Category Archives: Syria

Jordan: Staunch Western Ally, Angry and Confused

Where precisely, is Jordan now? Is it with the West, or with the Arab world? How independent is it, really, and what future lies ahead?

Recently, in the middle of the capital city – Amman – several sleek 5-star hotel towers grew towards the sky, including the trendy “W” and Rotana. Dressed to kill women from the Gulf, wearing high heels and suggestive make up, are now sipping cappuccinos in various cafes at the posh new pedestrian area called The Boulevard. Saudi men can be seen downing pints of beer and carafes of wine. It is a scene not unlike that commonly observed in Bahrain. The Gulf now comes to Amman to escape strict regulations, to play, to be careless, to enjoy life. Some people travel here for medical treatment, staying in overpriced private hospitals which resemble 4-star hotels more than medical facilities.

Built with money from the Gulf

But predominately, here in Amman, it is all about fashion, about food and drinks, about showing off and being seen – the entire area doesn’t have one single decent bookstore (there is only a tiny kiosk at the entrance to the Abdali Mall), art cinema or a concert hall.

Unlike Beirut, with its vibrant international art scene and thirst for knowledge, Amman’s affluent residents and visitors are obsessed with consumerism. With half-closed eyes, The Boulevard could be located in some smaller city of Texas or Georgia.

*****

Just a few kilometers away, at Al-Basheer Hospital (the biggest public medical facility in the country), doctors are on strike. They are exhausted, underpaid and depressed. Only emergency cases get treated. Blood is on the floor, patients look resigned.

 

I get pushed away as the Health Minister makes his visit with his entourage.

Ambulances keep howling, bringing casualties.

“Quality of public medical services in this country is appalling,” I am told by one of the patients.

Syrian ladies and child — refugees

I talk to two Syrian ladies who are waiting here with a sick boy. One of them laments:

We had to travel here all the way from Al-Azraq. We are not insured in this country, and even UNHCR does not help us, when we are facing medical emergencies. We went to a private clinic where a simple series of tests cost us 300 JD (US$428). We are here now. It is uncertain whether we will be treated at all. We are totally desperate.

Soon after, a plain-clothed cop begins interrogating me. “Do I have a permit to ask questions at the hospital?” I don’t. After I leave, two police officers try to intercept me. Pretending that I don’t understand, I smile like an idiot and they let me go.

*****

In Jordan, people are afraid to talk. To be precise, they do talk inside their homes and cars, or in the backrooms of their offices, but not in public. They hardly ever give their full names.

Jordanian soldiers just a few meters from River Jordan and Israeli controlled POT

In 2018, Jordan ‘exploded’ on various occasions. In February, riots broke in the city of Al-Salt, over the proposed 60% price hike of bread, but also over the increase of electricity and fuel prices as well as the cutting of subsidies for basic goods and services.

The infamous and brutal IMF structural adjustment had been gradually implemented in Jordan, which was suffering from a stagnating economy and bizarre misappropriation of funds. In 2017, Jordan’s recorded government debt stood at $32 billion, equivalent to 95.6% of the country’s GDP.

In June, massive protests shook the capital, Amman. Protesters were demanding the change of the government. They were outraged by planned tax hikes and the rapidly declining standard of living. They also called for the end of endemic corruption among government officials.

Scores of people were arrested.

In July, the government resigned, and King Abdullah asked Omar al-Razzaz, a former World Bank economist, to form a new government.

People dispersed. They were told that they had won, but almost nothing changed.

“Let me explain: before they were, for instance, threatening to introduce a 15% tax on cars,” my driver in Amman explained. “Now what they will do is introduce a tax hike of 5% this year and 10% in 2019. Everything is the same.”

In a desperate settlement, Kufrain Village, near the River Jordan and Dead Sea, a baker at Alihsan Bakery was much more outspoken:

We don’t trust the government: new or old. They are all the same bullshitters.

The riots? Change of government? Don’t make me laugh: so-called ‘riots’ were organized and led by intelligence officers and by the government itself. They manipulated people. This government does precisely the same things as the previous one, but with the new alphabetic order.

A day earlier, I had heard precisely the same lament from an upper-class Jordanian lady whom I met on the bank of the Jordan River, while visiting the Bethany Beyond Jordan Site (great opportunity to photograph fortified border with Israeli occupied Palestine (OPT).

She explained, cynically and in perfect English:

Jordanian people had enough; this time they were ready to overthrow the regime in Amman. The elites knew it. They organized riots, made them look real but relatively orderly, then changed a few political players at the top, while saving the system. People felt that they won, but, in fact, nothing changed, whatsoever.

Jordan is a staunch ally of the West. Its ‘Elites’ are unconditionally pro-US.

The country has been, for decades, betting on collaboration with NATO.

It hosts several deadly military and air force bases of various Western countries, the most lethal being Al-Azraq, where part of the war planes that were previously situated at the Turkish airbase Incerlik, have recently been re-located.

British and US Special Forces have been, for years, invading the Syrian state, from Jordanian territory.

Slums at the outskirts of Amman

Functioning as a service station of the West, it has been securing the main income of the country and to its ‘elites’, but not necessarily to its people. Very little or nothing has been invested into science, research or production. It is all about the military bases, malls for the expats, medical tourism for the rich Gulf citizens, few maquiladoras, and, of course, the main privately owned component of the local economy – tourism (some 14% of the GDP and growing).

By the Dead Sea – for the very rich and tourists

Tourism primarily benefits the big Western hotel chains and is consistently ruining the fragile ecosystem of the Dead Sea and lately, the Gulf of Aqaba. At the same time, the Al-Azraq air force base is destroying and draining the precious water reserves of the desert oases.

Official unemployment in Jordan now stands around 18% but is in reality much higher.

The border with Syria remains closed, so cheap goods cannot come in (relatively poor Jordan is periodically ranked as the most expensive country to live in the Arab world).

Azraq refugee camp

The country is presently ‘hosting’ 670,000 Syrian refugees, although some are now determined to return home. The refugees (many of them live in despicable conditions and face various types of discrimination) are yet another source of foreign funding for Jordan, but on the streets of Amman, people keep complaining that ‘Syrians take jobs from the local people’. That does not prevent Jordanians from importing cheap labor from poor countries like the Philippines and Kenya. No matter how stretched and impoverished, Jordanians are not ready to do ‘dirty jobs’.

*****

I spoke to a curator at the modest Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts. There, a surreal and post-modernist installation called “Factory” was trying to shock by avant-garde forms and, it appeared to me, by very little substance.

The National Gallery was desperately empty; people were most likely somewhere else, in cafes, malls or pubs.

I asked the curator whether she was planning to show some artwork depicting the recent riots, or to get to the core of what triggered the recent wave of desperation.

She looked at me, horrified:

“No, why? Of course not!”

I asked whether there is at least one gallery in Amman, that is reacting to the events?

“No,” she almost shouted at me. She was very angry. I was trying to understand, why.

It never pays to be a Western colony, in the Arab world or anywhere else. Some individuals or a group of people may get filthy rich, but the rest of the population will struggle. It will become ‘irrelevant’.

While neighboring Syria is winning its epic battle against the terrorists implanted there by the West and its allies, Jordan is living the sad reality of some Central American semi-colony of the United States.

Here, almost all ideology had been neutralized. Not even dreams of pan-Arab socialist unity that had been shaping, for decades, both Syria and Iraq, could be traced here.

Nobody in Jordan appears to be happy. Some complain, some don’t, but there are no concrete proposals on how to change the pro-Western regime.

In the meantime, the posh Boulevard area is ‘protected’ by metal detectors and guards, uniformed and plain-clothed. Hotels are turning into fortresses. Now even to enter some cafes at the Boulevard, one has to go through a second stage of security, including robust metal detectors. Amman is an extremely safe city. I wonder:

Is it in order to stop terrorism? Or, perhaps, is it to prevent poor and desperate people from entering and seeing with their own eyes that the foreign interests and local collaborators are robbing them of their own country?

I ask aloud. My local friend does not reply. In Jordan, there are some questions that should never be asked.

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

• First published in New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

Israel’s “Loyal” Druze move into Open Revolt

Israel’s small Druze community, long seen as “loyal” to the state, is on a collision course with the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu over a new law guaranteeing superior citizenship rights for Jews, according to analysts.

Israel has traditionally cited the Druze, a secretive religious sect whose men serve in the Israeli army, as proof that non-Jews can prosper inside a self-declared Jewish state.

However, recent days have seen an unprecedented outpouring of anger from large segments of the Druze community over a nation-state law passed last month by the Israeli parliament.

The new legislation has been widely criticised for making explicit the privileged status of the Jewish majority while omitting any reference to “democracy” or “equality”.

One Druze scholar, Rabah Halabi, said his community’s response had been like a mini-“intifada” – the word Palestinians used for two lengthy uprisings against the occupation.

“Much of the Druze community are in a state of shock,” he told Middle East Eye. “They thought that by proving their loyalty, they would be treated as equals. But now they are being forced to re-evaluate, to accept that this view was mistaken.”

Halabi, who has written a book on Druze identity, added: “Their illusions are being shattered. It looks like a process of awakening has begun that will leave both sides bruised.”

Protesters call for equality

The new law, which has a constitutional-like status, has angered the fifth of Israel’s population that are not Jewish, mostly descended from Palestinians who survived a campaign of ethnic cleansing in 1948. This Palestinian minority eventually received citizenship.

But unlike the Muslim and Christian communities, the 120,000-strong Druze sect in Israel has long been showcased as “loyal” and plays a key role in the army, especially in combat duties in the occupied territories.

