Category Archives: Terrorism (state and retail)

Hastening the Downfall of the Neocons

Neocons, whose name fits almost every mainstream politician and commentator, say America is destined to rule the world through violence, intimidation and the belief in its own moral superiority. Unfortunately, despite losing wars, their variant of fascism evades condemnation and trial thus far.

It is saddening to see politicians responsible for maintaining our catastrophic, failed foreign policies in the United States and the United Kingdom continue to evade justice since their illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Such neocons, including Tony Blair in Britain, have even been taken back from the sewer and polished by the press for us, almost as if they had not committed war crimes and bathed in the blood of innocent people.

For the press to present Tony Blair’s face to us, let alone allow him to assert his judgments and advise us, after he lied to us all and bloodied his hands with the children of Iraq, is an assault on human intelligence and dignity. For any journalist to present George W. Bush in a fond way because he isn’t Donald Trump is a disgusting attack on the memory of the women he massacred and the welfare of the children he orphaned.

A madness driven by the bizarre US Presidential Election of 2016 has overtaken much of the political left, who are realigning themselves to be primarily anti-Donald Trump and generally favorable towards anyone else. This has driven them into openly siding with Hillary Clinton and even George Soros, proclaiming that the CIA, the billionaire world elite and the reactionary warmongers of 2003 are now heroes of progressivism because of their opposition to Donald Trump.

What the strange theater of the Election has succeeded in doing was to twist minds and fragment the political left, not only in the United States but across the West. Many on the so-called center left are convinced the only thing to do with left wing activism over the next decade is to oppose Donald Trump, and that means they want to even support nationalist, neoliberal and neoconservative authority figures and even deep state thugs who might want to assassinate and overthrow the foolish President.

In truth, what Donald Trump represents is the same for the world as Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair and George W. Bush. Anyone freshly aligned against Donald Trump and the “alt right”, who now looks back in adoration at the murderers Barack Obama and George W. Bush, has been deceived and led on like a donkey. These war criminals are all identical, as far as world human welfare is concerned. They have no goal other than to position the United States as the moral chieftain over humanity, held up by the chauvinists on one side and the cowards terrified of America’s military strength on the other. According to one approach, people in either category must be named and shamed endlessly until their evil views are exposed and met with as much revulsion as Nazism.

The troubling reality, something few American readers are likely to accept here, is that the United States cannot be fixed. The same can be declared about the Western political system in its entirety, meaning all the other supposedly “exceptional” countries bragging at the top of all the lists of free and democratic states.

When modern democratic republics were new, their purity was thwarted by acts of betrayal. We were told the values of the French Revolution, the American Revolution and the transition away from absolute monarchy in Britain had prevailed. In fact, such attempts to form true republics were all corrupted, sabotaged and kept from completion by reactionaries within years of taking place, and only the ideals remained alive in desperate hearts. What was intended in the French Revolution, in taking the ax to the root of power, was kept from completion by the Thermidorian Reaction. In the centuries following such betrayals, we inherited this parody we see, a hollow shape of splendor cut from the vilest corruption, lies and moral sewage. This shape is what people are today mistaking for “democracy”, while it is used as an excuse to wage crusades and massacre other nations when we are told they are inferior.

One might strike back against the arguments made here by accusing me of being too forceful in deciding what is best for Americans without being one of them, but not one shred of any argument here is concerned with the future of the American people. The American people have shown too little regard for anyone else in their short but violent history to be the concern of the rest of the world. The only thing that should matter to us is neutering this destructive regime and ending the unprecedented evil it now embodies. As the only country to have used nuclear weapons, no crime is too great for Americans to commit. No injury to America’s interests could mean anything other than saving civilians from the regime’s endless war of terror.

What happens in the United States is not the concern of Americans foremost, but the concern of others. The US has committed global crimes and invaded the lives of everybody in the world, leaving the entire world with a supreme responsibility to stop the destructive aggressor. The fate of the United States must be decided by non-Americans first and by Americans second, because it has imposed itself so egregiously on the rest of the world. If the rest of humanity were to choose that this destructive regime should be destroyed, no attempt by Americans to appeal against justice can be allowed.

Mass murder will be the hobby of every Western government until there is a punishment for the neocon mentality. Since the neocons are invaders, they should be punished according to whatever laws exist in the land they helped invade. Neocons should be subjected to native justice, because to use our Western laws in punishing those of us who invaded oppressed nations would only be another arrogant policy against the oppressed.

The future contains great peril for the neocons. America’s behavior has proven it will never voluntarily give up its criminal designs, and will have to be physically defeated or rendered much weaker before it can be brought to justice. Until that day arrives, everything that immobilizes the American political system, confounds their deranged politics further, or leaves America vulnerable to foreign threats will be part of the regime’s collapse. For those who doubt this collapse, see the history of prior empires, and be aware that surviving longer only increases the horror and violence to descend on them in the end. It means less suffering to collapse now than later

Palestinian Women: One for All, All for One

Palestinian women have always stood side by side with their fathers, brothers, husbands, comrades to resist the Zionist occupation, to fight for freedom and legitimate rights. They are the first to go to the streets to protest the brutality of the Israeli military occupation, the first to organize sit-ins and marches demanding the release of their children, brothers and fathers from Israeli prisons. They are the protectors, the supporters, but most of all they are the comrades in the fight for a free Palestine.

— Reham Al Helsi

The Pietas of Palestine bear the pain full weight of the vicious Israeli occupation made crueller for its illegality and impunity that is shielded by Western betrayal of international law and morality.

