly one million Palestinian Arabs and systematically destroying their homes, villages and towns throughout Palestine.

The Israeli announcement, which reportedly followed “18 months of secret research” conducted by the Israeli government’s Ministry of Social Equality, should not be filed under the ever-expanding folder of shameless Israeli misrepresentations of history.

It is part of a calculated effort by the Israeli government, and namely by Minister Gila Gamliel, to create a counter-narrative to the rightful demand for the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees ethnically cleansed by Jewish militias between 1947-1948.

But there is a reason behind the Israeli urgency to reveal such questionable research: the relentless US-Israeli attempt in the last two years to dismiss the rights of Palestinian refugee rights, to question their numbers and to marginalize their grievances. It is all part and parcel of the ongoing plot disguised as the ‘Deal of the Century’, with the clear aim of removing from the table all major issues that are central to the Palestinian struggle for freedom.

“The time has come to correct the historic injustice of the pogroms (against Jews) in seven Arab countries and Iran, and to restore, to hundreds of thousands of Jews who lost their property, what is rightfully theirs,” said Gamliel.

The language – “.. to correct the historic injustice” – is no different from language used by Palestinians who have for 70 years and counting been demanding the restoration of their rights per United Nations Resolution 194.

The deliberate conflating between the Palestinian narrative and the Zionist narrative is aimed at creating parallels, with the hope that a future political agreement would resolve to having both grievances cancel each other out.

Contrary to what Israeli historians want us to believe, there was no mass exodus of Jews from Arab countries and Iran, but rather a massive campaign orchestrated by Zionist leaders at the time to replace the Palestine Arab population with Jewish immigrants from all over the world. The ways through which such a mission was achieved often involved violent Zionist plots – especially in Iraq.

In fact, the call on Jews to gather in Israel from all corners of the world remains the rally cry for Israeli leaders and their Christian Evangelical supporters – the former wants to ensure a Jewish majority in the state, while the latter is seeking to fulfill a biblical condition for their long-awaited Armageddon.

To hold Arabs and Iran responsible for this bizarre and irresponsible behavior is a transgression on the true history in which neither Gamliel nor her ministry are interested.

On the other hand, and unlike what Israeli military historians often claim, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947- 48 (and the subsequent purges of the native population that followed in 1967) was a premeditated act of ethnic cleansing and genocide. It has been part of a long-drawn and carefully calculated campaign that, from the very start, served as the main strategy at the heart of the Zionist movement’s ‘vision’ for the Palestinian people.

“We must expel the Arabs and take their place,” wrote Israel’s founder, military leader and first prime minister, David Ben Gurion in a letter to his son, Amos in October 5, 1937. That was over a decade before Plan D – which saw the destruction of the Palestinian homeland at the hands of Ben Gurion’s militias – went into effect.

Palestine “contains vast colonization potential,” he also wrote, “which the Arabs neither need nor are qualified to exploit.”

This clear declaration of a colonial project in Palestine, communicated with the same kind of unmistakable racist insinuations and language that accompanied all western colonial experiences throughout the centuries was not unique to Ben Gurion. He was merely paraphrasing what was, by then, understood to be the crux of the Zionist enterprise in Palestine at the time.

As Palestinian professor Nur Masalha concluded in his book, the ‘Expulsion of the Palestinians’, the idea of the ‘transfer’ – the Zionist term for “ethnic cleansing’ of the Palestinian people – was, and remains, fundamental in the realization of Zionist ambitions in Palestine.

Palestinian Arab “villages inside the Jewish state that resist ‘should be destroyed .. and their inhabitants expelled beyond the borders of the Jewish state,” Masalha wrote quoting the ‘History of the Haganah’ by Yehuda Slutsky. .

What this meant in practice, as delineated by Palestinian historian, Walid Khalidi was the joint targeting by various Jewish militias to systematically attack all population centers in Palestine, without exception.

“By the end of April (1948), the combined Haganah-Irgun offensive had completely encircled (the Palestinian city of) Jaffa, forcing most of the remaining civilians to flee by sea to Gaza or Egypt; many drowned in the process, ” Khalidi wrote in Before Their Diaspora.

This tragedy has eventually grown to affect all Palestinians, everywhere within the borders of their historic homeland. Tens of thousands of refugees joined up with hundreds of thousands more at various dusty trails throughout the country, growing in numbers as they walked further, to finally pitch their tents in areas that, then were meant to be ‘temporary’ refugee encampments. Alas, these became the Palestinian refugee camps of today, starting some 70 years ago.