Druze leaders have angrily pointed to the disproportionate sacrifices made by their community, including more than 420 Druze killed while in uniform.

The Druze also enjoy outsized influence in Israeli politics. Although comprising about 1.5 percent of Israel’s population, they have five legislators in the 120-member parliament, four of them in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.

Unusually, the figurehead of the protests has been a retired and much-decorated Druze general, Amal Asad.

He led the speakers at a rally in Tel Aviv earlier this month, attended by some 60,000 Druze and Israeli Jewish sympathisers, including many former senior security officials.

The protesters demanded that the new Basic Law – one of a body that serves as Israel’s equivalent of a constitution – be annulled or amended to confer equal rights on all citizens.

Another key Druze figure, spiritual leader Sheikh Muwafaq Tarif, told the crowds: “Despite our unreserved loyalty, Israel doesn’t see us as equals.”

Crowds chanted “Equality! Equality!” and banners bore the slogan: “If we are brothers, we must be equals.”

Netanyahu blindsided

Druze legislators and Palestinian leadership organisations in Israel have separately petitioned the Israeli supreme court to overturn the legislation. The court is not expected to hear the cases until early next year.

Adalah, a legal rights group for the Palestinian minority, has described the law as having “apartheid characteristics” and noted that there is “no [other] constitution in the world that does not include the right to equality for all its citizens and residents”.

The Druze protests appear to have blindsided Netanyahu and his cabinet, even though the law was under consideration for nearly a decade.

Nonetheless, he has stood his ground. According to analysts, the law is the centrepiece of his efforts to win elections, expected in the coming months, as he tries to face down intensifying corruption investigations.

In a sign of his hardline approach, Netanyahu walked out of a meeting held shortly before the rally when Druze leaders – including Asad, Tarif and several mayors – refused to accept a compromise that would have offered special benefits to the Druze while keeping the law unchanged.

Wahib Habish, mayor of the Druze town of Yarka in the Galilee, who attended the meeting, told the Israeli media afterwards: “We can’t be bought off with benefits and rhetoric on closing gaps.”

Amal Jamal, a politics professor at Tel Aviv University and a Druze resident of Habish’s town, said Netanyahu’s strategy was to stoke “internal divisions” in Druze society.

“He has no intention of backing down,” he told MEE. “He hopes to dismiss the protests by saying: ‘If the Druze can’t agree among themselves, how is it possible for us to find a solution?’”

Secretive religious sect

The Druze are a secretive religious sect that broke away from Islam some 1,000 years ago. For protection, they chose to live in a mountainous region of the Middle East that is today split between Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

Scholars have noted that, as a survival strategy, the Druze traditionally preferred to ally with whoever was in power.

Some Druze communities in the Galilee supported Zionist forces during the 1948 war that founded Israel on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland. A few years later, the Druze leadership in Israel signed a pact with the state, agreeing that the community’s men would be conscripted for three years into the army.

In return, Israel recognised the Druze as a “national” group, rather than as a religion, separating them from the rest of the Palestinian minority.

Complicating the picture, a much smaller Druze population fell under Israeli rule in 1967 when Israel occupied the Golan Heights, part of Syria. The 25,000 Druze in the Golan have mostly stayed loyal to Syria and refused Israeli citizenship. They are not drafted.

‘Brainwashed’ at school

Jamal said sections of Israeli Druze society were increasingly wondering whether they had paid a “double price” for their agreement to conscription.

“Not only were the Druze discriminated against like other Arab citizens, but they sacrificed their lives on the battlefield too,” he noted. “Look at it this way, the Druze are not just second-class citizens, they are second-class Arabs.”

As part of the agreement, Israel introduced a separate school system for the Druze in the 1970s, which has encouraged them to view their military service as a “covenant of blood” with the Jewish people.

Dalia Halabi, herself Druze and the executive director of Dirasat, a policy research centre in Nazareth, said the Druze education system was among the worst in Israel for matriculation rates. Instead, Israel had used the schools to “brainwash” Druze children.

“The Druze are taught to fear other Arabs, not only their neighbours in the Galilee but in the wider region,” she said. “They are encouraged to believe that they would be vulnerable and alone without the protection of the Israeli army.”

Refusal movement growing

Israel has long trumpeted the Druze’s military service as proof that it is possible for non-Jewish minorities to integrate.

Druze analysts consulted by MEE, however, noted that for many years there had been an intensifying split within the Druze community on the issue of military service that the new Basic law had brought to a head.

A refusal movement among young Druze men has become more prominent over the past decade, as have complaints that successive Israeli governments failed to make good on promises to give the Druze equal rights.

Druze communities are generally as overcrowded and poorly resourced as other Palestinian communities in Israel, noted Dalia Halabi: “Some 70 percent of Druze lands were confiscated by the state, despite our communities’ ‘loyalty’. They did not get a better deal than other Palestinian communities.”

Rabah Halabi, who teaches at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, pointed out that the loss of their farmland left many Druze men dependent on Israel’s extensive security economy.

More than a quarter are recruited after army service as security guards, prison wardens or border policemen, the latter a paramilitary force operating inside Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, he said.

“For a substantial section of Druze youth, army service is the only way to ensure a career. It is primarily an economic issue for them.”

Army officers resign

The new Basic Law has inflamed these existing tensions by enshrining privileges for Jewish citizens in a range of key areas, including immigration rights, access to land, and in housing and budgets. It also downgrades Arabic, stripping it of its status as an official language.

In an unprecedented move for a Druze leader, Asad, the general leading the protests, warned on social media that the Basic Law risked laying the foundations for “apartheid”. He called the measure “evil and racist”.

The groundswell of anger was apparent too at a recent awards ceremony attended by Avi Dichter, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic intelligence service and one of the architects of the law. He needed protection as Druze protesters publicly confronted him, denouncing him as a “traitor” and “Nazi”.

Several Druze army officers have resigned and others have threatened to stop serving, sparking fears of mass insubordination.

Druze leaders have so far refused to cooperate with a special ministerial committee set up by Netanyahu to advance a solution for the Druze, as well as a tiny Circassian community and sections of the Bedouin that also serve.

It seems likely to propose extra benefits on an individual basis for Palestinian citizens who serve in the army.

Jamal, of Tel Aviv University, said: “There are many Druze who have invested in this so-called ‘historical bond’ and do not want to lose their special status.

“But at the same time they can’t accept the deal Netanyahu is offering of perks for army service. They don’t want to look like they have been bought off with money, to seem like mercenaries.”

‘We’re not going anywhere

Unless one side backs down, the Druze community now looks set for a major clash with the government for the first time in the country’s history.

A recent poll indicated that 58 percent of Israeli Jews support the law, though a similar number expressed sympathy for Druze concerns.

Ayelet Shaked, the justice minister, has already warned of “an earthquake” on the political right if the courts dare to annul the law.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has appeared in no mood for compromise. After his meeting with Druze leaders broke up in acrimony, his officials implied that General Asad and his supporters were disloyal.

Channel 2 TV quoted a source close to Netanyahu stating, apparently in reference to Asad and his followers: “Whoever doesn’t like it [the Basic Law], there’s a large Druze community in Syria, and they’re invited to found the state of Druzistan there.”

Dalia Halabi observed: “Netanyahu is fanning the flames because he assumes the Druze will agree to whatever he says. He thinks we now have no option but to be loyal.”

But Mano Abu Salha, aged 58 from Yarka, and among those who attended the mass demonstration in Tel Aviv, told MEE that Netanyahu would be proved wrong.

He said: “We didn’t come from Syria. We are living on our historic lands and we’re not going anywhere. We are the native population. Netanyahu better realise that we are staying put and will fight for our rights.”

Trump’s Grand Strategy from Quebec to Singapore

Trump takes on the world

How to explain the welter of contradictions in US politics these days?

  • Trump’s enthusiasm for peace with Russia vs his acceptance of Cold War II with Russia, launched even as Trump declared victory in 2016.
  • Trump’s virtually declaration of war against the mouse, Canada, next door, with his cutting insult to Justin Trudeau as weak and dishonest, as he left the summit early and refused to endorse its free trade plea.
  • Trump’s original enthusiasm for pulling out of Syria and elsewhere, pursuing an old fashion Republican isolationism, vs his sudden flurry of bombings in Syria recently and the threat of invasion of others (Iran, North Korea, Venezuela).
  • Trump’s dumping of the carefully crafted nuclear agreement with Iran, renewing sanctions and threats in the face of world opposition, both domestic and foreign (ok, the Zionists are happy, but no one else).
  • Trump’s unsolicited ‘deal of the century’ with Israel-Palestine.

The Russians are coming

There are behind-the-scenes forces at work with Russia at the centre. Obama’s and the western media’s human rights spat with Russia over Ukraine and Crimea are not important to the long term strategy of the neocons. Trump and his deep state backers understand this. Kissinger admitted it in June. They want Russia back in a new G-8, as Trump so loudly proclaimed at the G-7 in Quebec in June. But a Russia on the defensive is also in their interests, the better to make Russia bow more respectfully to US world hegemony in any grand compromise. Good cop, bad cop.

Trudeau was comforted by his Euro colleagues when called a liar by the bully, but Trump has no time for wimps,* pious words attacking Russia or promoting gender equality and the environment. The ‘grand strategy’ of the Pentagon and neocons is about world control. “His message from Quebec to Singapore is that he is going to meld the industrial democracies to his will — and bring back Russia,” said Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign and White House adviser. Bannon said China is “now on notice that Trump will not back down from even allies’ complaints in his goal of America First.” What Europeans deride now as “G-6 plus one” would become again the G-8. Russia will dump Iran and China, and be a nice US puppet.