While the world looked the other way during the 70 years since the Nakba, the Catastrophe of Zionist terrorism that established parasitic Israel, no Palestinian woman has been spared grief, terror and trauma because every family has been torn apart by tragedies of a beloved murdered, or incarcerated, or denied desperate medical attention, or a family home demolished, or livelihoods destroyed as unemployment emasculates their men or when life-giving olive trees and orchards are laid waste by bulldozers and the Annexation Wall. Or all of the above.

You, who casually turn your taps and light switches on and off, consider the everyday stress of barely sufficient water for the family that trickles from the Israeli Mekorot company and the systematic electricity blackouts in summer and winter extremes metered out through Israel’s covert system of slow-motion genocide.

Ask yourself, how does a Gazan mother ensure her children’s health when the Israelis deliberately, as means of illegal collective punishment, calculate “the minimum caloric intake necessary for Palestinians to avoid malnutrition so Israel could limit the amount of foodstuffs allowed into Gaza without causing outright starvation.”

In Palestine mothers are sacred. Every one of us has several mothers: the mother that gave birth to us, the olive tree, the land and the mother of all: Palestine. And a Palestinian mother isn’t just a mother to the children she gives birth to, she is mother to all Palestinians.

Reham Alhelsi

Every Palestinian mother knows when her children leave the house there is no guarantee of a safe return. A child throwing a stone against the soldiers, jeeps and tanks of the world’s 4th largest nuclear military may be buried that afternoon with a bullet in his/her back, or left to bleed to death on the street as the occupation forces prevent the ambulance from attending. Or that brave stone may effect 15 years in prison for her teenage child while Israel’s military killers, like Elor Azaria who point blank murdered a wounded Palestinian youth lying unarmed on the road, gets 18 months for ‘manslaughter’! If that. The only assurance for the Palestinian mother is the killer’s promotion will be forthcoming.

Three comrades in the fight for freedom, Hanin Zoabi, Ahed Tamimi, Samah Sabawi hailing from the fractured body of Palestine — 1948 occupied Palestine, the 1967 occupied Palestine — West Bank and Gaza/diaspora respectively – represent the sumoud (steadfast resilience), the courage, the integrity defining the spirit of Palestinian women.

Hanin Zoabi

Hanin Zoabi was born in Nazareth and in 2009 became the first Palestinian woman to become, via the Arab Balad party, a member of the Knesset; the Israeli government.

As Israel has severe anaphylaxic reactions to Truth, Hanin’s blunt truthfulness, calling an Uzi an Uzi, challenges the media monopoly on Israel propaganda hence drawing hellfire from the zionists.

She has compared Zionist Occupation Forces to ISIS-  a fair comparison given both aim to set up exclusive political entities through violence: a Jewish State from the river to the sea, and a wide sweeping Islamic Caliphate. She was slammed and urged to apologise for calling Israeli commandoes ‘murderers’ for killing 9 unarmed Turkish humanitarian workers on the Gaza flotilla vessel, Mavi Marmara, on which she was a passenger.

Au contraire, she demanded in parliament, “Those who murdered need to apologize, you need to apologize.”. Shrugging off the Holocaust taboo, she stated “During Kristallnacht thousands of Jewish businesses and synagogues were burned, while the Germans remained silent. Today, as the homes of Palestinians are burned, as churches and people are burned alive- the majority in Israel remains silent.”

For her feisty principled outspokenness on Israel’s violent transgressions against Palestinians and democratic delinquency….

“Rather than seeing democracy as equality and human rights, now the only meaning of democracy in Israel is the rule of the – Jewish – majority.”

…. Hanin has been bullied and reviled by Israeli parliamentarians, denigrated  as ‘terrorist’, ‘neofascist,’ “Haneen Zoabi is not a circus, she isn’t even worthy of being used as lion food.” (Avi Dichter) and repeatedly threatened with the revocation of her citizenship, suspension and expulsion from the Knesset.

Undaunted, the formidable Hanin unswervingly demands a one state with equality for all its citizens and in the meantime she fights for equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, challenges Zionism and its recent law that legalised theft of Palestinian land through settlement expansion, and serves the rights of women.

Ahed Tamimi

Ahed, 15, was born with the Tamimi DNA of resistance and was suckled on Israeli tear gas and Palestinian sumoud in the weekly protests of her village, Nabi Saleh.

Nabi Saleh has 500 residents whose daily view across the valley is an army base alongside  the Jewish settlement, Halamish, built on their stolen land. They began weekly protests in 2009 organised by Ahed’s parents Bassem and Nariman, when the settler militia took over their village spring. Bassem, a grassroots nonviolent advocate has been described by the EU as a human rights defender. He has been arrested, tortured and incarcerated at least 4 times, once for 3 years. More than 13% of Nabi Saleh protestors have been in Israeli detention.

The first time I saw Ahed was on You-tube. Then all of 11, she was doggedly confronting with her little fist Israeli soldiers armed to the hilt, demanding the release of her brother. Like Justin King, her courage had a profound impact on me,

It wasn’t just the defiance in her eyes. It was the fact that it wasn’t new to her. She had obviously seen more carnage and violence than most. She was a veteran. The world is becoming more and more accustomed to female warriors, so why did this veteran’s battle have the impact it did? She was 13 years old. I say “woman” because she isn’t a “child” and she isn’t a “girl”. Not anymore. She’s a hardened veteran. We bought her childhood at the price tag of $10 million dollars per day in military aid to Israel.

