Category Archives: Refugees

End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis

Europe is facing the most significant refugee crisis since World War II. All attempts at resolving the issue have failed, mostly because they have ignored the root causes of the problem.

On June 11, Italy’s new Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, blocked the Aquarius rescue ship, carrying 629 refugees and economic migrants, from docking at its ports.

A statement by Doctors without Borders (MSF) stated that the boat was carrying 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women.

“From now on, Italy begins to say NO to the traffic of human beings, NO to the business of illegal immigration,” said Salvini, who also heads the far-right League Party.

The number of refugees was repeated in news broadcasts time and again, as a mere statistic. In reality, it is 629 precious lives at stake, each with a compelling reason why she/he has undertaken the deadly journey.

While the cruelty of refusing entry to a boat laden with desperate refugees is obvious, it has to be viewed within a larger narrative pertaining to the rapidly changing political landscape in Europe and the crises under way in the Middle East and North Africa.

Italy’s new government, a coalition of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement and the far-right League party, seems intent on stopping the flow of refugees into the country, as promised on the campaign trail.

However, if politicians continue to ignore the root causes of the problem, the refugee crisis will not go away on its own.

The disturbing truth is this: Europe is accountable for much of the mayhem under way in the Middle East. Right-wing pundits may wish to omit that part of the debate altogether, but facts will not simply disappear when ignored.

European politicians should honestly confront the question: what are the reasons that lead millions of people to leave their homes? And fashion equally honest and humane solutions.

In 2017, an uprising-turned-civil-war in Syria led to the exodus of millions of Syrian refugees.

Ahmed is a 55-year old Syrian refugee, who fled the country with his wife and two children. His reason for leaving was no other than the grinding, deadly war.

He told the UN Refugees Agency: “I was born in Homs and I wanted to live there until the end, but this vicious war left us no other choice but to leave all behind. For the sake of my children’s future we had to take the risk.”

“I had to pay the smuggler eight thousand US dollars for each member of my family. I’ve never done anything illegal in my whole life, but there was no other solution.”

Saving his family meant breaking the rules; millions would do the same thing if confronted with the same grim dilemma. In fact, millions have.

African immigrants are often blamed for ‘taking advantage’ of the porous Libyan coastline to ‘sneak’ into Europe. Yet, many of those refugees had lived peacefully in Libya and were forced to flee following the NATO-led war on that country in March 2011.

“I’m originally from Nigeria and I had been living in Libya for five years when the war broke out,” wrote Hakim Bello in the Guardian.

“I had a good life: I was working as a tailor and I earned enough to send money home to loved ones. But after the fighting started, people like us – black people – became very vulnerable. If you went out for something to eat, a gang would stop you and ask if you supported them. They might be rebels, they might be government, you didn’t know.”

The security mayhem in Libya led not only to the persecution of many Libyans, but also millions of African workers, like Bello, as well. Many of those workers could neither go home nor stay in Libya. They, too, joined the dangerous mass escapes to Europe.

War-torn Afghanistan has served as the tragic model of the same story.

Ajmal Sadiqi escaped Afghanistan, which has been in a constant state of war for many years, a war that took a much deadlier turn since the US invasion in 2001.

Sadiqi told CNN that the vast majority of those who joined him on his journey from Afghanistan, through other countries to Turkey, Greece and other EU countries, died along the way. But, like many in his situation, he had few alternatives.

“Afghanistan has been at war for 50 years and things are never going to change,” he said.

“Here, I have nothing, but I feel safe. I can walk on the street without being afraid.”

Alas, that sense of safety is, perhaps, temporary. Many in Europe are refusing to examine their own responsibility in creating or feeding conflicts around the world, while perceiving the refugees as a threat.

Despite the obvious correlation between western-sustained wars and the EU’s refugee crisis, no moral awakening is yet to be realized. Worse still, France and Italy are now involved in exploiting the current warring factions in Libya for their own interests.

Syria is not an entirely different story. There, too, the EU is hardly innocent.

The Syria war has resulted in a massive influx of refugees, most of whom are hosted by neighboring Middle Eastern countries, but many have sailed the sea to seek safety in Europe.

“All of Europe has a responsibility to stop people from drowning. It’s partly due to their actions in Africa that people have had to leave their homes,” said Bello.

“Countries such as Britain, France, Belgium and Germany think they are far away and not responsible, but they all took part in colonizing Africa. NATO took part in the war in Libya. They’re all part of the problem.”

Expectedly, Italy’s Salvini and other like-minded politicians refuse to frame the crisis that way.

They use whichever discourse needed to guarantee votes, while ignoring the obvious fact that, without military interventions, economic exploitation and political meddling, a refugee crisis – at least one of this magnitude – could exist in the first place.

Until this fact is recognized by EU governments, the flow of refugees will continue, raising political tension and contributing to the tragic loss of lives of innocent people, whose only hope is merely to survive.

(Romana Rubeo, an Italian writer contributed to this article) 

Dark Precedents: Matteo Salvini, the MV Tampa and Refugees

In August 2001, Australia’s dour Prime Minister John Howard demonstrated to the world what his country’s elite soldiers could do. Desperate, close to starvation and having been rescued at sea from the Palapa I in the Indian Ocean, refugees and asylum seekers on the Norwegian vessel, the MV Tampa, were greeted by the “crack” troops of the Special Air Services.

A bitter, politicised standoff ensued.  The Norwegian vessel had initially made its way to the Indonesian port of Merak, but then turned towards the Australian territory of Christmas Island.  Howard, being the political animal he was, had to concoct a crisis to distract.  The politics of fear had a better convertibility rate than the politics of hope.

Australian authorities rebuked and threatened the container ship’s captain, claiming that if Rinnan refused to change course from entering Australia’s territorial sea, he would be liable to prosecution for people smuggling.  The vessel was refused docking at Christmas Island.  As was remarked a few years later by Mary Crock in the Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal, “The stand taken by Australia in August 2001 set a precedent that, if followed by other refugee receiving countries, could only worsen the already deplorable problems facing asylum seekers in the world today.”