There is a reason that neoconservatives are said to be the heirs of Trotsky: Trotsky wanted to export revolution to all countries, whether they were ready for it or not (with the subsequent goal of destroying national boundaries and traditional cultures); Trump’s neoconservatives want to spread neocon ideology to all countries (e.g., globalism, the dominance of western corporations and markets, ‘democracy’, relativising traditional society). The dialectic has come full-circle.

In a weird sort of way, the (Christian) US is the anti-Christ to the (atheist) Soviet Christ. Both are/were radical universalists. Putin understands this and is neither a communist nor is he likely to take the neocon bait, as did Gorbachev-Yeltsin. Neither is Kim Jong-un.

The Palestinians are coming

Trump enthusiast Leon Haider praises Trump’s rejection of a “make-believe ‘peace process’”, replacing it with his “deal of the century”, that counts on moderate Arabs convincing the Palestinians to “take the route towards coexistence” with Israel that will “eventually lead to a peace deal, the deal of the century.” Bully the Palestinians into a deal that they can’t refuse. Trump somehow thinks this bullying will succeed where all of his predecessors have failed.

But the so-called moderate Arabs are anything but.

  • Saudi Arabia is a feudal fiefdom, the source and inspiration of al-qaeda/ISIS through Wahhabism and petrodollars, provided discretely both officially and unofficially (by dissident princes). Its list of human rights violations grows daily, presently torturing its old rival Yemen for no apparent reason.
  • Egypt is being run into the ground by a vicious dictator-general.
  • Turkey, the most important actor, is ignored and isolated over the Kurdish problem.
  • Jordan is in upheaval protesting IMF-backed price increases and a new tax reform law.

These countries are hardly poster children for the advantage of being a friend to the US and Israel. The other Arab country, Syria, just barely survived the US-backed insurgency and is back in the anti-imperialist fold (i.e., pro-Iran/ Russia) after 7 brutal years when it was betrayed by ‘moderate Arabs’ (not to mention Turkey). It is my choice as a ‘moderate Arab’, but will continue to oppose the US ‘grand stategy’ for the region, along with a chastened Turkey.

Where is the grand strategy here? Bin Salman personally delivered Trump’s secret ‘deal of the century’ to Abbas, who refused to even open the envelope. For Trump’s ‘moderate Arabs’, read: Shia-hating Sunnis, led by King Bin Salman. Their hatred is mostly sour grapes for Iran’s proud defiance of US dictates. Arabs were traditionally the freest of peoples, the heirs of the Prophet, who was no friend of Rome. Those Sunnis would dump the US in a flash if they didn’t need Bin Salman’s billion-dollar bribes, and if there was another patron to feed them. Do they help the US achieve world control, the underlying strategy?

Only Israel is more or less happy. It is their ‘grand strategy’ for the Palestinians that is closer. Its goal appears to be to annex the occupied territories unilaterally, set up a Quisling Palestinian Authority to police what’s left of the West Bank, under Israeli control. A variation would be to force Palestinians and Jordan to make the occupied territories Jordanian (but policed by Israel) and make all Palestinians ‘Jordanians’, after first taking most of the desirable bits for Israel. If the Israeli Arabs cause too much fuss, they too can go to their new ‘homeland’ (Jordan West Bank), along with Gazans, once Gaza is declared uninhabitable. Postmodern ethnic cleansing. Not so many deaths, wipe out the refugee problem at a stroke, dispense with the pesky ‘return’ problem.

That would leave Iran or Iran/Syria as the target of Israel’s next and final war, not the Palestinians — and the Sunni Arab world will watch from the sidelines, and would not be unhappy to see Iran destroyed. That would allow Israel to proceed with its ‘final solution’ for the Palestinians, once Iran is out of the picture, even as these ‘moderate Arabs’ squawk (or are overthrown).

The Iranians are (not) coming

Trump’s summit with Kim Jong-Un in Singapore looks and tastes like Nixon in China, but was it a fraud, the icing laced with artificial sweetener or maybe arsenic? Surely Kim realizes that he must hold out for the closure of US bases in South Korea, as only that could possibly guarantee denuclearization of the peninsula. And why no mention of Iran in all the hype, let alone a stopover in Tehran, if denuclearization is the real issue?

It appears that by allowing the interventions in Yugoslavia, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. (R2P responsibility to protect), the so-called international community did only one thing, it created more possibilities for new interventions, interventions that promote western control; i.e., imperialism. Russia will have no truck with this, as it is not interested in promoting western imperialism. Libya was the last straw, and instead, Russia moved on its own to help stabilize Syria without these dubious ‘protectors’. The disasters these interventions have resulted in means it is unlikely they can be repeated, despite Pence’s warning to Kim that he might end up “like Libya”. Probably Iran is safe, given Russia.

A real strategy would involve making peace with Iran, not war. War is the way imperialism deals with problems, and is what US ‘allies’ Saudi Arabia and Israel want for their own reasons, which have nothing to do with peace or US security. Both the Saudis and Israel benefit(ed) from terrorism directed at US targets and celebrate them. (To the Saudis, the Americans are kufar and deserve to die. Remember Netanyahu’s comment on 9/11 “It’s very good”?). [Update: Trump pulled yet another fast one on July 31, 2018, offering to meet Rohani, but the jury is still out.]

Peace with Iran would knock some sense into both the Saudis and Israel, and would curb the lust for war. The Saudis would fume, maybe instigate some terrorism themselves, but they are so tightly knit in the US orbit, this could be managed. Israel has its Jerusalem but nowhere to turn to. Israel’s life blood — Jewish Americans — are increasingly hostile to Israel, given its murderous policy of expansion.

The fallout from such a truly ‘grand strategy’ would benefit both the US and the world, as the US and Russia revive their ‘grand compromises’ of the past (WWII, 1960s–70s detente). A ‘grand compromise’ for Turkey’s, Iraq’s and Iran’s Kurds could finally be addressed. Devastated Syria and Iraq would not be distracted by US-Iranian hostility and would rebound quickly. Iran’s only pretension internationally is to help the Palestinians, though the US did leave a vacuum in Iraq with the destruction of that state, and Iran is now playing its logical role as supporter of Shia next door and as a good neighbour.

“Don’t hold your breath,” writes Stephen Walsh in Foreign Policy. Making peace with Iran would require Trump (and Congress) to ignore the lobbying and propaganda emanating from the Israeli and Saudi lobbies. But after the recent Israel massacre of Gazans, and given the ordinary American’s distaste for the Saudis and their massacre of Yemenis, there is no better time.

Congress is not lying down. The sole Muslim congressman, Keith Ellison, put together a nonpartisan amendment of the National Defense Authorization Act to specifically prevent the president from launching war against Iran without congressional authorization. Even if the Ellison amendment survives the Senate, Trump could ‘pull a Trump’ and violate it. He could target Iranian individuals as “suspected terrorists” on his global battlefield and/or attack them in Iran with military force under his new targeted killing rules. It does not prohibit the expenditure of money to attack Iran. Nor does it proscribe the use of sanctions against Iran. But it shows that Trump does not have a blank check for his ‘grand strategies’.

Jewish Americans hold the key

Nor are the ‘good’ Jews in the US, energized by Israeli atrocities, silent anymore. A groundswell of Jewish protests is making room for the rest of Americans to brave the Zionist thought police.

It is complicated piecing Trump’s grand strategy together, partly because he is a loose cannon, with his own self-aggrandizing agenda, and partly because of the chaotic conditions and opposing forces elsewhere. He is gambling on using good-cop/ bad-cop with Russia, plain old bad-cop with Iran and North Korea, to achieve his ends. Gunboat diplomacy.

The US (and more so Trump’s) unreliability as a representative of US policy, willing to tear up treaties, makes it unlikely that Trump’s fish will bite. Israel’s strategy is also unlikely to prevail. Young US Jews** are already getting arrested protesting Israeli actions, much like they did in the 1950s–60s when they virtually led in the civil rights movement for blacks, and again in the 1980s, when they backed the anti-apartheid struggle. Then, their Jewishness was downplayed, but in this last war, they hold the trump card to successfully fight Israel, and must speak out for peace.

As for Russia and Iran, Trump finally got some cajones and defied his backstabbers, not only meeting Putin, but out of the blue declaring he will meet Iran’s President Rohani, “no pre-conditions”. This is now a ritual for him facing off against his ‘enemies’: threaten to invade (Kim the Rocketman, NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE) and then coolly agree to negotiate.
As for drama and idiocy, ‘Who could ask for anything more?’ ***

*Trudeau is indeed weak and dishonest, as Trump’s advisers told him after perusing his many broken promises as prime minister

** IfNotNow is the latest, composed of Jewish teens.

*** Thank you, Gershwin.

Of Genocide and Those Who Do Nothing

Of genocide one thing becomes clear: the perpetrators are usually governments. The perpetrators may be cliques within the government, using the government, but the organization of such cataclysmic events is beyond the skills of amateurs.  So it isn’t a surprise that the domain of preventing genocides is as tightly controlled as the mechanisms of punishment. A control not entirely foreseen by the conceptual author, Raphael Lemkin, was written-into the Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide, with the support of countries which had risen to power through colonialism. It is the word “intent” as in “intent to destroy”, which is now considered a requirement, if any attempt to destroy a “national, racial, ethnical or religious” group of people is to be considered a genocide.

The mass killing has to provably have the intention of destroying one of these groups protected by the Convention.

The vagaries of “intent” and the difficulties of ever proving “intention” deep within a perpetrator’s mind is a domain claimed by the government’s policy makers, academics, inevitably psychologists, and the judiciary, who keep the Convention on Genocide basically out of the hands of the people.  The people are universally the victims.