Justin King

The next time I saw this teenage warrior, she was fiercely locked, along with her  mother, aunt and cousin, onto an armed army thug that was attempting to arrest her 12 year old brother. The soldier was no match for these Tamimi lionesses and Mohamed was released. The big bad Israelis are so afraid of young Ahed, that pressure erupted to deny the 15 year old a visa to enter the USA  for a speaking tour. While David and Goliath are myths, Ahed versus the Goliath Zionist army is reality.

One day, Ahed may succeed Hanin Zoabi as President of Palestine: both have more integrity and courage in one eyelash than all the traitors in the Palestinian Authority.

Samah Sabawi

Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian-Australian-Canadian poet, playwright, editor, PhD student, powerful orator, political commentator and spokesperson for Palestinian freedom. She was born in Gaza to Suhailah and Abdul Kareem Sabawi, a distinguished poet, author and non-violence revolutionary. The Sabawi family’s forced wrench from Gaza is characteristic of Palestinian exiles in the diaspora and Samah’s passion for justice and love for her homeland is the gravitational pull of her activism and art:

I stand dispossessed of everything but my words
They are words of truth
Of fire and steel
I use them deliberately
Not to incite hatred
Not to frighten
But to lighten up this darkness
That tore me into 11 million pieces
And scattered me across the earth
Words tell my story
Nakba
Naksa
Forced exile
Ethnic cleansing
Apartheid
Words
Carefully chosen
Purposely uttered
These are the words that lay the foundation
Of the language of my liberation

Samah is a sought after spokesperson whose sharp intellect lit with poetic flair and reconciliatory grace makes her a powerful ambassador for Palestine in the diaspora. Yet, like Hanin, Samah too has been a target of controversy; the tentacles of the zionist lobby have no boundaries in the west. In 2014, Samah was dropped  from a panel debating the two-state solution at the Wheeler Centre Melbourne because of her support for BDS. When she was reinstated, Jewish panellists Geoff Bloch, Dvir Abramovich and the Head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, Izzat Salah Abdulhadi withdrew from the event. In 2016, Abramovich reared his Zionist head to strike with the faux accusatory venom of anti-semitism at Samah’s play, Tales of a City by the Sea, a love story set in Gaza, which was included in the  Victorian school curriculum and has since gone on to win literary awards.

On this 2017 International Women’s Day, I close with Samah’s poem, published in I remember my name,

Imra’a
(For my sisters in the Arab World and beyond)
Feb 17, 2013

I
am
woman
Imra’a
Whole
Not a fragment of your shadow
Not a rib torn out of your torso
Not a mail order
Not a house slave
Not a fairy-tale princess
Not a damsel in distress
Not a genie in a bottle
Not a devil
Nor a saint
Not scattered
not arranged
Not lacking in brain or piety
Not a fountain of propriety
I am eternity
Lived in an instant
I am constant randomness
I am chaos in stability
In songs you ache for me
I am your refuge and your refugee
Your barren desert and your fertile field
Your homeland…your ‘watan’
My womb yields the fruit of life
I am your Mother
Daughter
Sister
Wife
A prince of poetry wrote of me
“Alommo madrasaton…”
A mother is a school if well prepared
You prepare a well-mannered nation
For a thousand and one Arabian nights
I am inspiration
In the Holy Scriptures
I am temptation
I am your Eve in the Garden of Eden
My qualities revealed in the holy Quran
‘inna kaydahonna azeem’
I am your dream
our ‘hoor alayn’
Your seduction
Your redemption
Your struggle
Your salvation
I am strength and weakness
Rolled into one
I am your lived reality
And all that you refuse to see
I am what you cannot define
Cannot confine
To a fantasy
am human
Of flesh and blood
My faults monumental
My virtues unquantifiable
I am neither a reflection of you nor on you
Your ticket to paradise does not begin with my virtue
Your peace of mind does not begin with my conformity
Your redemption does not begin with my submission
Your honor is not defined by my chastity
Your fantasies are your own
Your vice is yours alone
For I carry my own
Burden alone
I am woman
Imra’a
Whole

Only the Israeli Dead Matter

At a glance, Israel appears a true democracy. Take a closer look, and that facade of democracy will soon dissipate, turning into something else entirely.

Tuesday, February 28 was one of those moments. The chain of events was as follows:

An official Israeli State Comptroller issued another report on the Israeli government’s handling of the July 2014 war on Gaza; it chastised Israeli Prime Minister, Banjamin Netanyahu, and then-Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon –  among others – for the lack of preparedness and for their mishandling of the subsequent 50-day conflict; Netanyahu reacted angrily; Ya’alon took to Facebook to defend his record; the opposition in the Israeli Knesset (parliament) went on the offensive; politicians lined up, taking sides; a media frenzy followed; the country was in an uproar.

This is not a precedent. It is a repeat of a recurring scenario that often follows Israel’s military plunders.

When such reports are issued, Israelis sort out their differences in fierce parliamentary and media battles.

While Israelis begin to examine their failures, demanding accountability from their government, western mainstream media finds the perfect opportunity to whitewash its own record of failing to criticize Israel’s military onslaught at the time.

(Over 2,200 – of whom over 70 percent were Palestinian civilians – were killed and thousands more wounded in Israel’s so-called ‘Operation Protective Edge’ in 2014.)

According to US media logic, for example, Israel’s investigation of its own action is a tribute to its thriving democracy, often juxtaposed with Arab governments’ lack of self-examination.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, instigating a war that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians, culminating in the Sabra and Shatilla Massacres, a familiar scenario ensued: The United States did its utmost to prevent any international intervention or meaningful investigation, while Israel was allowed to investigate itself.