And so it has transpired. Italy’s response to the migrant rescue ship, MV Aquarius, eerily evoked the Tampa and its captain’s plight.  The charity ship, carrying some 629 African refugees, found all Italian ports closed to it under the express orders of Matteo Salvini, who has debuted in stormy fashion as Italy’s new deputy prime minister and minister for the interior.

Salvini had, at first instance, pressed Malta to accept the human cargo, but only got an offer of assistance with air evacuations.  “The good God,” he bitterly surmised, “put Malta closer to Africa than Sicily.”  The result was initial diplomatic inertia, followed by growing humanitarian crisis, and a Spanish offer to accept the vessel.

The situation clearly, as it did in the case of the Tampa, was calculated for maximum political bruising.  One of Salvini’s many political hats is federal secretary of the populist Lega party, which capitalised, along with the Five Star Movement, on the shambles of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s failure to form a government in May.  The nature of that calculation was made clearer by the uneventful rescue of 937 refugees off the Libyan coast who were taken to Catania in Sicily by the Italian warship, the Diciotti on Tuesday. Little fuss arose from that engagement.

The target seemed to be the French-based non-governmental organisation SOS Méditerranée, who so happens to own the Aquarius.  The implication here is the Salvini camp are none too pleased with those rescue organisations they accuse of feeding a people smuggling racket.

Again, this very sentiment accords with Australia’s manic obsession in breaking what is termed by all major parties to be a “market model” that ignores humanity for profit.  In categorising such activity with an accountant’s sensibility, it becomes easier to dispose of the human subjects in a more cavalier manner.

The sentiments expressed by the newly emboldened Italian authorities do not merely speak volumes to a change of heart which, given the boatloads of irregular arrivals in the wake of Libya’s collapse in 2011, was bound to happen.  They point to a disintegration of a common front regarding the rescue and processing of asylum seekers and refugees, a general fracturing of the European approach to a problem that has been all too disparate in responses.

Over the last few years, the number of arrivals fell but this has been occasioned by patchwork interventions by such countries as Greece, which has in its place a questionable agreement with Ankara to keep a lid on arrivals from Syria. Italy has much the same with Libya, courtesy of a 2017 memorandum of understanding hammered out by Marco Minniti ostensibly in the field of security and cooperation to stem illegal immigration.  Salvini lay, in due course, in not-so-quiet incubation, becoming a vocal representative of a front suspicious of intentions in Brussels and northern European states.

Righteous France, fuming at Italy’s conduct, has done its bit to keep pathways to its territory with Italy shut.  Ditto Austria.  Other states such as Spain and Malta have preferred indifference, leading to the assertion by Salvini that his country has become the “refugee camp of Europe”.

For the interior minister, the Australian “stop the boats” mantra is something like a godsend, a note of clarity in the humanitarian murkiness.  He has also admired the firm-fisted approach of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who supplied Salvini with ample electoral ammunition on the refugee crisis in Europe, not to mention those bleeding, yet stingy hearts in Brussels.

The Tampa platform has become something of an inspiration to a range of European politicians, be it Germany’s Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer, and Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, not to mention Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.  They form a collective of hardening irritables who are taking the issue of regulating refugees away from the centralised assumptions of the EU polity.

The Italian government’s plans on the issue of irregular migration refocus interest in evaluating asylum applications in countries of origin or transit, stemming migrant flows at external borders, targeting international trafficking utilising the assistance of other EU states, and establishing (Australian politicians would delight in this) detention centres in all of Italy’s 20 regions. The standout feature here is abolishing the Dublin Regulation obliging countries on the border of the EU – and in this, Italy is most prone – to host arrivals.

Had the warnings and urgings of the previous Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni been heeded, notably on the sharing of the housing and processing burdens across other countries, the spectacle of a rebuffed Aquarius may well have been averted.  EU complicity in this debacle is unquestionable and it is not merely refugees who need rescuing, but the European Project itself, which will require a Good Samaritan to storm in with vision and purpose.  To save one may well save the other.

States of Cruelty: The Dead Refugees of Manus

In those seemingly interminable refugee debates being held in various countries, cruelty is pure theatre. It is directed, stage managed, the victims treated as mere marionettes in a play of putrid public policy and indifferent public officials.  Barriers have been set; barbed wire has been put in place. Open zones such as the European Union are being internally bordered up, the principle of mobility derided and assaulted.

In all of this, Australia has remained a paragon to be emulated. It first began with tentative steps: the establishment of onshore detention facilities at Villawood, Sydney and Port Headland, Western Australia, in 1991.  Then came that vile concept of mandatory detention, introduced in 1992.  The hobgoblin of offshore detention, financed afar by the Australian tax payer, would come with the Howard government.

The worded rationale since the Hawke years has tended to follow variants of the same, only differing in terms of shrillness and savagery. “Australia,” came the grave words of the Hawke government, “could be on the threshold of a major wave of unauthorised boat arrivals from south-east Asia, which will severely test both our resolve and our capacity to ensure that immigration in this country is conducted within a planned and controlled framework”.

The list of obituaries arising from such a policy is growing and should be chiselled into a wall of remembrance.  There is the Kurdish-Iranian refugee Fazel Chegeni, who perished on Christmas Island in November 2015 after escaping the North West Point detention centre.  His state of mental deterioration had been documented, along with three reported attempts at suicide.

There is the youthful Hamid Kehazaei, who succumbed to sepsis after his request for a medical transfer was sternly refused, only to then flounder before the overgrown resistance of Canberra’s bureaucracy. The details of his maltreatment laid before the Queensland coroner Terry Ryan have proven to be kaleidoscopically torturous: the refusal to supply intravenous paracetamol for two nights in a row; suffering hypoxia; being left unsheltered at the airfield un-sedated.