None of this was accidental. The determination of the early Zionists to establish a ‘national home’ for Jews at the expense of the country’s Palestinian Arab nation was communicated, openly, clearly and repeatedly throughout the formation of early Zionist thoughts, and the translation of those well-articulated ideas into physical reality.

70 years have passed since the Nakba’ – the ‘Catastrophe’ of 1948 – and neither Israel took responsibility for its action, nor Palestinian refugees received any measure of justice, however small or symbolic.

For Israel to be seeking compensation from Arab countries and Iran is a moral travesty, especially as Palestinian refugees continue to languish in refugee camps across Palestine and the Middle East.

Yes, indeed “the time has come to correct the historic injustice,” not of Israel’s alleged ‘pogroms’ carried out by Arabs and Iranians, but the real and most tragic destruction of Palestine and its people.

The Plight of Children in a Neoliberal World

The New York Times wrote Christmas Day that an 8-year old Guatemalan boy died in US Border Control custody. The circumstances are not clear, or are simply not reported. A month earlier, a 7-year old girl, also from Guatemala, died also in US Border Control custody. Here too, the circumstances are not revealed. How many more children, not mentioned by any media, or any statistics have already perished, trying to make their way to a better future?  A better future, because their real and beloved future in their own countries has been miserably destroyed by the US empire’s imposed corporate abuse and fascist-like dictatorships. But who cares? They are just children of illegal immigrants; children separated from their parents to dissuade parents to migrate to the US of A.  Welcome to paradise of hell!

Currently a large portion of the US Government is shut down, due to a budget dispute between President Trump and the ultra-right wing of the Republican Party breathing down his neck and the Democrats. At stake are US$5 billion for a Border Wall Trump requests as part of the general budget, and the Democrats refuse to sign-off on it. The Border Wall would have countless nefarious and more serious killer effects. More kids in border custody, some dehydrated, some simply exhausted from the long journey, some sick, all separated from their parents, maybe for good, and neglected by US Authorities, and most of them just simply left to their plight which, in many cases, may be death.

Welcome to the Land of the Free, the land of exemplary democracy!

Are Trump and his handlers murderers? Yes, they are. There is absolutely no doubt. Not just for the abject, inhuman abuse of migrants and migrant children, but for killing children and adults in the ever-increasing number of wars and conflicts around the globe, waged and initiated by the US, NATO, and the European puppets’ armies. He,Trump, could stop them at once. He may risk his life, but somebody who aspires to such high office must take risks. Besides, his life may be at stake for many more reasons. Enemies abound. A life is just a life, highly precious, though, to be saved by all means, but killing wantonly millions of children – the future of civilization – what is that if not a crime of the very, very highest degree, a crime of unfathomable dimensions, a crime that should be punishable by – well, let’s just call it by a war crimes court à la Nuremberg.

If someone would tell Trump that he is a murderer, would he grasp it? Would his conscience kick in and make him realize what he
is doing, he the all-powerful, who could stop it all? Or would he simply call his secret service to arrest you and put you behind bars for insulting him, albeit, telling him the truth?  We may never know. I have asked a similar question about Obama. How can they sleep at night? Do they take a pill that eradicates their conscience, their human brain power?  I truly wonder. It’s been known forever that power intoxicates. But to that extent? No repenting, not even after the four- or eight-year’s tour of duty?  No. Rather collect astronomical talking fees, cash-in on the power of indiscriminate killing.

Trump’s predecessors for hundred-plus years back belong to the same clan of criminals. Their crimes have become the new normal. The west watches over their killings on TV with media reports that banalize war and war death as normal, because war is war where it belongs to. And it’s so profitable. It’s the industry of killing – killing babies and their mothers, adolescents, starving them to death, destroying their systems of minimal hygiene – Yemen – a case in point; Syria is in the same league, Afghanistan, Iraq — the list is endless. Hundreds of thousands of children were killed and are still being killed in the world’s longest war, seventeen years and counting in Afghanistan. Nobody seems to care. Afghanistan, one of the resource richest countries on earth, has no future; not as long as it is dominated by greedy, murderous western powers, ahead of all – the corporate and military US of A.