To move beyond this control we might put aside nationalism and look at governments on one hand, and peoples on the other as not always having the same interests.

The emergency brake of puzzlement about “intent” is customarily used to obstruct application of the Convention on Genocide. It’s the standard way genocidal governments seek to avoid responsibility for their actions. Still we recognize the horror of a genocide as it occurs, which is partly that we are not doing something to stop it.

For example, can the military forces of North American countries bomb the civilian water supply of Iraq, her civilian infrastructure, entire cities, museums, bomb the country “back into the stone age,” without intention to destroy the national group? Civilian casualties were falsely referred to as “collateral damage.”

This assumed lack of intention spares our leaders and ourselves but is sophistry. Intention is established by repetition with a similar result each time leading to the inevitable mass civilian deaths. North Americans find the meaning of “intention” difficult. Too many dead Aboriginals, slaves, prisoners of our histories clogging our minds, never dealt with, never admitted. Denying the people their history leaves no chance for rehabilitation.

The U.S. having signed and after forty years ratified the Convention on Genocide presents objections as “Reservations and Declarations”1 which specifically underscore the need for intent to be present in the destruction of a group, if it’s to be considered genocide.

The Convention has already limited its own applicability to groups. It fails to specifically protect gender based and sexuality based groups, as well as the aged, the sick, ableist and groups defined by genetic traits, as well as groups defined by mental health, criminal records, or prisoners as a group. These are all vulnerable to genocide-like actions by fascist states as shown in the German Third Reich’s practices. A contemporary Convention on Genocide should include them.2

The Convention on Genocide as it appeared in 1948 was a very narrowly conceived document in one sense: it addressed the safety of the powerful victim groups of Hitler’s inhumane policies while ignoring less powerful victim groups, which in many cases continue to be victimized.

Understanding #4″ of the U.S. objections to the Convention prepares the U.S. for wars such as the destruction of Iraq by armed force. It’s very simple, it says: “4. That acts in the course of armed conflicts committed without the specific intent required by article II are not sufficient to constitute genocide as defined by this Convention” (Article II is where the Convention prohibits “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group…).

What could be interpreted at the diplomatic level as a threat to other countries, of war without quarter, possibly to assure their cooperation, was in Iraq a threat fulfilled. Through “Understanding #4” the U.S. could excuse itself from obligation at international courts as long as it controls the courts or interpretation of the law.

Not all countries agree that the U.S. can define applicability of the Convention on Genocide to itself, which the U.S. attempts in “Reservation #1” and “Understanding #5.” The Convention is considered currently applicable to actions in all countries signatory to the Convention. Under the World Court this could include the U.S., willing or not, with applicability a political issue not reliant on any statute of limitations.

Because of the U.S. extreme insistence on the element of “intent” (also specified in “Understanding #1”), as necessary to genocide, the interpretation of the Convention became slightly skewed.

The difficulty rises from an awareness which keeps asserting itself, that intent is very hard to prove. It becomes harder as perpetrators learn to disguise their intentions to avoid eventual prosecution. And harder as those who struggle to be moral, repress and twist their own motives to avoid the guilt of their own actions or inaction.

Protected from application of the Convention by the U.S. withdrawal from International Criminal Court U.S. writers and academics write more freely about genocides. Karen Goldsmith’s work, “The Issue of Intent in the Genocide Convention”3 discusses this within academic traditions, aware of attempts historically to trap interpretation of the Convention into serving the powerful. She encourages a more relaxed approach.

Instead of acceding to an academic discussion of intention which has allowed the confusion of whether an instance of insane mass murder is a genocide or not, wouldn’t it be more wise to cede a situation to the laws against genocide without immediate consideration of the issue of intent?

It may be arrogant to ever suppose to know or understand what happens in another person’s mind. It may take a long time to identify a pattern of behaviour which might prove intent through points of evidence. Realizing that the Convention attempts to shield a number of groups deserving of its protection, logically one would assign the word genocide to situations where one group as defined, is being repetitively killed or deprived of necessities or of lives for its children. It is certainly genocide to its victims.

To suggest the academic or professional jurist’s difficulty with this I recommend some consideration of the work of Kai Ambos4 who is not only an academic (professor of international criminal law) but has served as a district judge and a judge at the International Court of Justice (at the Hague), and is comfortable with the differences available in “intent to destroy.”

Is this general intent and knowledge of what one is doing, or a “surplus” of intention, an ulterior intention which exceeds the persecution of a group, a “special” intention? While the study of projected meanings presents its own kind of hell of devils dancing on the head of a pin, it makes no difference at all to the victims, their family, and village slaughtered most probably by an array of expensive modern technology.

To ascertain guilt by identifying precisely the perpetrator’s state of mind is the result of an evolution in response to the Convention’s prohibition. It is also a distraction from what is moral. Or a distraction from the pain of confronting human nature. ‘Legalese,’ by removing a subject from day to day life and placing it in a domain which is not necessarily ruled by love, may spare the judges of humanity’s excesses suffering and an ongoing PTSD syndrome.

But people at large seem to be moving beyond “dolus generalis” and “dolus specialis” as categorizations of kinds of intent to what is more simply expressed and noted by both Ambos and Goldsmith: Article 30 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The ICC holds the Convention on Genocide within its jurisdiction since one of the Court’s purposes is to address the crime of genocide. Therefore the ICC’s interpretation of the Convention can solve years of puzzlement created by patriotic lawyers:

Article 30 Mental Element

1. Unless otherwise provided, a person shall be criminally responsible and liable for punishment for a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court only if the material elements are committed with intent and knowledge.

2. For the purposes of this article, a person has intent where:

(a) In relation to conduct, that person means to engage in the conduct;

(b) in relation to a consequence, that person means to cause that consequence or is aware that it will occur in the ordinary course of events.

3. For the purposes of this article, “knowledge” means awareness that a circumstance exists or a consequence will occur in the ordinary course of sequence or events. “Know” and “knowingly” shall be construed accordingly.

The Rome Statute’s definitions end run much of the smokescreen available in discussions of general intention versus special intention. This makes it much easier for countries subscribing to the International Criminal Court to address instances of genocide.

Because the path forward is in a way clear to address and consider instances of genocide currently in motion why haven’t the world nations attempted to honour their commitment to the Convention which demands some response when a genocide occurs?

Because a reader might not agree with one example I’ll point out four salient instances where the situation could be declared genocide by the courts:

1. The peoples of the The Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) are being destroyed in the battle for Congo’s resources, by foreign interests.

2. Palestinians, particularly of Gaza, are being destroyed as a national and as a religious group by the Zionist government in Israel.

3. In Myanmar the Buddhist Army found few impediments to its attempted destruction of the Muslim Rohingya people. Signatory governments are complicit through inaction.

4. Indigenous peoples of Canada are subjected to extreme conditions of life, health and water by the Government over a long period of time. The government’s inability to move beyond its denial, or educate Canadians to their full rights and responsibilities under human rights law can be equated with an attempt to destroy the victim group.

Any United Nations intervention to directly counter a genocide in progress would, I think, have to pass through the Security Council for approval, and could meet a U.S. veto.

The attempts to effect the Convention on Genocide have been obstructed by:

1. The difficulty of proving intent as a condition required for identifying a genocide.

2. Likely obstruction at the Security Council where the political and financial interests of one of its members can veto intervention.

3. Lack of public knowledge and misinformation campaigns (demonization of a targeted victim group’s leader).

4. National reluctance to identify genocide since under law a signatory nation is required to intervene.

5. The fact that genocides are almost exclusively effected by governments and the Convention on Genocide can only be effected by governments or possibly large international organizations.

While genocides are waged for national or corporate purpose by governments the Convention on genocide is a mechanism of protest, alleviation, intervention, at the service only of governments. In areas where the genocide might be of gain to many governments it is less likely that the Convention will be brought into play.

Note, for example, NATO’s attempt to force the overthrow of Syria’s leadership by making conditions of life unbearable for Syria’s people. This became a concerted military effort by France, England, the U.S., Turkey, Israel and others. The resulting partial destruction of the national group was an intended genocide with a deflection of its purpose by a “civil war” waged by a minority assuming responsibility for a rebellion initiated by the foreign powers who provided funding.

There are also policies which many governments can agree on and ignore when they share the guilt. A current example is the forcible transfer of children as a way of managing migrants and asylum seekers entering the U.S.. While this isn’t accompanied by an intention to destroy a portion of a “national, ethnical, racial or religious group” it could be if the U.S. were considered responsible for destruction of the refugee’s country of origin. Both Canada and the U.K. separate children from their families when officials consider it in the “best interests of the child.” The issue has stronger interface in the area of transferring children to a country’s social services and the practices of ‘sponsoring’ the children of one protected group, with sponsors outside that group.

To address directly our own genocide defenses in North America: these almost exclusively rest with organizations funded by the government, at the service of government policy, staffed by academics with strong ties to government, or who have worked for the government, or will work for the government. Or who have government loans, or grants. The organizations’ political positions accommodate government policies, despite the innate confusion in identifying genocides, previously discussed here.

It’s unlikely that one will find in the active agendas of the genocide related NGOs any protests or any actions hampering government policy. This is particularly notable in the controversial area of Israel’s ongoing persecution of Palestinians.

If the issue may be considered within the multi-million dollar funded structure of the enterprise, or studied in a course from the hosting university, one might find that the well known NGOs are not usually allies in struggles to save the peoples oppressed criminally by the NGO’s host governments or its allies.