The case of Manus is particularly grotesque, given the decision made by the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court in 2016 that detaining people indefinitely was decidedly illegal, a constitutional violation of personal liberty. Those facilities replacing the camp have done little to arrest the decline of health of the remaining population.

Earlier this week, a Rohingya refugee by the name of Salim was found dead in an apparent suicide, taking to seven the number of asylum seekers and refugees who have met gruesome ends on Manus since July 2013.  He had jumped from a moving bus near the refugee transition centre, and duly struck by its wheels.  The Refugee Action Coalition’s Ian Rintoul was adamant: “He should not have been taken there in 2013, and he should not have been returned there after he was brought to Australia for medical treatment in 2014.”

Farce became tragedy when a call by a staff member of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to Salim’s spouse revealed, prior to any notification from Australian officials, that her husband had committed suicide.  The worker in question, a certain Kon Karapanagiotidis, was, by his own admission “lost for words”.

During Question Time, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton exercised his long held approach of rebuking the heart sleeve wearers. “I’m not going to take a morals lecture from the Greens when it comes to border protection policy.”  His own department, also adopting another standard line to questions on Salim’s death, deemed it “a matter for the PNG government.”

What is in place in Australia’s singularly styled gulag is a measure of calculated degradation, a brutal hierarchy of violence manufactured to defeat the spirit and aspiration of the UN Refugee Convention.  Few countries of the nominal democratic world have been so avidly dedicated to this cause, citing counterfeit humanitarian considerations even as the noose – quite literally – is being tightened.

Adding to the heavy handed attempts by those in Canberra to deter refugees and asylum seekers from contemplating a journey to Australia, resources and services are being trimmed back.  Nait Jit Lam, the UNHCR’s Deputy Regional Representative in Canberra, offered the following observation on May 22: “With the passage of too many years and the withdrawal or reduction of essential services, the already critical situation for refugees most in need continues to deteriorate.”

Medical care in acute situations is being refused, notably when it requires treatment that would only be possible on the Australian mainland.  The oldest Afghan Hazara held on Nauru, one Ali, is said to have advanced lung cancer.  He is being housed at the Australian-built RPC1 camp, a woefully inadequate, threadbare facility which is bearing witness to his last days.  Doctors have had the ear of the Australian Border Force, but the establishment remains stony towards calls for help.  The Department of Home Affairs has preferred to remind Ali that he best shove off his mortal coil back in Afghanistan.

The growing list of deaths, the burgeoning number of psychological wrecks, the casualty list in what can only be deemed a planned campaign against refugees and asylum seekers, is such that even the extreme centre, the Australian consensus approving such treatment, might be changing.

The Victorian State Labor conference, by way of example, will consider an urgency motion calling on the party, on winning federal office, “to close offshore detention centres, transit centres and other camps on Manus and Nauru within the first 90 days, and to bring all the children, women and men who are refugees or seeking asylum remaining there to Australia.”

As ever, such moves stem from the left wing of the party, those condemned as bleeding hearts or soggily wet with teary sentiment.  But in federal parliament, refugee advocates could get some hope at the remarks made by Labor MP Ged Kearney, fresh from her by-election victory in the Melbourne seat of Batman.

Still untainted by the wearing grime of the Labor Party apparatus, she could still state in her first speech to the federal parliament that Australia’s refugee policy was not only vicious but corrosive. “We are a rich country. We can afford to take more refugees. I doubt, however, we can afford the ongoing cost to our national psyche of subjecting men, women, children to years of indefinite detention in camps.”

Psyches captive to the police mentality that afflicts Dutton and government front benchers happily tolerate such ongoing costs.  As would many of those on the opposite of the aisle.  For such political creatures, deterring refugees who arrive outside that planned controlled framework stated by the Labor government of the early 1990s is not merely a job but a duty.

My Home is Beit Daras: Our Lingering Nakba

When Google Earth was initially released in 2001, I immediately rushed to locate a village that no longer exists on a map, which now delineates a whole different reality.

Although I was born and raised in a Gaza refugee camp, and then moved to and lived in the United States, finding a village that was erased from the map decades earlier was not, at least for me, an irrational act. The village of Beit Daras was the single most important piece of earth that truly mattered to me.

But I could only find it by estimation. Beit Daras was located 32-kilometers northeast of Gaza, on an elevated ground, perched gently between a large hill and a small river that seemed to never run dry.

A once peaceful village, Beit Daras had existed for millennia. Romans, Crusaders, Mamluks and Ottomans ruled over and, even tried to subdue Beit Daras as in all of Palestine; yet they failed. True, each invader left their mark – ancient Roman tunnels, a Crusaders’ castle, a Mamluk mail building, an Ottoman khan (Caravanserai) – but they were all eventually driven out. It wasn’t until 1948 that Beit Daras, that tenacious village with a population of merely 3,000 was emptied from its population, and later destroyed.

The agony of the inhabitants of Beit Daras and their descendants lingers on after all of these years. The tragic way that Beit Daras was conquered by invading Zionist forces has left behind blood stains and emotional scars that have never healed.

Three battles were bravely fought by the Badrasawis, as the dwellers of Beit Daras are called, in defense of their village. At the end, the Zionist militias, the Haganah, with the help of British weapons and strategic assistance, routed out the humble resistance, which consisted mostly of villagers fighting with old rifles.

The ‘massacre of Beit Daras’ that followed remains a subdued scream that pierces through the hearts of Badrasawis after all of these years. Those who survived became refugees and are mostly living in the Gaza Strip. Under siege, successive wars and endless strife, their Nakba – the catastrophic ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947-48 – has never truly ended. One cannot dispel the pain if the wound never truly heals.