Killing is the name of the game. And mind you, this killing spree is driven by a blood-thirsty elite of bankers, pharma-kings, weapon industrialists, GMO-agri-businesses, hydrocarbon kingpins – a dark deep-state elite that feeds on the idea that the world is over-populated and must be reduced by factors of thousands, so that this small elite may survive much longer on the ever-diminishing resources of Mother Earth.

This is no joke. Infamous top war criminal, Henry Kissinger, propagated this idea already in the 1960s as a prominent member of the Rockefeller clan, called “Bilderberg Society”. The Bilderbergers’ objective Numero Uno is just that – reducing the world population by any means. War is one of them. And who to target best?  Children, of course. They are the gene-bearers of future generations. If gone, there are no off-springs, nobody to lead the world into a better future, a future of peace – yes, a future of peace, because these children have known war and would most likely opt for a different set of life values.

And imagine the suffering of these children until they eventually succumb to death?  Many without parents, without shelter, food, health care, let alone minimal education, being exposed to the abuses of humanity – unpaid hard labor, rape, diseases. The west not just watches on, but helps their plight along by supplying weapons, bullets, bombs to those who do the killing.

The western public takes it as, well, the new normal. We can’t imagine a world without war, a world in peace. That’s the extent to which we have been indoctrinated. And as we live in comfort what is easier to believe than what we are told by the presstitute? No worries, our leaders (sic) do the right thing; we are safe. And just in case there is any doubt, the governments concerned ‘launch’ a ‘false flag’ terror attack, justifying more severe crack-downs on the population to, indeed, keep them safe by militarization of society, all the while continuing killing children with their mothers and relatives, children alone, children on the move as refugees, children as slaves, children uncounted by any statistics.

Trump, yes, he is a murderer. And the Border Wall is a murder weapon. Assassins are also Trump’s predecessors, not least Obama, who knowingly killed thousands of children through his extra-judiciary drone attacks – and let’s stress this – of which he boasted to personally approve each and every one of these drone killings. Clinton killed Haitians by the thousands, many of them children, through his forced “free” trade agreements, giving US corporations access to child labor, miserably paid child labor, which was and is nothing more than legalized enslavement, often leading to impoverishment, famine, disease and death.

When will justice be done? Or, are we talking about justice ‘after death’? Are we talking about a collective Karma that will eventually pull our entire civilization down the drain into an inescapable abyss, giving room to a new beginning?

• First published at New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

Cyprus: Deadly UK Military Bases, Refugee Camps … and Tourists

Believe it or not, but not long ago, Cyprus used to be the only country in the European Union that was governed by a Communist Party. And it was not really too long ago – between 2008 and 2013.

Also, relatively recently, unification of the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish administered northern part of the island, appeared to be achievable.

And when Cyprus, like Greece, almost collapsed financially, it was Russia which offered to bail it out (before the EU did all it could to prevent this from happening).

Now it all seems like ancient history.

The city of Nicosia is still divided, with the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish immigration check-points located right in the middle of an old town. Graffiti painted in ‘no man’s land’ demand an immediate end to the conflict: ‘One country; one nation solution’.

The crossing is busy. And to make it all somehow more colorful, perhaps, there is a huge white Pitbull, phlegmatically hanging around the border area. It does not bark; it is just there. Nobody knows whether he belongs to the Turkish or the Greek side, but it appears that he spends more time with the Turks, as, I suppose, they feed him better.

The Greek-speaking side of Nicosia looks like a slightly run-down EU provincial town. On their flank, Turks are smoking shisha (traditional Middle Eastern waterpipe), and their cafes appear to be more traditional, and the old architecture more elegant. In the southern part, freshly brewed coffee is called ‘Greek’, while a few meters north, you have to order ‘Turkish’, or at least ‘Arabic coffee’. Needless to say, you get the same stuff on both sides.

Otherwise, it is one island, one history and one sad and unnecessary partition.

*****

The division of the nation is not the only madness here. Before you get used to the idea, you may go mental, finding out that there are two British administered territories still engraved into the island.

If you drive around, you will never notice that you are actually leaving Cyprus, and entering the U.K. Some car license plates are different to those regular Cypriot ones, but that’s about it.

You cross an invisible line, and you are in the UK; historically the most aggressive (militarily and ideologically) nation on the face of the earth.

You drive through some agricultural fields, but soon you see something very eerie all around the road: a few kilometers after passing the historic Crusader’s Kolossi Castle, there is an ocean of masts of different heights and shapes, as well as concrete, fortified military installations. The masts are ‘decorated’ with strange looking wires. It all looks like some old Sci-Fi movie.