A run down of these specific non-governmental organizations, funded through service to the government either overtly or covertly, is avoided because much of what they accomplish does address the needs of victim groups. In a sense they pay off humanity by doing a portion of their job. The difficulty is that they refuse to address the crimes of our own governments. And they provide on occasion impetus for falsely raising the issue of genocide, in the service of government programs for corporate expansion which in situations of ‘genocide’ can threaten with military intervention.  Powerful NGOs concerned with genocide risk at some point supporting government policies which are genocidal. When they do not purvey genocides as genocide which is the major portion of their usefulness, they become complicit.

Against these difficulties with the “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” as it stands, and the difficulties of applying it, is the fact that it corresponds deeply to the beliefs of the largest portions of humankind. We believe it’s valid and necessary – not the law of it only, as much as its affirmation of our humanity – its refusal of the horror we find unacceptable.

In Rwanda after the genocide there were trials of the accused perpetrators under international law but also under Rwandan law, and then under village law in that the courts were held in the communities. In villages throughout the country people were brought together and found they had to account for themselves and explain what they did or didn’t do – their part in the genocide. These courts were known as Gacaca courts.4;5

What begins to evolve in the accounts of village trials is a world view of justice asserting itself in a landscape of the ultimate horror. And it has very little to do with arguments of what kind of intent was involved, or the mental state of the perpetrators, the Faculty coffee room, the judges or judicial chambers.

It has everything to do with surviving what the people never chose of their own accord. I think this defense might well be applied to a majority of North Americans as their corporations and capital continues to destroy less powerful nations. These instances of taking life are so much more clear in the Rwandan genocide.

This is the shadow which falls between the studies of genocide and the massive losses of humanity, decency, tenderness, life.

Prof. Giorgía Donà’s study of “situated bystandership”6 explores the realities of the bystanders, those who were neither the victims nor the perpetrators of the genocide which by her figures killed close to a million Tutsi (April 7th through July 18, 1994).

This group most closely parallels the majority of North Americans during the destructions of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Libya, Syria to begin a longer more complicated list of massive loss of life and destruction.

She notes both external bystanders such as the United Nations and signatories of the Convention who knew and did nothing, and the internal bystanders who might be thought of as the people, and bear the guilt of the people for crimes that came from beyond them, were broadcast to them, programmed into them like an experiment with Rwanda as its laboratory.

A terrible thing here is that the killing was accomplished by so many and by my understanding so many were forced into the conformity of killing others lest they be killed, and under pressures that might make our judgment of them and our concept of ‘heroism’ irrelevant. In some instances those who wouldn’t kill were killed. Those who hid fugitives, if caught, were killed or forced to kill the fugitives they had harboured. Can this be considered within a context of law?

How deeply have North Americans responded to the massive death caused by our inception, our wars, armaments, economic needs, when our survival has had so many options other than war?

Donà’s paper suggests that in the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide the majority of people tried to separate themselves from the perpetrators whom they considered “extremists” and evil. The bystander majority would consider itself as retaining moral values. The Kagame government at first promoted the assessment of morally guilty bystanders, complicit through inaction.7

This group of bystanders then sorts out into those who acceded to the perpetrators’ actions and those who attempted to resist under the tremendous pressure from the overall program to kill. Those who remained non-violent would have to hide as did the victims.8 When refusing to participate in the killing meant death, some then participated. At a local factual level this was understood by the Gacaca courts, because how does one judge this with reference to the intent of genocide.

While Gacaca courts prosecuted murder and rape they didn’t the crime of non-intervention,9 and so under the policy of the community courts non-intervention was no longer necessarily one of guilt. These courts also shifted guilt and the responsibility for a crime, from mass action to the individual.

Crimes during the mass killing of the genocide were no longer abstract or collective but personal. While many of the Hutu were found guilty, many were found innocent and were freed from the condemnation of collective guilt.10

The Gacaca courts present a challenge to academic studies, and what is often an intellectual or judicial tendency to categorize and perceive through the application of abstractions. The community level courts were more realistic and humane than the courts of international law? Possibly so. But then they were addressing the people who as victim, killer or bystander, were the objects of a planned and prepared-for national atrocity.11

This focusing of attention on the bystander element of genocide may help many North Americans reconsider our own relationship to guilt, the ultimate price of silence, the relationship between our morality and what happens about us, realizing that despite the tremendous social pressures programming us by schools, corporately funded universities, from media, from history, by conformity and each other, we deserve to be judged for how we’ve responded to the crimes against others.

  1. The “Declarations and Reservations” which at ratification the U.S. added to the Convention are generally kept out of sight so I list them here:
    Reservations:
    1. That with reference to article IX of the Convention, before any dispute to which the United States is a party may be submitted to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice under this article, the specific consent of the United States is required in each case.
    2. That nothing in the Convention Requires or authorizes legislation or other action by the United States of America prohibited by the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the United States.
    Understandings:
    1. That the term ‘intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group as such’ appearing in article II means, the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in substantial part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such by the acts specified in article II.
    2. That the term ‘mental harm’ in article II(b) means permanent impairment of mental faculties through drugs, torture, or similar techniques.
    3. That the pledge to grant extradition in accordance with a state’s laws and treaties in force found in article VII extends only to acts which are criminal under the laws both of the requesting and the requested state and nothing in article VI affects the right of any state to bring to trial before its own tribunals any of its nationals for acts committed outside a state.
    4. That acts in the course of armed conflicts committed without the specific intent required by article II are not sufficient to constitute genocide as defined by this Convention. 5. That with regard to the reference to an international penal tribunal in article VI or the Convention, the United States declares that it reserves the right to effect its participation in any such tribunal only by a treaty entered into specifically for that purpose with the advice and consent of the Senate.
    – According to “Multilateral Treaties deposited with the Secretary-General.” Status as of 31 December 1992. United Nations, New York.
  2. I initially stated this suggestion in “An Essay on Genocide: or why the Convention on Genocide hasn’t worked,” peacemedianews (Netherlands), 1995. Reprint: Night’s Lantern.
  3. Karen Goldsmith. “The Issue of Intent in the Genocide Convention, and Its Effect on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: Toward a Knowledge Based Approach,” Vol. 5, 2010 (Issue 3, Article 3), Genocide Studies and Prevention: an International Journal (IAGS).
  4. Kai Ambos. “What does ‘intent to destroy’ in genocide mean?” Vol. 91, #876, December 2009, International Review of the Red Cross.
  5. Giorgía Donà. “‘Situated Bystandership’ During and After the Rwandan Genocide,” Vol. 20, No.1, Journal of Genocide Research, 2018; passim.
  6. Ibid.
  7. loc. cit., p. 8.
  8. loc. cit., p. 14.
  9. loc. cit., p.17.
  10. Concerning the issue of alleged massacres of Hutu by Tutsi I suggest the work of Professor Peter Erlinder (William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota), The Rwanda Documents Project.
  11. Alison Des Forges. “The Ideology of Genocide,” Volume 23/Issue 2/1995. African Issues.

Ecology: The Keystone Science

A missing piece from most critiques of modern capitalism revolves around the misunderstanding of ecology. To put it bluntly, there will be no squaring the circle of mass industrial civilization and an inhabitable Earth. There is no way for energy and resource use, along with all the strife, warfare, and poverty that comes along with it, to continue under the business as usual model that contemporary Western nations operate under.

There is also the problem of constructing millions of solar panels and gigantic wind farms to attempt to bring the entire world’s population to a middle class existence based on a North American or even European levels of energy use. All of the hypothetical robots and artificial intelligence to be constructed for such a mega-endeavor needed to enact such a project would at least initially rely on fossil fuels and metals plundered from the planet, and only lead to more rapacious destruction of the world.

The dominant technological model is utterly delusional. Here I would urge each of us to consider our “human nature” (a problematic term, no doubt) and the costs and the manner of the work involved: if each of us had to kill a cow for food, would we? If each of us had to mine or blast a mountain for coal or iron, or even for a wind turbine, would we do it? If each of us had to drill an oil well or bulldoze land for a gigantic solar array next to many endangered species or a threatened coral reef, would we?

My guess would be no, for the vast majority of the population. Instead, we employ corporations and specialists to carry out the dirty work in the fossil fuel industries and animal slaughtering, to name just a few. Most of us in the West have reaped the benefits of such atrocities for the past few centuries of the industrial revolution. That era is coming to a close, and there’s no turning back.

The gravy train is running out of steam, and our age of comfort and the enslavement of a global proletariat to produce and gift-wrap our extravagances will hopefully be ending shortly, too. Some may romanticize loggers, factory workers, oil drillers, coal miners, or steel foundries but the chance is less than a needle through a camel’s eye that those jobs are coming back in a significant way. Overpopulation in much of the world continues to put strain upon habitat and farmlands to provide for the Earth’s 7.5 billion — and growing — humans.

Tragically, many with the most influence on the Left today, such as Sanders, Corbyn, and Melenchon want to preserve industrial civilization. Theirs is an over-sentimental outlook which warps their thinking to want to prop up a dying model in order to redistribute wealth to the poor and working classes. Empathy for the less fortunate is no doubt a good thing, but the fact remains that the real wealth lies in our planet’s natural resources, not an artificial economy, and its ability to regenerate and provide the fertile ground upon which we all rely. If we follow their narrow path, we are doomed.

Theirs is a sort of one-dimensional, infantile distortion of Vishnu-consciousness (preservation, in their minds at all costs), an unadulterated cogito, which does not let in the wisdom of his partner Lakshmi (true prosperity) or the harbinger of change and the symbol of death and rebirth, Shiva. Industrial life must be dismantled from the core for a new order to arise. Instead of clinging to this techno-dystopian model of the elites, we must replace it with what I call a Planetary Vision.