Born into a family of refugees in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp in Gaza, I took pride in being a Badrasawi. Our resistance has garnered us the reputation of being ‘stubborn’ and the uncorroborated claims of having large heads. We truly are stubborn, proud and generous, for Beit Daras was erased but the collective identity it has given us remained intact, regardless of whichever exile we may find ourselves.

As I child, I learned to be proud from my grandfather: A handsome, elegant, strong peasant with unshakable faith. He managed to hide his deep sadness so well after he was expelled from his home in Palestine, along with his entire family. As he aged, he would sit for hours, between prayers, searching within his soul for the beautiful memories of his past. Occasionally, he would let out a mournful sigh, a few tears; yet he never accepted his defeat, or the idea that Beit Daras was forever gone.

“Why bother to haul the good blankets on the back of a donkey, exposing them to the dust of the journey, while we know that it’s a matter of a week or so before we return to Beit Daras?” he told his bewildered wife, Zeinab as they hauled their children to navigate an endless exile.

I cannot pinpoint the moment when my grandfather discovered that his “good blankets” were gone forever, that all that remained of his village were two giant concrete pillars, and piles of cactus.

It isn’t easy to construct a history that, only several decades ago, was, along with every standing building of that village, blown to smithereens with the very intent of erasing it from existence. Most historic references written of Beit Daras, whether by Israeli or Palestinian historians, were brief, and ultimately resulted in delineating the fall of Beit Daras as just one among nearly 600 Palestinian villages that were often evacuated and then completely flattened during the war years. It was another episode in a more compounded tragedy that has seen the dispossession and expulsion of nearly 800,000 Palestinians.

But for my family, it was much more than that. Beit Daras was our very dignity. Grandpas’ calloused hands and leathery weathered skin attested to the decades of hard labor tending the rocky soil in the fields of Palestine. It was a popular pastime for my brothers and I to point to a scar on his body to hear a gut-busting tale of the rigors of farm-life.

Later in life, someone would give him a small hand-held radio to glean the latest news and he would, from that moment, never be seen without it. As a child, I recall him listening to the Arab Voice news on that battered radio. It once had been blue but now had faded to white with age. Its bulging batteries were duct-taped to the back. Sitting with the radio up to his ear and fighting to hear the reporter amidst the static, grandpa listened and waited for the announcer to make that long-awaiting call: “To the people of Beit Daras: your lands have been liberated, go back to your village.”

The day grandpa died, his faithful radio was lying on the pillow close to his ear so that even then he might catch the announcement for which he had waited for so long. He wanted to comprehend his dispossession as a simple glitch in the world’s consciousness that was sure to be corrected and straightened out in time.

But it didn’t. 70 years later, my people are still refugees. Not just the Badrasawis, but millions of Palestinians, scattered in refugee camps all across the Middle East. Those refugees, while still searching for a safe path that would take them home, often find themselves on yet another journey, another dusty trail, being pushed out time and again from one city to the next, from one country to another, even lost between continents.

My grandfather was buried in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp cemetery, not in Beit Daras as he had wished. But he remained a Badrasawi to the end, holding so passionately onto the memories of a place that for him – for all of us – remain sacred and real.

What Israel still fails to understand that the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees is not merely a political or even a legal right to be overpowered by the ever-unfair status quo. It has longed surpassed that into a whole different realm. For me, Beit Daras is not just a piece of earth but a perpetual fight for justice that shall never cease, because the Badrasawis belong to Beit Daras and nowhere else.

Western Leaders Betrayed Palestinians 70 Years Ago; there is no sign that’s about to change

On Tuesday, Palestinians will commemorate the anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe, their mass expulsion and dispossession 70 years ago as the new state of Israel was built on the ruins of their homeland. As a result, most Palestinians were turned into refugees, denied by Israel the right to return to their homes.

Israel is braced nervously for many tens of thousands to turn out in the occupied territories this week to protest against decades of its refusal to make amends or end its oppressive rule.

The move on Monday of the US embassy to Jerusalem, a city under belligerent occupation, has only inflamed Palestinian grievances – and a sense that the West is still conspiring in their dispossession.

The expected focus of the protests is Gaza, where unarmed Palestinians have been massing every Friday since late March at the perimeter fence that encages two million of them.

For their troubles, they have faced a hail of live ammunition, rubber bullets and clouds of tear gas. Dozens have been killed and many hundreds more maimed, including children.

But for more than a month, Israel has been working to manage western perceptions of the protests in ways designed to discredit the outpouring of anger from Palestinians. In a message all too readily accepted by some western audiences, Israel has presented the protests as a “security threat”.

Israeli officials have even argued before the country’s high court that the protesters lack any rights – that army snipers are entitled to shoot them, even if facing no danger – because Israel is supposedly in a “state of war” with Gaza, defending itself.

Many Americans and Europeans, worried about an influx of “economic migrants” flooding into their own countries, readily sympathise with Israel’s concerns – and its actions.

Until now, the vast majority of Gaza’s protesters have been peaceful and made no attempt to break through the fence.

But Israel claims that Hamas will exploit this week’s protests in Gaza to encourage Palestinians to storm the fence. The implication is that the protesters will be crossing a “border” and “entering” Israel illegally.

The truth is rather different. There is no border because there is no Palestinian state. Israel has made sure of that. Palestinians live under occupation, with Israel controlling every aspect of their lives. In Gaza, even the air and sea are Israel’s domain.

Meanwhile, the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their former lands – now in Israel – is recognised in international law.

Nonetheless, Israel has been crafting a dishonest counter-narrative ever since the Nakba, myths that historians scouring the archives have slowly exploded.

One claim – that Arab leaders told the 750,000 Palestinian refugees to flee in 1948 – was, in fact, invented by Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion. He hoped it would deflect US pressure on Israel to honour its obligations to allow the refugees back.

Even had the refugees chosen to leave during the heat of battle, rather than wait to be expelled, it would not have justified denying them a right to return when the fighting finished. It was that refusal that transformed flight into ethnic cleansing.