Entrance to Akrotiri RAF base

Of course, if you come ‘prepared’, you know what you are facing: tremendous installations of the BBC propaganda apparatus aimed at destabilizing and indoctrinating the Middle East. But that is not all. This entire enclave – ‘Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri’ (as well as Dhekelia a few dozens of miles to the east) – is here mostly in order to spy on the ‘neighborhood’ of the Middle East. While London is some 4 hours flight away, Syria is just a short distance across the water, and so is Lebanon.

Vile British military installations in Akrotir

Further south, after you leave the propaganda and spy installations behind, is a small village of Akrotiri; a typical picturesque Cypriot charming settlement, with an old church, narrow streets and humble local cafes. It sits on top of the hill. But you are, actually, inside the U.K. From here, you can see the blue sea, a salt lake and the city of Limassol; but you are on British turf. How come? Simple: after Cyprus achieved independence from the British Empire, in 1960, the Brits ‘were concerned’ that they could lose control over their military bases in Cyprus, and at least partially, influence over the Middle East. As this being unimaginable to the British imperialist mind, the U.K. arm-twisted the Cypriots into this bizarre arrangement which holds to this day.

One more kilometer further south, and you hit the wall and a gate, decorated with threatening warnings. You are at the perimeter of the RAF Akrotiri base. From here, since December 2015, the RAF is carrying out illegal (according to international law) airstrikes against the sovereign Syrian Arab Republic.

According to Jeffrey Richelson and Desmond Ball, The Ties the Bind: Intelligence Cooperation between the UKUSA Countries, (Unwin Hyman, Boston/London and others, 1990, p.194 note 145):

As of 2010, around 3,000 troops of British Forces Cyprus are based at Akrotiri and Dhekelia. Ayios Nikolaos Station, in the ESBA, is an ELINT (electronic intelligence) listening station of the UKUSA Agreement intelligence network.

That was then, but now things are getting even deadlier. Practically, the U.K. is at war with Syria. Many in Cyprus are deeply concerned that Syria could retaliate, sending missiles against the RAF bases, from which it is being bombed (legally, independent Syria has the full right to defend itself against the attacks from abroad). Such retaliation could endanger the lives of the inhabitants of Cyprus.

There have been protests and demands for the British forces to return to Cyprus both of the ‘sovereign bases’, but the U.K. shows no interest in ceding what it controls.

As early as in 2008, former left-wing President Demetris Christofias (who was also the General Secretary of AKEL, the Communist Party of Cyprus) tried to remove all British forces from the island, calling them a “colonial bloodstain”. However, he did not succeed, and in 2013 he decided to step down and not to seek re-election.

Dhekelia Base is carved into the eastern part of Cyprus, bizarrely encircling both Turkish-controlled and Greek-speaking villages.

In the past, the Cypriots fought against the British presence. Nowadays, in the era of omnipresent surveillance, sabotages and resistance had been replaced by toothless protests. Still, hundreds of local people have been detained, demanding the departure of British troops from the island.

*****

Cyprus is still divided, although reunification talks began, once again, in 2015. Now it is possible to walk between the Republic of Cyprus and Northern Cyprus (controlled by Turkey).

It was not always this way. As Papadakis Yiannis wrote:

On 15 July 1974, the Greek military junta under Dimitrios Ioannides carried out a coup d’état in Cyprus, to unite the island with Greece.

Thousands of Turkish residents were displaced, many killed. Turkey invaded and the island got divided. But inter-cultural violence dated even further back than 1974. The history can be felt on every corner of Nicosia, and in many villages of the island. Northern Cyprus was never recognized by any other country except Turkey, but the division is still there. There are still entire de-populated towns that used to belong to the displaced Turkish and Greek inhabitants.

One of the eeriest is Kofinou, in the south of the island, which suffered on at least two occasions, unprecedented ethnic violence, which could be defined as ‘cleansing’. Once inhabited mainly by the Turkish Cypriots, Kofinou is now a ghost town, dotted with collapsed houses and agricultural structures, with foreign guest workers and farm animals living in appalling conditions.

*****

Cyprus has two faces. It is proud to be one of the famous European tourist destinations. It is an EU member.

Simultaneously, it is a symbol of division.