The Stone that the Builders Refuse

Only a serious education in ecology for a significant minority of the globe’s workforce can allow for a return to naturally abundant and life-enhancing complex habitats for humanity and all species to thrive. Understandably, fields such as botany, zoology, and conservationism are not for everyone, as much of humanity has been and continues to be more interested in technological fields, the arts, music, sports, religion, etc. It would only take perhaps 10% of the globe to be critically informed, and to be able to act, deliberatively and democratically, about subjects relating to ecosystem preservation and all the attendant sub-fields for a functional, ecocentric culture to flourish.

Thankfully, the foundation of such an ecological vision has been laid by millennia of indigenous cultures, as well as modern prophets and science whizzes such as Rachel Carson, Fritjof Capra, James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, Barry Commoner, Donella Meadows, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, Masanobu Fukuoka, and many others.

Even Marx and Engels observed the basic deteriorating nature of advanced agriculture in what they termed “metabolic rift”, where they learned from European scientists of the overwhelming degradation of soil fertility on the continent due to poor farming techniques, razing of forests, and heavy industry.

Despite its current limitations, the United Nations offers a model of supra-national regulation and governance, especially the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and the almost totally forgotten Brundtland report of 1987.

The Deep Wisdom of Ecology

Modern nations, corporations, vertical hierarchies, and industrial civilization do not serve human health or well-being. It excludes the majority, cuts them from a connection to their neighbors and the land, and privileges an elite rentier class who sponges and sucks the marrow out of the bowels of the Earth and those born money, property, privilege, without a silver spoon in hand.

Ecological thinking, on the other hand, imparts us with the deep truth that we are all connected to each other, and the planet.

Permaculture farming has managed to match and even outpace productivity on giant agribusiness farms using low-impact or even no-till methods.

Food forests can be created around the globe using layers of edible plants at high densities to allow for the growth fruit and nut trees, vines, and perennial shrubs, groundcover, and herbs. This is the real meaning of the Garden of Eden, an agroforestry model which ancient people lived off of for millennia alongside responsible crop rotation, seasonal burns, biochar, animal herding, hunting and foraging, and obtaining protein from fish and shellfish.

Arid, barren lands have been reforested by planting native trees: in Assam, India, one man recovered over 1300 acres by planting just one sapling a day for 30 years.

In the Chesapeake Bay, oyster restoration has been ongoing for years to help improve water quality. Just one adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water in a single day.

An average acre of boreal forest can hold over 100 tons of carbon above and below ground in soil and biomass. As more forests burn carbon is instantly released, and as temperatures rise soils thaw out, leading to increased soil respiration and thus increasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. With 1,400 gigatons of methane stored in the Earth’s permafrost, any significant release into the atmosphere could ramp up warming even faster.

Wildlife corridors must be funded at multiples of current levels and substantially increased in size to allow for keystone, threatened, and endangered species to maintain population sizes and spread over increasingly patchy and unsustainable habitat due to urban growth, roads, and industry. Millions of acres of land should be reforested (some say 500 million total) to provide carbon sinks to offset the coming effects of global warming. Currently 18 million acres of forest are lost per year due to deforestation for grazing and corporate agriculture.

National parks, forests, monuments, as well as coastal, marine, and wildlife refuges as well as state-run areas should be coordinated at the highest levels of national and international regulation. I say coordinated, but I do not mean controlled by in a vertical hierarchy. Responsibility should “telescope” (borrowing a term from political scientist Robyn Eckersley) according to the size of the problem at hand: local deliberative councils may work best for bioregional approaches, whereas some framework of a supra-national structure will be needed for the mega-problems of climate change, plastic pollution, and GMO proliferation, just to name a few.

We have all heard terms such as “apex predator” or “top of the food chain” which capitalists and social Darwinists have misconstrued and adopted to fit their own hierarchical, fascistic beliefs. Yet anyone who has examined a food web knows there are interrelationships and mutualistic interdependencies between myriad species which dwarf and blow away any notion of rigid, calcified structures of permanent dominance of any species or eco-biome.

A systemic examination of global trade would teach the same lesson. There is no way to make any one country “great again” at the expense of other nations. This is a false binary embedded in Western culture that goes by the name of the “Either/Or”.  Rather, we must adopt the “And/Both” model of cultures synergistically and mutually thriving.

(Trickster/Provocateur homework for US citizens: Welcome or respond to someone on our upcoming 4th of July with a cheery greeting of “Happy Interdependence Day!”)

This false dichotomy has insidiously found its way into the Earth sciences, with the categorization and response to “invasive species”. Human disturbance accounts for upwards of 95% of invasives causing harm to new ecosystems, yet even within the academy, detailed plans for shifting our lifestyles are few and far between, and predictably ignored by mainstream society.

Nowhere has this sort of milquetoast-iness been more visceral for me than in listening to a guest lecturer years ago in a conservation biology class, when, at the outset of the lecture and without prompting, she announced that she would not tolerate any questions about humans as “invasive species”. This was perhaps understandable given the narrow definition of the term by some, or the aim and scope of her forthcoming talk, yet still, the rigid reactionary nature and tone of her dictum managed to produce a chill.

Further, the steps involved in combating invasive, non-woody plants do not usually involve more than a tractor mower or a backpack sprayer and Round-up, in public and private operations. Little is done to thwart the habitat systemically disturbed by human activity, the nutrient-depleted soil, over-salinization, etc. No thought given to the notion that the invasives in many cases are the only plants able to germinate and tolerate nutrient-starved soil and edge habitat which falls outside the purview of agricultural land, or the delusional urge within forestry management to preserve wooded or grassland areas in some pre-colonial or pre-industrial chrysalis.

We all observed this duplicitous portrayal of those evil invasives for many years following the media-driven and pseudo-scientific outrage and mania of the kudzu vine in the South. Covering roadsides and disturbed, recently deforested areas, the vine was portrayed with puritanical hatred. The loathed vine cannot penetrate into shaded forest and acted as a projection of our own fears, malicious intent, and ignorance.

The Revolution as Poetic Enchantment

There is also the problem of revolutionary activity where organization and specific roles are needed. We’ve been told that any and all organizing inevitably leads to corruption, hierarchy, greed, and ego inflation. Yet nature has managed to organize and spontaneously birth everything we depend on for sustenance and pleasure. The works of Mauss, Sahlins, and others have shown human behavior to be mostly peaceful, based on reciprocity, lived in balance with a naturally abundant environment.

The succession of a habitat, from the first pioneer species advancing to a climax community in dynamic equilibrium, is poetry in motion, an endless cycle of community relations where the dead provide for the living, just as the winds of history continue to shape our present, the lessons of our ancestors provide the courage to persevere, and the very real trauma and torment of past generations continues to stalk humanity, perhaps even epigenetically in our cells.

Nature’s ability to play freely and its tendency for creative, regenerative self-discovery offers a model attractive to the public where traditional approaches to ideology, mainstream politics, and moral exhortation have failed. Ecology uniquely offers an approach to our self-interest, with pragmatic and deep ethical implications, and in our nuclear and fossil fuel age, to our very survival.

Recent uprisings in Zucotti Park, South Dakota, Tahrir and Taksim Squares, Tunisia, and many other places demonstrate the organic, spontaneous nature of our ability to resist the systemic oppression endemic to our neoliberal, colonial, imperial world order.

The question of what comes after a successful revolt undoubtedly plagues many people, considering the bloody sectarianism that followed in many historical instances. Yet one of the root causes of such post-revolutionary failings necessarily includes the loss of jouissance, the senses of optimism, exuberance, and mutual aid which erupted throughout history in Paris communes, military barracks and factories in Petrograd, communes in Catalonia, etc.

Many progressives and so-called radicals in the US today seem more interested in internecine bickering and petty squabbling over turf than in implementing an authentic plan to re-enchant a comatose public. A citizenry, mind you, which has become exhausted and disillusioned from politics and any notion of defending the public sphere and commons due to relentless propaganda, neoliberal economics, structural racism, and a perverse imperial edict of global warfare which knows no bounds and sees no end.

Such small-mindedness and insularity is only compounded by a geographically isolated, narcissistic, spectacle craving media, celebrity-worshiping culture, and chattering class smugness which has robotized, dehumanized, and intoxicated a public which no longer seems to have the psychic or physiological energy and stamina to resist. This can be countered by providing material and intellectual nourishment, especially to our youth, through wholesome organic farming, natural medicines, and alternative education systems which promote and instill environmentalism, forms of direct democracy, and critical thinking skills, as well as continuing education for adults and seniors.

Much of our culture’s confusion is reinforced by a digital, social media driven, an ahistorical narrative, and a dematerialized market in the West where information and leisure is metered out to the poor, elderly, disabled, and working classes in a slow drip of bandwidth, bytes, pixels: poisonous cups of soma which we believe must all imbibe to partake in our “culture”.

Yet so many are now beginning to rattle their cages. Part of the reason being that savings and material wealth for the majority has declined, life expectancy dropping in neglected areas, suicide and addictive behaviors are increasing, inequality and gentrification skyrocketing. Yet also partly because creativity has been stifled, free time is eaten up by a gig economy relentlessly eating up our leisure, wild open spaces are diminishing, and the effects of a polluted, over-crowded world where alienation appears to reign and many see No Exit.