In another myth unsupported by the records, Ben Gurion is said to have appealed to the refugees to come back.

In truth, Israel defined Palestinians who tried to return to their lands as “infiltrators”. That entitled Israeli security officials to shoot them on sight – in what was effectively execution as a deterrence policy.

Nothing much has changed seven decades on. A majority of Gaza’s population today are descended from refugees driven into the enclave in 1948. They have been penned up like cattle ever since. That is why the Palestinians’ current protests take place under the banner of the March of Return.

For decades, Israel has not only denied Palestinians the prospect of a minimal state. It has carved Palestinian territories into a series of ghettos – and in the case of Gaza, blockaded it for 12 years, choking it into a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite this, Israel wants the world to view Gaza as an embryonic Palestinian state, supposedly liberated from occupation in 2005 when it pulled out several thousand Jewish settlers.

Again, this narrative has been crafted only to deceive. Hamas has never been allowed to rule Gaza, any more than Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority governs the West Bank.

But echoing the events of the Nakba, Israel has cast the protesters as “infiltrators”, a narrative that has left most observers strangely indifferent to the fate of Palestinian youth demonstrating for their freedom.

Once again, these executions, supposedly carried out by the Israeli army in self-defence, are intended to dissuade Palestinians from demanding their rights.

Israel is not defending its borders but the walls of cages it has built to safeguard the continuing theft of Palestinian land and preserve Jewish privilege.

In the West Bank, the prison contracts by the day as Jewish settlers and the Israeli army steal more land. In Gaza’s case, the prison cannot be shrunk any smaller.

For many years, world heads of state have castigated Palestinians for using violence and lambasted Hamas for firing rockets out of Gaza.

But now that young Palestinians prefer to take up mass civil disobedience, their plight is barely attracting attention, let alone sympathy. Instead, they are criticised for “breaching the border” and threatening Israel’s security.

The only legitimate struggle for Palestinians, it seems, is keeping quiet, allowing their lands to be plundered and their children to be starved.

Western leaders and the public betrayed the Palestinians in 1948. There is no sign, 70 years on, that the West is about to change its ways.

• First published in the National Abu Dhabi

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

Germany’s New Right Wing

Since parliamentary democracy was restored in Germany after World War Two, several right-wing parties have sought to get the required 5% of the popular vote to be represented in parliament. They all failed until 2017. In that election a new right-wing party, Alternatives for Deutschland (AfD), won 13% of the vote, making them the third most powerful party, ahead of the Greens, the Lefts, and the Liberals. They also won many seats in the individual state parliaments and one seat in the European Parliament.

Exit polls showed, though, that most people who voted for them weren’t convinced by their overall program but only by one aspect of it: their strong opposition to the government’s permissive refugee policy.

Germany has taken in over two million refugees from the Mideast wars, far more than any other country. The equivalent for the US population would be eight million refugees, double the number of people in Los Angeles.

This has created an enormous financial and cultural strain in a country that historically has had little immigration. It comes at a time when poverty is increasing and social services are being reduced. The once-generous welfare state is being dismantled. This financial squeeze is worsening now because of expenses for the refugees. The two million newcomers receive enough money to live on plus free healthcare, education, and access to special programs. Some cheat on this, registering in several places under different names and getting multiple benefits. Many Germans resent paying for all this with high taxes while their own standard of living is declining.

The clash of cultures has created other problems. Two-thirds of the refugees are young men, some of them convinced God has ordained males to dominate females. In their view, women who aren’t submissive need to be punished. Since being male is the only power many of them have, they feel threatened by women in positions of power, and they sometimes react with hostility. Over a thousand women have been physically attacked — some murdered and raped and many aggressively grabbed on the breasts as a way of showing dominance. Tens of thousands of women have been abused — insulted, harassed, spat on. Some examples here.

German foreign policy is also part of the problem. Many refugees are aware that Germany, as a member of NATO, supports these wars that have forced them to flee their homes. They’re not fooled by the rhetoric of “humanitarian intervention.” They know NATO’s motives are imperialistic: to install governments agreeable to Western control of their resources and markets. Although they are now safe, their relatives and friends are still being killed with weapons made in Germany and oppressed by soldiers and police trained and financed by Germany. Rather than a grateful attitude, some have come with a resentful one. A few ISIS and al-Qaeda members, determined to drive all forms of Western imperialism from their lands, have come to murder and maim.   See here.

Crime has increased, especially violent crimes such as knife attacks. Police and others have been killed and wounded by refugees.

Many Germans are incensed by this behavior.

Because AfD is the only party that demands a sharp reduction in refugees, they’ve benefited from an enormous protest vote. One factor in their success is that they don’t come across as extremists. Although their policies are reactionary, bigoted, and anti-Muslim, they present them with a populist rhetoric that seems moderate, emphasizing the defense of Western cultural values. Rather than eliminate immigration, they want to limit it. They are pro Christian and support the nuclear family structure and traditional gender divisions but aren’t as rabid about it as, for instance, conservative Christians in the USA. Their proposals for social services — healthcare, welfare, unemployment insurance, education — are more liberal than the Democrats’ in the USA. They call for more direct democracy such as voter initiatives and referendums. The AfD are not fascists. They are more like a stodgy, crabby old uncle.

That doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous, though. They now have a national platform for propagating their right-wing program. They have the power to block progressive legislation and influence governmental appointments. But they’re not a resurgence of Nazism. That specter is a media myth.

Of the two million refugees, those who cause problems are only a small minority. Most of the newcomers have a positive attitude. They are getting a fresh start in life, recovering from trauma, getting an education, learning new skills. They’ve been introduced to other cultural possibilities.

Women in particular are responding favorably to this new environment. Seeing how women here live, some of the refugees are beginning to free themselves from patriarchal bondage. With help from German feminists they are developing the energy and determination to challenge male rule and change the conditions of their lives. That’s the real Alternative for Deutschland … and for the Mideast.