The outcome was the Kahan Commission Report, the conclusion of which was summarized by international law expert, Professor Richard Falk, as such: “The full measure of Israel’s victory is rather its vindication, despite all, as a moral force in the region—as a superior state, especially as compared to its Arab rivals.”

The US media touted Israel’s ‘moral victory’, which, somehow, made everything okay, and with a magic wand, wiped the record clean.

The Washington Post editorial led the congratulatory chorus: “The whole process of the Israeli reaction to the Beirut massacre is a tribute to the vitality of democracy in Israel and to the country’s moral character.”

This sorry state of affairs has been in constant replay for nearly 70 years, ever since Israel declared its independence in 1948.

International law is clear regarding the legal responsibility of Occupying Powers but since Israel is rarely an enthusiast of international law, Israel has forbidden any attempt at being investigated for its actions.

In fact, Israel abhors the very idea of being ‘investigated’. Every attempt by the United Nations, or any other organization dedicated to upholding international law, has either been rejected or failed.

By Israeli logic, Israel is a democracy and democratic countries cannot be investigated over their army’s involvement in the death of civilians.

This was, in fact, the gist of the statement produced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin’s Netanyahu’s office in June 2010, soon after Israeli army commandos intercepted a humanitarian aid flotilla on its way to Gaza and killed ten unarmed activists in international waters.

Israel is an Occupying Power under international law and is held accountable to the Fourth Geneva Convention. The international community is legally obliged to examine Israel’s conduct against Palestinian civilians and, needless to say, against unarmed civilians in international waters.

Israel’s record of investigating itself, aside from being spun to praise Israel’s moral superiority, has never been of any help for Palestinians.

In fact, the entire Israeli justice system is systematically unjust to occupied Palestinians.

The Israeli rights group Yesh Din reported that out “of the 186 criminal investigations opened by the Israeli army into suspected offenses against Palestinians in 2015, just four yielded indictments.” Such indictments rarely yield prison sentences.

The recent indictment of Israeli army medic, Elor Azarya, sentencing him to (now postponed) a term of 18 months in prison for the killing in cold blood of an alleged Palestinian attacker is an exception, not the norm. It has been years since an Israeli soldier was sentenced. In fact, several thousand Palestinian civilians have been killed between the last time a ‘manslaughter’ conviction of an Israeli soldier in 2005 and Azarya’s indictment.

Azarya, now perceived by many Israelis as a hero, has received such a light punishment that it is less than that of a Palestinian child throwing rocks at an Israeli occupation soldier.

Some United Nations officials, although powerless before the US backing of Israel, are furious.

The 18-month verdict “also stands in contrast to the sentences handed down by other Israeli courts for  other less serious offenses, notably the sentencing of Palestinian children to more than three years’ imprisonment for throwing stones at cars,” UN human rights spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, said in response to the Israeli court decision.

While pro-Israel social media activists and media pundits went on to praise the supposedly unmatched Israeli democracy, a campaign in Israel to pardon Azarya continues to garner momentum. Prime Minister Netanyahu is already on board.

Not only is the Israeli justice system unjust to Palestinians, it was never intended to be so. A careful reading of the recent comptroller’s remarks and findings would clarify that the intent was never to examine war against a besieged nation as a moral concept, but the government’s inability to win the war more effectively: the breakdown of intelligence; Netanyahu’s lack of political inclusiveness; the death of an unprecedented number of Israeli soldiers.

Israel’s appetite for war is, in fact, at an all-time high. Some commentators are arguing that Israel might launch yet another war so as to redeem its ‘mistakes’ in the previous one, as stated in the report.

But war itself is a staple for Israel. Hard-hitting Israeli journalist Gideon Levy’s reaction to the comptroller’s report says it best. He argued that the report is almost a plagiarized copy of the ‘Winograd Commission Report’ which followed the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

All wars since 1948 “could have been avoided”, Levy wrote in Haaretz, but they were not, frankly, because “Israel loves wars. Needs them. Does nothing to prevent them and, sometimes, instigates them.”

This is the only way to read the latest report, but also all such reports, when war is used as a tool of control, to ‘downgrade’ the defenses of a besieged enemy, to create distraction from political corruption, to help politicians win popular support, to play, time and again, the role of the embattled victim, and many other pretenses.

As for Palestinians, who are neither capable of instigated or sustaining a war, they can only put up a fight, real or symbolic, whenever Israel decides to go for yet another bloody, avoidable war.

No matter the outcome, Israel will boast of its military superiority, unmatched intelligence, transparent democracy and moral ascendancy; the US, Britain, France and other Europeans will enthusiastically agree, issuing Israel another blank check to ‘defend itself’ by any means.

Meanwhile, any attempt at investigating Israeli conduct will be thwarted, for Israel is a ‘democracy’ and, for some reason, self-proclaimed democracies cannot be investigated. Only their sham investigations matter; only their dead count.

The United States and the Russian Devil: 1917-2017

Conservatives have had a very hard time getting over President Trump’s much-repeated response to Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly’s calling Russian president Vladimir Putin “a killer”. Replied Trump: “There are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers. You think our country is so innocent?”

One could almost feel a bit sorry for O’Reilly as he struggled to regain his composure in the face of such blasphemy. Had any American establishment media star ever heard such a thought coming from the mouth of an American president? From someone on the radical left, yes, but from the president?

Senator John McCain on the floor of Congress, referring to Putin, tore into attempts to draw “moral equivalency between that butcher and thug and KGB colonel and the United States of America.”1

Ah yes, the infamous KGB. Can anything good be said about a person associated with such an organization? We wouldn’t like it if a US president had a background with anything like that. Oh, wait, a president of the United States was not merely a CIA “colonel”, but was the Director of the CIA! I, of course, speak of George Herbert Walker Bush. And as far as butchery and thuggery … How many Americans remember the December 1989 bombing and invasion of the people of Panama carried out by the same Mr. Bush? Many thousands killed or wounded; thousands more left homeless.