Border fences between the Republic of Cyprus and Northern Cyprus are scarring its beautiful countryside. Deadly British military installations, the air force bases, as well as propaganda warfare and disinformation campaigns are brutalizing, physically and morally, almost the entire Middle East.

Here, in Cyprus, European and Russian tourists coexist, uneasily. The ideological war between the West and the rest of the planet is clearly felt in Pathos and other historic areas of the island.

Some British residents (around 50,000 of them), as well as countless British tourists, often behave insultingly towards the generally humble Russian visitors. Here, the British Empire still appears to be ‘in charge’.

In the port of Pathos, I passed by an elderly Russian couple, who seemed to be simply admiring an old water castle. A British couple was passing by, then looked back and forged sarcastic, rude grimaces: “Those Russians,” uttered the man. This was not the only instance when I witnessed this sort of behavior.

In Cyprus, I drove exactly 750 kilometers, all around the island, trying to understand and define its present position, and its role in the ‘area’ and in the world.

I hoped to find reminiscences of at least some revolutionary spirit of the Communist (AKEL) government. But I almost exclusively found pragmatism, so typical for basically all European Union countries. Only questions like this were common: ‘Would Brexit be good or bad for Cyprus?’ Or: ‘Would the bombing of Syria be dangerous for the citizens of Cyprus?’

Symbolically, near the village of Kofinou, destroyed by the inter-cultural violence several decades ago, I found a tough-looking refugee camp, built mainly for the immigrants coming from the destabilized Middle East. It looks like a concentration camp. Locals call it, realistically, a ‘prison’. Most likely, it is.

As I was driving around the area, I spotted, just a few kilometers from the camp, in front of an eerie and semi-abandoned farm, a huge goat. It was on its side; dying, in agony, in the middle of the road.

Cyprus has become a divided island with some hedonistic resorts, but also with terribly marginalized communities, located all over its territory.

One could easily conclude: this former British colony is still allowing, for a fee, the tremendous presence of the British/NATO military forces, as well as various spy facilities and propaganda outlets. RAF Tornado jetfighters are presently flying their ‘missions’ against Syria. Missiles are being fired from Akrotiri. People fleeing from the destroyed countries of the Middle East, are then detained in Cyprus, like criminals, behind barbed wire.

In the meantime, the people of Cyprus are calculating, whether all this is truly feasible, or not; whether to be an outpost of the empire is a good business, for as long as it pays, they will do very little to change the situation. Despite of its complex past and present, as well as its proximity to the Middle East, Cyprus is, after all, an integral part of Europe, and therefore of the Western empire.

• Originally published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

Is There a Plot to Depopulate Palestinian Refugee Camps in Lebanon?

An eerie video composed of a recorded audio prayer and a photo of one ‘Hajj Jamal Ghalaini’ occasionally pops up on Facebook. The voice is that of an alleged religious sheikh, praying for the well-being of the man in the photo for saving the Palestinian refugee youth of Lebanon, by facilitating their departure to Europe.

The video would have been just another odd social media post, were it not for the fact that Ghalaini is a real person, with his name recurring in the ongoing tragedy of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Many have credited their successful ‘escape’ from Lebanon by citing this person, who, kindly, they say, has made the journey to Europe far cheaper than all other human smugglers.

We know little about Ghalaini, except that he seems to operate brazenly, without much legal repercussions from Lebanese authorities or the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is, supposedly, the caretaker of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Something strange is going on.

Immediately after the US Administration of Donald Trump began to promote its ‘Deal of the Century’, Palestinian refugees – a fundamental issue in the Palestinian national struggle which has been relegated years ago – have, once more, taken center-stage.

Although Trump’s plan is yet to be fully revealed, early indications suggest it drives to sideline Jerusalem entirely from any future agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and Trump’s own assertion that ‘Jerusalem is off the table’ is enough to confirm this assumption.

Another component of Trump’s ‘deal’ is to resolve the issue of refugees without their repatriation and without respecting international law, especially United Nations Resolution 194, which calls for the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, who were driven out from their homes in historic Palestine in 1948.

Many news reports have been pointing to an elaborate American plot to downgrade the status of refugees, to argue against UN figures indicating their actual numbers and to choke off UNRWA, the UN organization responsible for refugees’ welfare, from badly needed funds.

Lebanon has been a major platform for the ongoing campaign targeting Palestinian refugees, particularly because the refugee population in that country is significant in terms of numbers and their plight most urgent in terms of its need for remedy.