Who Calls Anyone Civilized?

Naomi Shihab Nye is a poet and professor of Creative Writing at Texas State.  Her father was Palestinian and a refugee journalist. In one of her poems after 9/11, entitled “Blood,” she writes:

I call my father, we talk around the news.
It is too much for him,
neither of his two languages can reach it.
I drive into the country to find sheep, cows,
to plead with the air:
Who calls anyone civilized?
Where can the crying heart graze?
What does a true Arab do now?

I myself tried to write something for the 15 year “commemoration” of the US war against Iraq, but wasn’t able to complete it.  It was too much for me. A couple of months ago I was invited to go to the Northwest to speak about “Fifteen Years After the War.”  It was too much for me emotionally, and somewhat shamefully I had to decline.

As I write, I have the phone next to me.  I am texting a young Iraqi boy who is alone in Turkey. About ten months ago he was kidnapped in Iraq.   Through a chain of events, he ended up in Syria.  About two months ago his father was contacted and was able to get his son smuggled across the border into Turkey.  Last month his son turned 18 years of age and was eligible to register as a refugee with UNHCR.  But he will not get an interview for many months to come.

Traumatized, missing family and without friends, he tells his family he wants to come home.  But it is much too dangerous for him to return.  Trying to draw him out of his boredom, I ask him to tell me how his day was.  What did he eat?  Did he get outside? What is the weather like?  I ask him what words he has learned in Turkish.  I tell him what I ate, about the soup I cooked or the rainy weather. By the length of time between our messages, I suspect that he is looking up some of the English words.  Sometimes we speak by phone and get to see each other.

For some reason I find our simple conversation today so tender.  His family in Baghdad is grateful that we are in contact.  They have another son who was also kidnapped.  They do not know whether he is alive or not.  The boys were separated after the kidnapping.  The grief of this family seems to have no end.  And this is just one family.

I was in Iraq for the month of October last year.  One of the hardest things for me on that trip was the feeling I heard expressed that the country has become invisible.  A doctor friend in Baghdad, his hurt palpable, told me he felt as though Iraq has been completely forgotten by the global community.

A friend from Baghdad sent me photos a couple of weeks ago, photos that he took from a bus window of the destruction in Mosel, and it was the side of the city that had suffered only “minimally.”

Building in Mosul decimated by bombing, March 2018. Photo: Abu Mohammed

Shop remains open in area of Mosul decimated by bombing, March, 2018. Photo: Abu Mohammed.

That same week Hunar Ahmed, writing for Kurdish media network “Rudaw News,” reported (“Bodies of Mosul Civilians Contaminate Water and Threaten Epidemic,” 3/17/18):

Heaps of bodies are being uncovered amongst the rubble of Mosul and in its river, threatening contamination and a public health emergency.  Human remains are almost indistinguishable from the debris of ruined buildings.

More than 2 million Iraqis have been displaced by the war against the Islamic State.  According to a February, 2018 Reuters report about interviews with refugee aid groups:

Iraqi authorities are forcing thousands of displaced people to return to their home areas too soon despite the risks….In two of the five camps the aid groups collectively oversee, 84 percent of displaced Iraqis said they felt safer in the camp than in their area of origin.  More than half said their houses were damaged or totally destroyed and only 1 percent said they knew for sure their houses were available for return.

War rages on in Iraq.  Naomi Shihab Nye’s words should help bring us back to ourselves, fifteen years after the onset of the 2003 US-led war against Iraq.  “Who calls anyone civilized?”

Syrian Refugees are Going Home, the West Ready to Attack

“How many years have you been living in Beirut?” I asked my barber, Eyad, after he told me, beaming, that in three months from now, he will be returning home, to Damascus.

Even one year ago, such conversations would not be easy to commence. But now, everything has been changing, rapidly and, one wants to believe, irreversibly.

Although nothing is truly irreversible, the better things are on the ground in Syria, the more threatening the West is becoming, particularly the United States. Now it is, once again, intimidating Damascus, ready to attack the Syrian army, something that could easily drag Russia and others into a lethal confrontation. The war! The West is clearly obsessed with perpetual war in Syria, while most of the Syrian people are passionate about bringing back an everlasting peace.

“6 years,” replied my barber, preparing his razor. I detected sadness and indignation in his voice, “6 years too many!”

“After you go back, then what? Are you going to open your own salon in Damascus?” I was curious. He is the best barber I have ever had, a real master of his trade, quick and confident, precise.

“No,” he smiled. “I never told you, but I’m a mechanical engineer… About being a barber; I learned the trade from my grandfather. In the Arab world now, millions are doing something that is not their main profession… But I want to return home and help to rebuild my country.”

I knew nothing about Eyad’s political affiliations. I used to consider it impolite to ask. Now I sensed that I could, but I didn’t. He was going back, returning home, eager to help his country, and that was all that mattered.

“Come visit me in Damascus,” he smiled, as we were parting. “Syria is a small country, but it is enormous!”

Syrian refugees in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

*****

On February 24 2017, The New York Times, unleashed its usual vitriolic sarcasm towards the country which hosts enormous number of Syrian refugees – Lebanon:

About 1.5 million Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, making up about a quarter of the population, according to officials andrelief groups, and there is a widely held belief in Lebanon that refugees are a burden on the country’s economy and social structure.

Mr. Tahan, a gregarious man who sought to portray himself as the refugees’ benefactor, dismissed the idea that they are harming the country’s economy and straining social services. He said the government pushed that view to get more money from the United Nations.

Refugees, he said, benefit the Lebanese, from the generator operators providing them with electricity, to the owners of shops where they spend their United Nations food vouchers, to landowners who benefit from their cheap labor. It is an argument often heard from international organizations, which say the burden of hosting the refugees is largely offset by the economic stimulus they provide, not to mention $1.9 billion in international aid in 2016 alone, the United Nations says.