Try and match that, Vladimir!

And in case you’re wondering for what good reason all this was perpetrated? Officially, to arrest dictator Manuel Noriega on drug charges. How is that for a rationalization for widespread devastation and slaughter? It should surprise no one that only shortly before the invasion Noriega had been on the CIA payroll.2

It’s the “moral equivalency” that’s so tough to swallow for proud Americans like O’Reilly and McCain. Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell also chipped in with: “And no, I don’t think there’s any equivalency between the way the Russians conduct themselves and the way the United States does.”3 Other Senators echoed the same theme, all inspired by good ol’ “American exceptionalism”, drilled into the mind of every decent American from childhood on … Who would dare to compare the morals of (ugh!) Russia with those of God’s chosen land, even in Moscow’s current non-communist form?

The communist form began, of course, with the October 1917 Russian Revolution. By the summer of 1918 some 13,000 American troops could be found in the newly-born state, the future Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Two years and thousands of casualties later, the American troops left, having failed in their mission to “strangle at its birth” the Bolshevik state, as Winston Churchill so charmingly put it.4

US foreign policy has not been much more noble-minded since then. I think, dear students, it’s time for me to once again present my concise historical summary:

Since the end of World War 2, the United States has:

  • Attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, most of which were democratically-elected.
  • Dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries.
  • Attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.
  • Attempted to suppress a populist or nationalist movement in 20 countries.
  • Grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries.5
  • Though not as easy to quantify, has also led the world in torture; not only the torture performed directly by Americans upon foreigners, but providing torture equipment, torture manuals, lists of people to be tortured, and in-person guidance by American instructors.6

Where does the United States get the nerve to moralize about Russia? Same place they get the nerve to label Putin a “killer” … a “butcher” … a “thug”. It would be difficult to name a world-renowned killer, butcher, or thug – not to mention dictator, mass murderer, or torturer – of the past 75 years who was not a close ally of Washington.

So why then does the American power elite hate Putin so? It can be dated back to the period of Boris Yeltsin.

During the Western financial looting of the dying Soviet Union the US could be found meddling in favor of Yeltsin in the election held in 1996. Under Yeltsin’s reign, poverty exploded and life expectancy for men actually decreased by five years, all in the name of “shock therapy.” The US/Western-backed destabilization of the Soviet Union allowed global capitalism to spread its misery unfettered by any inconvenient socialism. Russia came under the control of oligarchs concerned only for their own enrichment and that of their billionaire partners in the West. The transition of power to Vladimir Putin in the 21st century led to a number of reforms that curbed the disastrous looting of the nation by the oligarchic bandits. Putin and his allies vowed to build an independent, capitalist Russia that was capable of determining its own affairs free from US and Western domination. Such an orientation placed Putin in direct confrontation with US imperialism’s plans for unipolar global hegemony.

Washington’s disdain for Putin increased when he derided US war propaganda leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Then, the Russian leader played a crucial role in getting Iran to curtail its nuclear program and arranging for Syria to surrender its stockpiles of chemical weapons. Washington’s powerful neo-conservatives had been lusting for direct US military strikes against those two countries, leading to regime change, not diplomatic agreements that left the governments in place.

Lastly, after the United States overthrew the Ukrainian government in 2014, Putin was obliged to intervene on behalf of threatened ethnic Russians in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. That, in turn, was transformed by the Western media into a “Russian invasion”.7

The same Western media has routinely charged Putin with murdering journalists but doesn’t remind its audience of the American record in this regard. The American military, in the course of its wars in recent decades, has been responsible for the deliberate deaths of many journalists. In Iraq, for example, there’s the Wikileaks 2007 video, exposed by Chelsea Manning, of the cold-blooded murder of two Reuters journalists; the 2003 US air-to-surface missile attack on the offices of Al Jazeera in Baghdad that left three journalists dead and four wounded; and the American firing on Baghdad’s Hotel Palestine, a known journalist residence, the same year that killed two foreign news cameramen.

The Trump honeymoon is over for me. It was never actually love; hardly more than an intriguing curiosity; mainly that he wasn’t Hillary Clinton; that he was unlikely to start a war with Russia or close down the Russia Today (RT) TV station in the US, which I and many others depend on daily; and that he was not politically correct when it came to fighting the Islamic State. Trump’s “moral equivalency” remark above gave me some hope. But this all vanished with his appointment to high office of one war-loving, bemedalled general after another, intermingled with one billionaire Goldman-Sachs official after another; his apparent confirmation of his Mexican Wall; and, worst of all, his increasing the military budget by $54 billion (sic, sick) … this will certainly be at the expense of human life and health and the environment. What manner of man is this who walks amongst us?

The word is “narcissism”. New York Times columnist Frank Bruni (February 28, 2017) captures this well: “Why do I get the sense that fighter jets are Donald Trump’s biceps, warships are his pectorals and what he’s doing with his proposed $54 billion increase for the Pentagon is flexing?”

Will there ever be an end to the never-ending American wars?

How should we react to terrorism?

I hadn’t planned on returning to this subject so soon, if ever, because of the distasteful experience of last summer when at least 50 of my subscribers canceled because I said that terrorism carried out by Islamics was to some extent motivated by their religion, an hypothesis rejected by what I see as the “politically correct” who took it to be an unjust attack upon an ancient and noble religion. The fact that I, a leftist, a comrade, would say such a thing was especially hard for them to take.