There appears to be an active plan, involving several parties, to deprive Lebanon’s Palestinian population from their refugee status and to circumvent the ‘Right of Return’.

To some, this may seem like wishful thinking, since the ‘Right of Return’ is ‘inalienable’, thus non-negotiable.

Yet, obviously, without refugees collectively demanding such a right, the issue could move from being an urgent, tangible demand into a sentimental one that is impossible to achieve.

This is why the depopulation of Lebanon’s refugee camps, which is happening at an alarming speed, should worry Palestinians more than any other issue at the moment.

I spoke to Samaa Abu Sharar, a Palestinian activist in Lebanon and the director of the Majed Abu Sharar Media Foundation. She narrated that the nature of the conversation among refugees has changed in recent years. In the past, “almost everybody from young to old spoke about their wish of returning to Palestine one day; at present the majority, particularly the youth, only express one wish: to leave for any other country that would receive them.”

It is common knowledge that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are marginalized and mistreated most, when compared to other refugee populations in the Middle East. They are denied most basic human rights enjoyed by Lebanese or foreign groups in Lebanon, or even rights granted to refugees under international conventions. This includes the right to work, as they are denied access to 72 different professions.

Left hopeless, with a life of neglect and utter misery in 12 refugee camps and other ‘gatherings’ across Lebanon, Palestinian refugees have persisted for many years, driven by the hope of going back to their Palestinian homeland one day.

But the refugees and their Right of Return are no longer a priority for the Palestinian leadership. In fact, this has been the case for nearly two decades.

The situation has worsened. With the Syrian war, tens of thousands more refugees flooded the camps, which lacked most basic services. This misery was further accentuated when UNRWA, under intense US pressure, was forced to cancel or downgrade many of its essential services.

A suspiciously timed census, the first of its kind, by the Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics, conducted jointly with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics last December, resolved that the number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon stands at only 175,000.

The timing is interesting because the survey was conducted at a time that the US Administration has been keen to lower the number of Palestinian refugees, in anticipation of any future agreement between the PA and Israel.

According to UNRWA statistics, there are more than 450,000 Palestinian refugees who are registered with the UN.

There is no denial about an influx of Palestinian refugees wanting to leave Lebanon. Some have done so successfully, only to find themselves contending with the misery of yet a new refugee status in Europe. Expectedly, some have returned.

Clearly there are those who are keen to rid Lebanon of its Palestinian population, thus the disregard for Ghalaini and other such human trafficking networks.

“There is more than one organized network that facilitate the immigration of Palestinians at prices that have recently gone down to make it more accessible to a larger number of people,” Abu Sharar told me. The conclusion that many of these young men and women now draw is that “there is no future for them in Lebanon.”

This is not the happy, triumphant ending that generations of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have hoped and fought for over the years.

Ignoring the misery of Palestinian refugees of Lebanon is now coming at a heavy price. Relegating their plight till ‘the final status negotiations’, a pipe dream that never actualized, is now leading to a two-fold crisis: the worsening suffering of hundreds of thousands of people and the systematic destruction of one of the main pillars of the Palestinian refugees ‘Right of Return.’

The Real Face of Justin Trudeau: Are Palestinians Canada’s New Jews?

How does one explain Canada’s contradictory foreign policy regarding Palestine and Israel?

On December 4, Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Saeb Erekat, praised Canada’s commitment not to follow the footsteps of the US Donald Trump Administration by transferring its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

But there is little worth praising here. Respecting the internationally-recognized status of Jerusalem is a legally-binding commitment to international law. The fact that the US chose to violate the law, hardly makes the opposite act heroic in itself.

Only five days earlier, on November 30, Canada joined a tiny minority of states, including Israel, the US, Australia and the Marshall Islands to vote ‘no’ against a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution titled, “Peaceful Settlement on the Question of Palestine.” The Canadian government that is keen to present itself as a model, neoliberal, progressive country, even the antithesis to the US’ hawkish policies, voted against a resolution that calls “for intensified efforts by the parties … to conclude a final peace settlement”.

If you find such behaviour confusing, then you are not paying attention. Canada has not changed at all. It is our understanding of Canadian foreign policy that has almost always been marred with a true lack of understanding.

And there is a good reason for that. The Canadian government has mastered the art of political branding. The only period in modern American history that is comparable to Canada’s successful political propaganda was the presidency of Barack Obama.