Mr. Tahan said he expected the Syrians to stay for years, based on his experience in Lebanon’s civil war.

One would hardly encounter such a tone when the New York Times is describing the ‘refugee crises’ in the European Union. There, several super-rich and much more populous countries than Lebanon keep pretending that they simply cannot absorb approximately the same amount of people as has been sheltered by the tiny Middle Eastern nation.

In 2015, which is considered the ‘height of the refugee crises’, much less than 1.5 million people entered the European Union, seeking asylum there. Some of those 1.5 million were actually ‘refugees’ from Ukraine, Kosovo and Albania.

Refugees in Kos, Greece

I covered the refugee crises from Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, but also the so-called ‘crises’ in Greece (Kos) and France (Calais). The West, which by then had already destabilized half of the world and almost the entire Middle East, was demonstrating extreme selfishness, brutal indifference, racism and a stubborn refusal to repent and to comprehend.

Whoever Mr. Tahan of the New York Times is, and whatever his agenda, he was wrong. As this report goes to print, the number of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon is dropping continually, as the Government in Damascus, supported by Russia, Iran, China, Cuba and Hezbollah has been winning the war against the terrorist groups, armed and supported by the West and its allies.

It is actually the West – its NGOs and even their government agencies – that are “warning” the Syrians not to return home, claiming that “the situation in their country is still extremely dangerous.”

But such warnings can hardly deter the flow of refugees, back to Syria. As CBS News reported on February 2, 2018:

… The 36-year-old is back home in Aleppo. He returned last summer – depressed, homesick and dreading another winter, he couldn’t bear life in the German city of Suhl.

Germany, he said, “was boring, boring, boring.

The number of Syrian immigrants on the Lebanese territory has already dropped below 1 million, the first time since 2014, according to UNHCR.

People are returning home. They are going home by the thousands, every week.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon

They are moving back from Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and even from that once imaginary paradise – the European countries such as Germany – which somehow failed to materialize, and even to impress many people from a country with one of the oldest and greatest histories and culture on Earth.

*****

Mohammad Kanaan, an industrial maintenance student at ULF in Lebanon, explains:

When I was in Syria, I had been studying mechanical design and development for three years… Due to the crises and war I was forced to leave. Afterwards I was forced to stop my education for three more years. Then, thanks to UNESCO initiative, I was accepted to study here in Lebanon… Following the war on Syria, I became more motivated to continue in my field of study. Specifically, since the infrastructure needs restoration and factories will soon be operational. The country needs many people armed with knowledge…

The West did not expect such determination from the Syrian refugees. It was used to those migrants who have been coming from countless ruined and destabilized countries; people who were able to do just about anything and to say anything, as long as they were allowed to stay in the West.

The West tried to turn Syrians into precisely these kinds of immigrants, but it failed. In December 2014, I reported from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region:

Not far from the oilfields, there is a massive refugee camp; this one is for the Syrian exiles.

After negotiating entry, I manage to ask the director of the camp – Mr. Khawur Aref – how many refugees are sheltered here? “14,000,” he replies. “And after it reaches 15,000, this place will become unmanageable.”

I am discouraged from interviewing people, but I manage to speak to several refugees anyway, including Mr. Ali and his family, who came from the Syrian city of Sham.

I want to know whether all new arrivals get interrogated? The answer is – “Yes”. Are they asked questions, about whether they are for or against the President Bashar al-Assad? “Yes, they are: everybody is asked these questions and more…” And if a person – a truly desperate, needy and hungry person – answers that he supports the government of Bashar al-Assad, and came here because his country was being destroyed by the West, then what would happen?” I am told: “He and his family would never be allowed to stay in the Iraqi Kurdistan.

*****

I met Syrian refugees all over the Middle East, as well as in various European countries. Almost all of them felt nostalgic, even desperate, about being away from their beloved land. Most of them wanted to return. Some of them couldn’t wait for the first opportunity.

I knew Syrians who had visas in their pockets, even to such places like Canada, and they decided, at the last moment, not to leave their Motherland.

Syria is truly a unique country.

The West did not expect; it was not used to such determination from the people whose lives it destroyed.

“We are now going West, we have to go,” I was told by a Syrian lady with two children clinging to her, who was waiting in front of the Municipal Building on the Greek island of Kos. “We do it for our children. But mark my words; most of us will soon be going back.”

They are going back now. And the West does not like it; it hates it.

It likes to whine about how it is being used by ‘those impoverished hordes’, but it cannot really live without the immigrants, particularly from such educated countries like Syria.

*****

Not only did the Syrian people fight bravely, defeating the brutal invasion of the Western-manufactured, trained, and financed, backed terrorists. But now the refugees are turning back on false and often humiliating comfort of the exile in Europe, Canada and elsewhere.

Syrian refugees in Hatay, Turkey

Such attitude ‘has to be punished’. For such courage, the Syrian cities and victorious Syrian army may be soon bombed and attacked, directly by the US and possibly also by the European forces.

In Beirut, as I was finishing this essay, I was visited, briefly, by two of my friends, Syrian educators, one from Aleppo, and the other, from Damascus.

“It is getting tough again,” I said.

“Yes,” they agreed. “In my neighborhood, in Damascus, two children were killed by the bullets fired by the terrorists, just before I left for this trip.”

“The US is saying it may attack the country, directly”, I uttered.

“They are always threatening,” I am told. “We are not afraid. Our people are determined, ready to defend our nation.”

Despite the new dangers, emboldened, the Syrian people are flowing back to their country. The Empire may try to punish them for their courage, patriotism and determination. But they are not scared and they are not alone. The Russians and other allies are ‘on the ground’ and ready to help defending Syria. The entire Middle East is watching.

• Originally published by New Eastern Outlook/NEO

Possessed! Europe’s American Demon Must Be Exorcised

Europe is suffering the tortures of the damned as it struggles with split-personality psychosis.