Since then I have regularly received emails pointing out that neither I nor the media have the right to categorically condemn brutal terrorist actions because the terrorists are reacting to decades of Western, particularly American, violence against the Muslims of the Middle East and elsewhere; and that if only the West would stop their bombing they would stop creating new terrorists. Liberal columnists often echo these sentiments, but at the same time cannot accept the role played by radical Islamic beliefs in instigating the Islamic terror.

Not every American soldier in World War II was a knowledgable and convinced anti-fascist; nor were all of those fighting in Vietnam knowledgable and convinced anti-communists; but they deeply believed in American exceptionalism. I proceed from the assumption that Islamic terrorists deeply believe in the leading tenets of Islam though many of them may have been drawn to ISIS for a variety of reasons and may have only a passing knowledge of the Koran and may only rarely enter a mosque.

Why is it that terrorists routinely shout “Allah Akhbar” (“God is great”) while carrying out a bloody attack?

Why is it that so much of Islam teaches that non-Muslims are the enemy, that “disbelievers” are to be executed?

Why do they speak of their duty to perform “jihad”, which is usually defined as a struggle against the enemies of Islam or against the “infidels”?

Why do they speak of “martyrs”, which is often used as an honorific for Muslims who have died fulfilling a religious commandment, especially those who die waging jihad, or historically in the military expansion of Islam?

Why do they speak of martyrs going to paradise after dying and receiving heavenly rewards? Even being resurrected on earth, to once again die as a martyr, going again to paradise.

Yes, yes, I know about the terrible crimes of the IRA Catholics and the Israeli Jews, but on the scale of human moral evolution they don’t compare to the routine cutting off of heads; the whippings; demolishing 2000-year-old monuments; sternly banning alcohol, music, gays and sex; covering up women’s faces; forcibly imposing religious law; and on and on, including the worst of all: the never-ending horrific suicide bombings. ISIS has done the impossible: It has made American foreign policy look almost halfway decent.

Occasionally I reply to critics with something to this effect: Even if I completely accepted your premises, I’d still feel that it was too late. We can’t undo the harm that US foreign policy and the West have caused. The barn door is wide open and all the horses have escaped. There is an entire generation, or two generations, in the Muslim world totally committed to gaining bloody revenge against the West. It appears to be that it’s either us or them.

Explaining the cause of terrorism is not the same as excusing it.

It might be different if the terrorists focused on killing only those in the West responsible for the horror carried out against their people, but their acts of violence are largely indiscriminate; they attack Westerners at random, often with Muslim victims included; often with only Muslim victims.

As I’ve pointed out in the past, we should consider this: From the 1950s to the 1980s the United States carried out all kinds of very harmful policies against Latin America, including numerous bombings, without the natives ever resorting to the uncivilized, barbaric kind of retaliation as employed by ISIS. Latin American leftists generally took their revenge out upon concrete representatives of the American empire: diplomatic, military and corporate targets – not markets, theatres, nightclubs, hospitals, schools, restaurants or churches.

France, the site of numerous terrorist attacks, has experimented with deradicalization centers in an attempt to combat homegrown extremism. The centers subjected those they housed to intense courses in French history and philosophy. But after five months the experiment has been abandoned as a complete failure.8 My guess is that one reason for the failure is that French officials, like their American counterparts, were too politically correct when it came to questions of religion. If I were a teacher at one of these centers I would ask the students how they know – I mean really know – that “martyrs” go to paradise. They are, after all, considering sacrificing their lives for this belief. Seriously confronting this question for perhaps the first time ever, the students’ minds may well become somewhat confused, leaving them open for other challenging questions and thoughts.

For the record: I don’t support the US fighting ISIS in Syria. I don’t trust the Pentagon’s motivation, or their choice of bombing targets. They’re probably still into regime change. I’d leave the job to Russia and its allies.

  1. Washington Post, February 9, 2017
  2. See William Blum, Killing Hope, chapter 50 for the details of the Panama intervention.
  3. Associated Press, February 6, 2017.
  4. Winston Churchill, The Second World War, Vol. IV(1951), page 428.
  5. William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, chapter 18.
  6. Ibid, chapter 5 (ends in 2005; much more is now known.).
  7. See Bob Parry, “The Politics Behind ‘Russia-gate”, Consortiumnews.com, March 4, 2017.
  8. Washington Post, February 25, 2017.

Turkey and Syria: Blood, Tears, and Walls

A Turkish poet, Mustafa Goren, is standing in the middle of a street in the border town of Karkamış. He raises his index finger towards the sky prophetically, then shouts at me, with his powerful voice:

I’m against the invasion into Syria! Is this another game of the West? These are our children, our boys that are dying there. These are innocent children of Syria that are being blown to pieces. Why do Syrian people have to run to Europe; tell me why? Why do they have to humiliate themselves, to suffer? Syria used to be rich. Those people are even more cultured than we are, more cultured than the West. How did this conflict begin?

Mustafa Goren then strikes a dramatic pose. Suddenly he looks like the great Soviet poet Mayakovski, spitting out his verses full of anger. This is not just poetry, but a desperate j’accuse?

Mustafa Goren, Turkish Poet (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

As if mocking him, behind his back, Turkish military trucks are moving towards the border, passing through the streets where almost all shops have been shut down, sad victims of the conflict that keeps devastating further and further an already desperate Turkish economy.

I speak to Europe now: You will soon be drowning in the water that you are now drinking. You will pay for what you are doing to Syria and to other countries. It is entirely your fault, Europe! It is entirely your fault the West! 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 the one into which you threw 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!