Digital technology, trickle-down finance, and media narratives are pushed so hard by the powers-that-be, in a pyramid scheme Ponzi economy bound to collapse. And data-driven, quantifiable, “objective” information doused on the public is losing its effect. Masses can now see through the high priests of officialdom, because their policies do not relate to any place or time, it is not embodied in the commons. The deluge of “empirical” statistics and innovation spouting out of mainstream media, government bureaucracies, and non-profit policy centers borders on absurd, and one could summarize their work as Informationism, for it truly represents an ideology. These are the apologists and court historians for the grand viziers of capital. They have created their own veritable echo-chamber ecology within the former swamplands of the Potomac basin.

How can the hegemony of corporate and state rule be further undermined? By acknowledging how they employ words, propaganda, ideology, and a false version of history as weapons to create a habitat of hate and fear. As the Situationists wrote: “Words work — on behalf of the dominant organizations of life…Power presents only the falsified, official sense of words.”

As the SI further noted:

Every revolution has been born in poetry, has first of all been made with the force of poetry. This phenomenon continues to escape theorists of revolution — indeed, it cannot be understood if one still clings to the old conception of revolution or of poetry — but it has generally been sensed by counterrevolutionaries. Poetry terrifies them. Whenever it appears they do their best to get rid of it by every kind of exorcism, from auto-da-fé to pure stylistic research. Real poetry, which has “world enough and time,” seeks to reorient the entire world and the entire future to its own ends. As long as it lasts, its demands admit of no compromise. It brings back into play all the unsettled debts of history.

Part of poetic resistance simply is awareness. We are not going to save the world without learning how to actually live in the world. Here words fall far short, they “float”, are too abstract. At the level of ontological awareness helpful concepts like “Dasein” and “existence precedes essence” can only show the doorway, yet the point is to walk through it. This is why I don’t consider, for example, Leary’s words of “Find the others” to be an escapist fantasy: they are a call to mytho-poetic revolution, for only in collective struggle can one transcend a selfish ego and a sick, dying culture. Communal living will be a big part of this, especially as the world economy seems very likely to fall into depression or outright collapse within a couple decades at most.

Initiation into adulthood, a model of dying and rebirth, is of utmost importance, as Barry Spector and Martin Prechtel, among others, have shown. Without this, the modern world is stuck in an infantile state, forever craving more, never satisfied.

The domination of man by man and nature by man now reaches global proportions. In our Anthropocene Age all boundaries between human and nature collapse, as we come to understand the web we are enmeshed in. Studies in modern psychics prove on the cosmological scale (relativity) and sub-atomic scales (quantum entanglement, superposition, double-slit experiment) have all proven definitely what ancient traditions have understood for millennia. Andre Malraux was correct when he prophesized that: “The 21st century will be spiritual or will not be.”

All major religions hold ecological balance, love of your neighbor, and conservation as a core truth. Teachings from the Sermon on the Mount, Hindu concepts of ahimsa and karma, Buddhist right livelihood, Islam’s tawhid, khilafa, and akhirah all have shown this, as well as indigenous mythology.

Sadly, most of the dissenters in our culture have been totally marginalized. The best minds of our generation have no longer fallen to madness; they are ignored, imprisoned, killed, or shipped off to a permanent “Desolation Row”. Consider the great works of Gary Snyder, Arne Naess, Robinson Jeffers, Wendell Barry, as well as environmentalists such as Wangari Maathai, Vandana Shiva, Sylvia Earle: the collective brilliance is astounding, yet industrialism allows no avenues for a praxis, for their ideas to be put to work or play.

Only an understanding of relationship and interdependencies can account for how our policy at the border, for instance, is connected to environmental destruction, factory farming, resource extraction, habitat destruction, the killings overseas in Yemen, Gaza, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the list goes on. It goes on for so long that the mind grows numb. Yet, we must counter this. Our government is the primary driver of the perpetual crimes of total warfare, planetary destruction, neo-feudal debt-based serfdom and global immiseration, and most of us have been complicit in varying degrees.

Have no doubt, many in power around the world, consciously or not, are waiting to start a new Kristallnacht against minorities and the poor which they will use to further the next stage of their privatized, totalitarian, surveillance-laden brave new world. It’s already started here in the US and in Italy against the Roma among other places. Theirs is an aesthetic of terror and brainwashing which knows no bounds.

Yet their individual pathologies only tell us part of the story: it is the system of alienation which breeds hate and must be dismantled, not replacing one figurehead leader with another seemingly benign one, as we did with Obama. Only a culture which understands the connections of how capitalism ultimately leads to fascism, one which comprehends the Earth’s limits, our own psycho-somatic frailties, and our bio-social relationships with each other and with flora and fauna can provide the resistance needed in this perilous age.

Turkish-Syrian Border: Confusion, Destruction and Grief

Border wall between Turkish Karkamis and Syrian Jarabulus

When we first met in 2017, the Turkish poet, Mustafa Goren, stood proudly and defiantly next to a monstrous concrete wall built on orders from Ankara. The partition has just recently separated two towns with the same culture: Turkish Karkamis and Syrian Jarabulus.

The poet then read some of his verses, and my friend, a translator of my books, originally from the city of Adana, tried to keep pace, interpreting.

The poem began with quite an unusual opening, and it warned Europe and its people:

One day, true leaders of the world will come, and they’ll cut off all the gas and petrol supplies to you, and you’ll find yourself in even deeper shit than the one into which you are throwing this part of the world! You’ll have to burn your designer clothes and shoes, just to stay warm. You forgot, but you will soon be reminded, Europe: we are all human beings!

He was raising his right hand accusingly, shouting towards the sky. Somehow, he looked like the Soviet revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovski.

Turkish poet Mustafa Goren in Karkamis

The poet was obviously indignant. It was 2017 then. Everything at the border was still raw, new, and terribly painful. Everything, good and bad, seemed to be possible: full-scale Turkish – Syria war, even a war between Turkey and Russia, or perhaps a Turkish exit from NATO and much closer alliance with Russia and Iran against the West.

Like so many patriots and thinkers in his country, Mustafa Goren strongly disliked the West. He was expressing his full-hearted support for his friends – the people and the state of Syria.

Stopping the Syrian war was all that mattered to him; it was his mission. He was sustaining himself by selling cigarettes on the street of Carsi Mahallesi; a street that hugs the borderline and now the wall.

He did not care how he was making a living, as long as he had time to create, to write, to recite. He was full of determination, zeal and optimism.

*****

Now, when I met him one year later, things definitely looked different. It was 2018, a different era, and totally different Karkamis.

The wall was still there, as well as the Turkish military operations behind it. The poet was still living and struggling in Karkamis, too, but his face looked defeated and tired. Now he was working in a small café. He was broke. His eyes had lost all their previous shine:

“Turkey is now fighting against the European Union… in ,” he said. But somehow it did not sound convincing.

My comrades and I then drove one kilometer towards the Euphrates River; to the ancient cemetery with a commanding view of the border and the Syrian town of Jarabulus.

Syrian town of Jarabulus photographed from the Turkish cemetery in Karkamis

This has been the best place in the area to take a leak, to film the border and to observe Turkish military operations inside Syria.

This time, shrapnel was flying too close, and the explosions were loud.

Two veiled ladies who were visiting the cemetery, spotted us.

“What are you looking for in this godforsaken,” one of them asked. She gave us a hostile, or perhaps desperate look:

What do you think you will find here? We are tired of this fight. We are bored of this conflict. All we want to do is to leave this place; to go far, very far away…

We heard more shells flying nearby, and more explosions.

The lady couldn’t stop:

Go away! Don’t you understand: we don’t want any foreigners here. Foreigners are the cause of this conflict!

We tried to find our old contacts, including Mr. Bulent Polat, a Kemalist from the opposition Republican People’s Party. But his shop on the main street was gone, hermetically sealed. Nearby, an armored vehicle was parked, unceremoniously.

Like almost everyone we spoke to in Karkamis, Mr. Polat was a strong opponent of the war. And he was especially against the Turkish involvement in it:

I know what we are doing there, across the border! To mobilize people against Assad, the anti-government militants supported by Turkey and the West, have been dressing in official Syrian military uniforms, then shoot at the civilians, killing many. Then they say: ‘Assad did it!’ It has been happening all over Syria.

Now Mr. Polat was gone.

Mustafa Goren, the poet, ordered tea for all of us. Then he sat down at a simple table, holding his head between two palms, before beginning to speak:

Nobody wants to stay here, at the border, anymore. In Karkamis, there is more Syrians than Turks, now. If Syrians leave, the whole place will turn to a ghost town.

Then he begins mixing everything together:

Turkey is not fighting against the PKK and the Kurdish terrorist groups here and in Syria – it is fighting against the European Union. This is our own, internal issue, and if we have to die in this fight, we will!

Such discourse can be heard all over Turkey. It is difficult and for many foreigners, hard to follow, but it is how it is. Turkey is in a complex transition: from where is obvious, but to where, almost no one knows.

“Mustafa,” I asked him softly. Despite all this pain, desperation and confusion, he is my comrade, a fellow poet. “What about Russia?”

His eyes softened up, as well as his entire facial expression:

Russians never stabbed Turks in the back. During WWI, they helped us against the West, at Galipoli. They are honest people. We have to coordinate with the Russians…

He nods towards the explosions.

For a while, we sit quietly, listening. Then we embrace. It is time to go.

*****

Karkamis is getting de-populated. It is alarming but understandable. It is becoming truly dangerous to live here. Plus, there is almost no work left in this area.

The entire frontier region used to rely heavily on trade with Syria. There were strong friendships forged between the individuals and families on both sides of the border. People were visiting each other, and they were intermarrying. Goods and services were flowing between Turkey and Syria almost freely.

Now, there is a full stop. The border can only be crossed by armored vehicles, tanks, and ambulances. They are going back and forth, bringing soldiers, carrying the wounded and even corpses. No civilian can pass.