Here in the center of Western Europe one can tune in Germany’s national public broadcasting networks any day of the week and hear scornful diatribes against Trump, outrage over his withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, shock and anger regarding his threats against our German automobile industry in his incipient trade war, calls for more EU independence and self-sufficiency.

Every Washington Post CIA-funded-Big-Breaking-News-Report about Mueller’s latest move to impeach and bring down the Orange Menace is always the top headline here: “The Washington Post reports that …”  No mention of Jeff Bezos and his relationship to the CIA. If the Post says Trump is on shaky ground and cruisin’ for a bruisin’, Europe gets excited. They wanted Hillary here, badly.

Europeans knew Hillary. They trusted Hillary. They associated her with that good-looking, smooth-talking young President Barack Obama. Sure, he blew it with the NSA stuff, but nobody cares about that anymore, either here or in the USA. All forgotten. Obama talked a good game on Europe. Polite young man. Went to Harvard.

I want to tell you that there was some serious panicking and freaking out going on here in Europe the morning after election day 2016. Europeans don’t often run around shrieking their fears in public, a cool façade is the preferred mode here, but they did that day, and for many weeks afterward.

They had just spent more than a year sneering and raising their eyebrows and scoffing at the ludicrous orange-cartoon-figure-come-to life, both physically and in print. They had reassured each other and the public in endless columns and debates and editorials that he didn’t have a chance to (first) win the nomination and (then later) to become President. They were already doing a major freak over Brexit. Trump winning was just too much. The sky was falling.

And he has not disappointed them in putting into effect the catalogue of horrors they had anticipated. Pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords. Refused to pay even lip service to gun control (lip service goes a long way here in the EU, actual progress is less important). Continued to flaunt that ridiculous comb-over that looks as though it’s deliberately designed to show his contempt for fashion and good taste. Threatened to pull out of the nuclear treaty with Iran, which is very popular here – and practically the only way in which the EU has ever been willing to go against Israel, otherwise we are World Champion Israel-Ass-Kissers here. Trump ranted against Muslims and foreigners, defended white racists (here we mostly just pretend they don’t exist, although they carried out 1,000 attacks on Muslims last year in Germany alone), created new legal hurdles to immigration. Of course, the EU does all of that last bit with immigrants too, except for the ranting part. One does these things quietly, don’t you see, while simultaneously claiming to care about refugees and wanting to help them.

No-sirree, the new man in the White House is near the bottom on the European Hit Parade of Favorite Americans. What is the dang DEAL with these Americans?  How could they elect such a monstrous ambulatory joke? Time to stand up and get independent and show the world that Europe will not sit still for just any old nonsense. Most of us highly-progressive and politically conscious Euros agree about that.

Therefore one might think the EU would be ready to go cold turkey from that highly addictive CIA-Neocon Brand Evil Russia Kool-Aid … right?

(extended silence)

Well, uh …  on the other hand … I mean, now let’s not get TOO carried away with this independence business.

As a matter of fact, all of these American military bases here in Europe, specifically all of these NATO nuclear weapons here in our allegedly once-again-sovereign Germany (a sovereignty which is often called into question by smartasses peddling conspiracy theories, who assert Germany is still controlled by the USA), make some of us feel a whole lot safer from the wicked Lord Sauron aka/ Vlad the Impaler just a few hundred kilometers to the east.

While the government has agreed in principle to gradually increase German military expenditures to 2% of the gross domestic product – thereby almost doubling military spending – in the coming years, mostly under pressure from the USA, it doesn’t want to get nailed down too firmly to that unofficial commitment. There are other things it would rather use that money for. And as long as the USA maintains its military outposts and missile installations in Europe, EU countries feel as if there’s no big rush.

There is also the fact to consider that NATO already outspends Russia on military matters by 900 billion dollars per year to 60 billion dollars per year. But that imbalance rarely comes into the “aggressive Russia” debate, any more than does the fact that Russia (and China too for that matter) is encircled by US military bases. A real extremist who did not understand Russia’s evil nature might go so far as to say that NO ONE needs to increase military spending, and that if anyone is a threat, it is NATO, in particular its leading nation which has already laid to waste much of the Middle East and overthrown numerous governments around the world – often installing nasty and brutal authoritarian rulers as puppets to do its bidding.

But we Europeans never mention such nuances in our advocacy of a Weltanschauung (“way of looking at the world”) which has to be kept very black and white, good versus evil, if the empire is to function properly. And if we want to keep the USA in Europe, in charge of the nuclear arsenal and continuing to give EU nations the luxury of not having to put any of this to the test, then there must be some terrifying menace to justify having those troops and atomic weapons here. We are very nervous about Trump’s threats to force Europe to stand up on its own, but we fervently hope that in a few years he will disappear and our good old Democrats or more moderate Republicans – yes, of course, they still exist, they must — will return to pamper us.

No, for us here in Europe it’s not the USA that is the problem, it’s Trump. As psychotic and bizarre as America is, with its mass shootings and its primitive death penalty, its shocking refusal to enact a reasonable national healthcare program, its police killings of unarmed blacks, its warmongering and overthrowing of foreign governments, its drone massacres of wedding parties, drone massacres and assassinations which we generously allow to be controlled from here on German soil — we would have happily continued to overlook all of that if the USA had only elected another head of state who pretended to care about those things, or at least put a noble and urbane mask on them. Someone like Obama, like Hillary. The way we here in the EU pretend to have noble values while deporting helpless refugees into war zones, turning them back over to Libyan torturers and slave traders, etc., intoning solemn avowals of “European Democratic Values” all the while. Presidents like Obama, or like Hillary would have been — make it so very much easier to get away with our pretense of innocence. It’s embarrassing having Trump as an ally. It’s painful and frightening too.

It’s like being possessed by a demon.