Mr Goren recites in front of a humble stall, which is selling cigarettes. It is adorned with historic photographs of Kemal Ataturk. A few meters from there, an enormous watchtower is rising towards the dark, cloudy sky.

Border Wall (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

The border is right there, defined by a tall, gray, melancholic concrete wall, and by several watchtowers. Right next to the gate, a mobile medical unit and several ambulances are standing by. They are ready to cross the frontier, to move into Syria, where the Turkish military is officially fighting the terrorists, but in reality undermining the Syrian forces. The operation is called “Euphrates Shield”.

Medical units at the border ready to move in (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

“ISIS came all the way here, to the Syrian town of Jarabulu, right across the border”, explained Bulent Polat, a trader whose shop is now half empty, due to the war. “Jarabulus is under the control of the Turkish military. Just imagine: the Turkish government doesn’t allow Syrian President Assad to send fighter jets nearer than 3 kilometers to the border, but it allows ISIS to come as close as 3 meters. We should have never interfered with the domestic policy of Syria, and there would be peace!”

Mr. Polat is from the opposition ‘The Republican People’s Party’. He’s a Kemalist. For years he worked in both sides of the border. Now he recalls, in disgust:

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 Turkey is building a 900-kilometers long wall, which is supposed to seal hermetically its border with Syria. Express.co.uk quoted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: “The problem of terrorism and the refugee problem will be resolved when we secure Syrian soil step by step”.

The Kurdish population on both sides of the border is clearly outraged about the wall. The tall ugly structure is dividing communities and marks the region like an ugly scar. Now Turkish forces can always enter Syria, using tanks and armored vehicles, while Syrians are being kept out.

New military installation near the border (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

We left Karkamış and drove to an ancient graveyard, from where we photographed the wall and the lazy waters of the river Euphrates. The Syrian town of Jarabulus was right in front of us.

People were tense. A local farmer recalled:

Injection of the militants began from the Turkish territory. Assad had to launch a defensive security operation. That’s how the war began.

I knew precisely what he was saying. Back in 2012 I worked around Antakya, discovering that while officially listed as a ‘refugee facility’, Apaydin camp was, in fact, a training facility for the anti-Syrian jihadi cadres. The NATO facility – Incirlik air force base near the city of Adana – was allegedly training several other groups. In 2013 I returned to Antakya, making a documentary film for the South American television channel Telesur. The entire area was converted into a security zone, and my team was repeatedly stopped and intimidated. We managed to track the militants who were armed in Turkey. Those wounded in Syria were treated in Antakya.

Now from Gaziantep to Kilis, the entire area is flooded with refugees and its economy is destroyed.

Syrian girl street vendor in Gaziantep (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

We drove through villages like Ikizkaya, consisting mainly of clay houses, many of them abandoned.

Fear is everywhere. In Kalbursait Village near Karkamış, a Syrian refugee explained that he has lived here, with his animals, for four years.

If the war stops, would he go back? He doesn’t know, he replied.

“Who is to blame for the war?” I asked.

“I don’t know…” came an immediate reply.

“Let’s go”, my interpreter insisted. “This man is petrified.”

*****

Everybody appears to be frightened.

One night I was taken by my friends from the TKP near the back entrance of Dr. Ersin Arslan State Hospital in Gaziantep. This is where wounded Free Syria Army and other militants are brought to at night. We ordered tea at a local eatery, and began conversing with the staff. Suddenly, there was a loud shout from outside:

“Allahu Akbar – bum!”

Cafe guests ran for a cover. We got out to investigate. A bearded man, obviously an Arab speaker, was leaning against the wall. He had two bullet wounds in his foot. The wounds were infected. The man was clearly distressed. He was mumbling something about jihad.

Gaziantep is a recruitment center for militant cadres and for the Free Syrian Army; so are towns and cities like Kilis and Antakya.

At night, I was taken to a bakery near a mosque in Gaziantep, where recruitment and indoctrination of the militants takes place.

I was given photos of bodies torn apart by powerful explosions. I was shown images of dead children, of morgues and of people in total desperation.

Mr. Kutay Sirikli from the opposition TKP pointed an accusative finger at both the West and Ankara:

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is one of the founding fathers of the so-called ‘Great Middle East Project’. He’s trying to politicize the entire Middle East. His dream is a New Ottoman Empire. Of course if there is any novel formation in this part of the world, it is always connected to the West. However, from time to time, Erdoğan takes his own initiative. And he makes profit: petrol that is stolen by ISIS from the Syrian regions goes through Turkey to the West. They refine it here.

*****

Syrian refugees get work permits now, and there is talk that soon they would be able to apply for Turkish citizenship if they pass the language test. Syrian children get one-year intensive language course, and then they can attend local schools. Some refugees get even the equivalent of the Turkish minimal wage as a support – 1.400 liras per month (almost US$400).

Turkey is demonstrating simultaneously great compassion and inordinate brutality.

In Istanbul, the historian Yiğit Günay, clarified this contradiction:

Many people believe that this government has some integrated plan. The truth is, there is nothing like that – not even some two-year plan. Nobody trusts anybody, anymore, and things keep changing overnight.

*****

As we are driving towards the airport in Adana, my friend and interpreter looks suddenly tired:

As a person who visited Aleppo before the invasion I am devastated because of what happened to that ancient and stunning city… It was a thriving business hub with incredibly beautiful archeological and historical sites when I was there…. now it is a city that will need decades to recover, and most of the damage is irretrievable. The whole area is now a total disaster…

Before entering the city of Adana, the bright runway lights of Incirlik air force base suddenly emerge from the darkness. This airport is perhaps the most vivid symbol of NATO war games in this part of the world. One cannot just pass – almost all cars are being stopped and checked.