Obama deported 2.5 million immigrants, compared to the 2 million deported by his predecessor, George W. Bush; he dropped more bombs and did his utmost to bail out America’s most corrupt financial institutions; yet somehow many liberals thought of him as the ideological marriage of Che Guevara and Malcolm X, with the refined eloquence of James Baldwin.

Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau – seen as the ‘human face of neoliberalism’ – is an even more successful brand than Obama. Unlike the former US president, there is very little discussion about Trudeau’s undeserved credentials.

While positioned as the political opposite of former conservative Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, they are both committed to the ideology of neoliberalism.

Trudeau’s ‘human face of neoliberalism’ is nothing but a carefully-constructed mask meant to hide the hypocritical and militant policies that Canada continues to lead.

Nothing exemplifies Trudeau’s duplicitous policies than his horrific record on Palestine.

And before the Trudeau fan-club impulsively reacts to the above assertion, marvel at this fact: In the first 18 months of his mandate, Trudeau voted against 16 UNGA resolutions that were critical of Israel.

It has been argued that Canada’s foreign policy and its UN voting records are often inconsistent. This, however, seems to apply only to the Israeli crimes against Palestinians.

When Trudeau defeated Harper, many breathed a sigh of relief, particularly because of the latter’s blind support for Israel.

So is Trudeau really different, deserving of this much affection, to the point of adoration?

Let’s consult the facts.

The page on Trudeau government’s website entitled, “Canadian Policy on Key Issues in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict” is almost an exact replica of Harper’s, with one notable exception. On Trudeau’s page, his government recognizes “experience of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, who were displaced after 1948.”

The above is a misconstrued version of history that has been injected by Zionists whenever the rights of Palestinian refugees – who were displaced by Jewish militants during the 1948 ethnic-cleansing of Palestine – is brought up.

The very first ‘key issue’ for Trudeau’s government is “Support for Israel and Its Security.”

Trudeau makes the claim that his government’s assessment of UN resolutions is guided by “its merits and consistency with (Canadian) principles.”

Harper seemingly defied these ‘principles’ on numerous occasions, notably when his government voted against UN Resolutions critical of Israel: 66/17 in 2012; 67/23 and 68/15, in 2013, 69/23 in 2014.

But Harper’s exit did not usher in a new moral age for Canada. On the contrary, Ottawa’s love affair with Israel intensified.

Aside from carrying on with the same anti-Palestinian attitude at the UN, on November 24, 2015, the Trudeau government even voted against UNGA Resolution 70/15, which reaffirmed the “illegality of the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 including East Jerusalem.”

Such a vote even goes against Canada’s own declared position on the illegal Jewish settlements.

This should not come as a surprise, though. Hypocrisy and double-speak has become a prominent feature of Canada’s foreign policy. Take Ottawa’s stance on terrorism, for example.

In its ‘key issues’ on Israel and Palestine, the Canadian government “condemns all acts of terrorism”, but it later qualifies what that means in actuality.

“Canada has listed Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and other groups as terrorist organizations,” it elaborated. Not only did it fail to link any Jewish group as terrorist, or, at least, emphasize the need to prosecute war criminals (in this case, Israeli leaders), it linked Palestinians and Arabs alone to acts of terrorism.

According to this logic, only Arabs seem capable of carrying out acts of terror.

But what if Palestinians decided to use popular, non-violent and democratic means to display resistance? They did, and were still condemned for it.

In 2016, with much personal enthusiasm by Trudeau himself, the Canadian Parliament overwhelmingly voted in favour of a motion that condemned the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).

Since then, Trudeau has made his anti-BDS policy a fixture in his government’s attitude towards the Palestinians.

Last month, he sank to his lowest point yet when, in a speech he made to apologize for Canada’s immoral act of rejecting Jewish refugees escaping Nazi atrocities in 1939, he directly linked BDS with anti-Semitism.

“Anti-Semitism is far too present,” he said, as “Jewish students still feel unwelcomed and uncomfortable on some of our colleges and university campuses because of BDS-related intimidation.”

Linking BDS with his country’s disgraceful anti-Semitism against refugees decades ago might have been a masterful stroke by his pro-Israeli speech writers. However, swapping historic hate for Jews with modern hate for Palestinians shows that Canada has learned nothing from its sordid past.

Trudeau and his government will certainly be judged by future generations, as his predecessors were judged for their past sins, for choosing, despite the passage of time, to stand on the wrong side of history.