Entrance to a refugee camp near Elbeyli

Further west, Elbeyli town is a bizarre hive of spies, a fortification. Everything here is monitored. It is because from here, the Turkish military forces are constantly invading Syrian territory. Here, no one dares to speak. To ask questions leads to immediate phone calls, arrests and interrogations.

Now, many villages around Elbeyli are half-empty. It is an eerie sight. The war has ruined entire communities.

What is thriving is the construction business. Not of the infrastructure, but of the military bases, spy antennas and above all, of the walls. An enormous, monstrous wall, which separates two countries – Turkey and Syria, in the past two inseparable sisters – is now scarring this ancient land. It is around 900 kilometers long, they say. How much money, how much concrete is being poured into it, and why?

Then the City of Killis.

New Turkish military base near Killis and Syrian border

We are shown destroyed walls of a house; a place “where rockets fell recently from the Syrian territory”. This is what the Turkish government uses as its justification for the invasion.

The local people have it all very clear. Several of them declare openly, but without revealing their names:

If only the Turkish government and military would coordinate their operations with the legitimate government in Damascus!

Things are tough in Killis. Like elsewhere along the border, businesses are closing down. An owner of a kebab stall couldn’t find any job for more than a year and had to try his luck in far-away Jakarta; in Indonesia which is much poorer than Turkey. He came back, had some luck and has now turned into an ultra-nationalist:

“Now the world can see the power of Turks!” He declared, passionately, voicing his full support for the invasion.

But here, at the border, he is clearly in the minority.

At a barbershop, “Salon Hassan”, several people are gathered, just in order to discuss politics. The most common assessment of the situation is:

The biggest mistake is that the Turkish military is not coordinating its operations with President Assad.

We are told that “some 8,000 of the refugees living in the camps all over the region are now returning back to Syria.”

But Turkey is hosting more than 3.5 million Syrian migrants. The situation is extremely complex, as intercommunal violence between Turks and Syrians tripled in the second half of 2017.

Turkish president Erdogan often declares that it is mainly because of his military forces operating across the border, that so many Syrian refugees now feel safe to return home. “Nonsense”, most Syrian people reply to such claims. “It is because of the Syrian army, President Assad, and his Russian and Iranian allies! Legitimate Syrian government is now winning the war. Only because of that, things are much safer for the Syrian people.”

“We love Russians here,” a local man professed, loudly. Some citizens of Killis also love Erdogan, as well as President Assad of Syria. ‘Too much love?’ Too many contradictory feelings? It is Turkey, after all. Here, nothing is ever simple.

But what is Russia here, to these people? In many parts of Turkey and all over the Middle East, more than a country, Russia became a symbol of defiance, proof that the West and its deadly designs can be confronted and stopped.

*****

Things appear confusing, but in Turkey, they always are.

As we drive through this ancient, beautiful but wounded land, my Turkish friend and translator utters, in desperation:

“The ‘Elderdog’ (increasingly common derogatory nickname for the present leader) is going to lose during the next elections. I bet he is going to…”

“But is the Turkish policy towards NATO and towards Syria going to change, dramatically?” I wonder.

For a while, there is silence in the car.

“I wish hope,” friend, my comrade says, finally.

He doesn’t know. Of course, he doesn’t. In Turkey, anything is possible.

“I hope Turkey comes to its senses. I love this country,” I say honestly. “I am really tired of hating it.”

“So am I,” he nods.

We are literally licking a huge concrete wall. Behind it is Syria, clearly visible, beautiful.

Actually, it is all very simple. People there are fighting against terror and against the Western imperialism.

People here, in Turkey, are still at the wrong side of the barricade. But they are waking up; many of them already understand. They may soon join those who are fighting for the survival of humanity. They may. Hopefully they will.

(Note: as this essay goes to print, Turkish election polls are closing. 56 million voters have been able to cast their ballots, voting simultaneously in parliamentary and presidential elections. According to preliminary results, President Erdogan secured a comfortable lead.)

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

• First published at New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

“Propaganda organization”: White Helmets “engage in anti-Assad activities”

Although some members of the Western-supported White Helmets may be in the business of saving lives, the group is also a “propaganda organization,” author Sy Hersh (Reporter: A Memoir) has told RT’s Going Underground.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist also spoke about reporting in the United States and how it changed under the Obama administration, as well as the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, UK.

Did Israel Inspire Trump’s Family Separation Policy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assad to Ban Foreign Money from Syria Reconstruction

Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks to Russian NTV channel © Reuters

Syria will not allow Western investors to step into the rebuilding of war-damaged country as they only come to “take” from foreign economies, Syria’s Bashar Assad told Russian media, adding he will seek friendly aid instead.

The US and its Western allies have been actively engaged in the seven-year long war in Syria, including the illegal stationing of troops in the country and backing anti-government militants such as Free Syrian Army (FSA) and “moderate” Islamist groups. The war has dealt billions in damage to the country, but President Assad is determined to rebuild without a single penny from the “dishonest” West.

“They [the West] won’t be part of reconstruction in Syria, because very simply we won’t allow them to be part of it… we don’t need the West. The West is not honest at all, they don’t give, they only take,” the Syrian leader told Russian NTV channel on Sunday.

US tells rebels not to count on its help as Syrian army advances into country’s southwest – report

The country was historically built without external help, the Syrian president stressed, adding that any loans would be allowed only from “friends.” On the other hand, European investors, who have been privately contacting the Syrian authorities on the matter, will be banned from Syrian markets. Assad says that Europe has eyes for Syria just to save its own “dire” economies.

“They need this market, they are in a very dire situation economically since 2008, most of the European countries. They need many markets, Syria is one of them, and we are not going to allow them to be part of this market, very simply,” he said.

During the interview, Assad lashed out at Western powers, which he believes are controlled by Washington and only have “the substitute of statesmen” and “fake politics.” He said this approach needed “fake stories,” including the alleged use of chemical weapons, which Assad was repeatedly accused of despite Damascus destroying the stockpile in 2013.

The Syrian leader also said that negotiating with US President Donald Trump would be fruitless as Washington always comes up short on its promises and things only get worse when it’s involved.

“The problem with the American presidents is that they are hostages to their lobbies, to the mainstream media, to the huge corporations, financial, oil, armaments, etc.,” Assad said. He described President Trump as a “very stark example” of the American approach in politics – always saying “what you want to hear,” but doing the opposite, things get “worse and worse.”

“So, talking and discussing with the Americans now for no reason, without achieving anything, is just a waste of time,” the Syrian leader said, adding that Damascus is ready for productive dialogue, but it is unlikely to have it with Washington “in the foreseeable future.”

Separation and killing of children

President Trump’s cruel policy of separating immigrant children from their parents as they sought asylum here mocked the idea that the US government values families. Unfortunately the US has a long and sad history of separating children from their parents. For example, the US took American-Indian children from their parents and Black slave families were often torn apart.

Fortunately the media provided non-stop coverage of Trump’s latest abomination. In addition, the US public continues to express its outrage about this horrific situation. This public outrage is one of the factors that finally caused Trump to end his appalling policy.

Unfortunately, the media has not provided much coverage of the reasons these immigrant families are leaving everything familiar behind and seeking asylum. The media sometimes mentions the terrifying violence in Central America while ignoring the US role in creating it.

Some US interventions

For example, since early in the twentieth century, the US has frequently intervened in Central and South America in support of US corporate interests. For example, in 1935 US Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, one of the most highly decorated Marines in US history, wrote:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

In his writing, Butler specifically referred to his service in Mexico, Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Honduras among other places on behalf of Wall Street, US banks and other corporate interests.

The US has continued to intervene in Central and South America, including the overthrow of elected governments. In 1954 the US supported the illegal coup against the democratically-elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz. Perhaps more well known is the US support for the military coup against the democratically-elected Salvador Allende, president of Chile, in 1973 that led to a brutal dictatorship and horrendous human rights abuses.

Skipping over many more interventions, more recently the US quickly recognized the results of a coup in Honduras in 2009 that ousted the democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya who was not favored by the US. Increasing violence and repression against the Honduran people by the coup government and gangs followed almost immediately and continues today.

Little media coverage of some children’s deaths

Contrast highly warranted public outrage over the separation of families to the relatively little public reaction to the reported large number of extra deaths of Iraqi children during the 1990s. These deaths followed the attack on Iraq in 1991 and the subsequent sanctions. In a 1996 interview, Leslie Stahl asked Madeleine Albright, then US ambassador to the UN: “We have heard that a half-million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And — and, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.” The number of deaths reported was likely overestimated but, regardless, Albright’s response is chilling. The sanctions preceded the 2003 US-led attack on Iraq that was even more destructive.

Perhaps this lack of public outrage was partially related to the US media that didn’t provide non-stop coverage of US war crimes similarly to its current coverage of Trump’s sickening and indefensible separations.

Also note the meager media coverage of the killing of children and their families and the US role in these murders in Yemen, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. Have we as a people become so jaded to the deaths of the other when it is supported by both major political parties? Or is the lack of outrage related to the media’s poor coverage?

In addition, where is the outrage against the illegal siege of and the lethal Israeli attacks on Gaza that are incredibly devastating to the entire Palestinian population in Gaza, particularly to the children? Unfortunately the US media pays little attention to Palestinians, allowing the incredible suffering and the trauma to continue.

Lastly, consider the Israeli treatment of Palestinian children who are forcefully separated from their families and imprisoned where they are often further abused. Rep. Betty McCollum has introduced H.R. 4391 that would stop US support for Israeli abuse of Palestinian children. Encourage your representative to support this bill.