Fear is engulfing Southeast Turkey. When several hours earlier we drove into the Elbeyli border town, (a crossing on the way to the embattled Syrian city of Al Bab) what we faced were new mighty walls and fences, as well as high-tech security cameras. From here, the Turkish army is periodically invading Syria.

I decided to get my hair cut here, so I could chat with the locals. Just a few minutes and my barber whispered: “They are surrounding you.” Police and plain clothed security cadres were looking at us through the window, taking notes, calling somewhere. We paid and drove away from this dismal town, at neck breaking speed.

We wouldn’t be able last long here, nobody would. This cat and mouse game is exhausting and truly dangerous. But what is Turkey really trying to hide? It is a well-known fact that it is training the militants, and invading Syria. All this is not a secret. So what is?

Perhaps the true ‘secret’ is that many of its own citizens are actually against the war. And that not Syria only, but to some extent Turkey too, is now suffering and bleeding.

• First published in New Eastern Outlook

Our Sons-of-Bitches: Western Media and the Syrian “Rebels”

“He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch” – this is what U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt is rumoured to have once said about Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. We examine how the western media, always so full of editorials and columns praising western values (whatever those may be), have covered the Syrian opposition during the Syrian war, focusing on three groups in particular. A closer look at the falsehoods that have been peddled, the inconvenient truths that were left unsaid, and the contradictions that emerged due to low journalistic standards, reveal the shameless and spineless support for western imperialism that has become the norm.

*****

A war outsourced to al-Qaeda

The coverage of the Syrian war reached deafening tones during the recent government recapture of East Aleppo. Who can forget hearing over and over that the “last hospital” in East Aleppo had been destroyed? This entire coverage, orchestrated with a multitude of hidden backers, had the goal of convincing western readers that this had been a collective failure of humanity, that the west had done nothing to prevent it and that it thus needed to do more.

This myth of western non-intervention has been thoroughly debunked, even if far away from the mainstream press. But nobody put it better than Rania Khalek:

[…] the US government outsourced its war against the Syrian government to Al Qaeda, and Americans have no idea, because corporate media continue to promote lies about Obama’s so-called inaction.

The way in which al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, has been portrayed in the western press will one day be part of journalism courses. It is truly unbelievable that the Syrian branch of) al-Qaeda, a group that was declared public enemy #1, the main target of the open-ended “war on terror”, the existential threat to western civilisation, would end up spearheading the U.S. regime change operation in Syria.

Throughout the Syrian conflict we have mainly seen three ways of incorporating al-Qaeda into the mainstream narrative. One is to simply not mention their presence. When the propaganda goes into overdrive we start reading only about “rebels”, with no mention whatsoever of their nature. And thus we heard of the plight of the “rebels” in East Aleppo over and over again. The contrast with the coverage of the operation to retake Mosul, or with previous operations against al-Qaeda in Iraqi cities, could not be starker.

The second one is to mention that, even though a given operation is led by the Nusra front and their jihadi cousins of Ahrar al-Sham (more on them later), there are also plenty of moderate rebels around. The myth of the moderate rebels became ever-present in the western media, David Cameron claimed there were 70.000 of them!

While the Russians and Syrians claimed they were bombing terrorists, western governments cried in outrage that moderate forces, standing side by side with extremists, were being attacked. At this point there is an obvious question to be asked: if they are standing and fighting next to al-Qaeda, how moderate can they really be?1 Additionally, the west has been supplying weapons to these groups via regional proxies. Does this not just simply amount to an indirect supply of weapons to the Nusra front, which is where they naturally ended up?

Press conference announcing the Nusra front’s rebranding as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham

And the final tactic is what is employed by low-cost airlines after a plane crash: changing the name. This has arguably more to do with the regional sponsors of extremism, Saudi Arabia first and foremost, but also Qatar, the UAE, and to some extent Jordan and Turkey2, in that they need to at least pretend that they are fighting extremism in the region.

Therefore we have seen multiple rebrandings and regroupings of the Nusra front. There was the umbrella Jaish al Fatah (“Army of Conquest”), there was the official split from al-Qaeda with the blessing from al-Qaeda and the renaming as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. While any serious journalist would remind readers that this was the regrouped/rebranded al-Qaeda affiliate, it was not uncommon to find cases where we are just presented with the new names and no background. We also witnessed a situation where, under the cover of these rebrandings, a Saudi official pretty much admitted that the Saudis were supplying weapons to the Nusra front. His blushes were spared by the low journalistic standards of the BBC but not by the Intercept.

All in all, it seems like Bin Laden only needed to survive a few more years, move to Syria and get a new logo, and he would be back working with the Americans just like in the good ol’ 80s.

An islamic state through the ballot box

Another group in Syria3 whose trajectory in the western media is worth analysing is Ahrar al-Sham. It is known that it began forming brigades well before the official start of the Syrian “Revolution” in 2011, and this seriously undercuts the theory that the Syrian uprising was entirely secular and progressive from the start, only to be hijacked by jihadists, or forced in that direction by the government response, later on.

When the group first emerged as a serious player the coverage rule book had yet to crystallise, and western journalists sometimes fell into old habits of doing actual journalism. Reporting facts, verifying stories, that sort of thing. At the time it was plainly said that Ahrar al-Sham were a jihadist group full of foreign fighters which fought side-by-side with al-Qaeda. When it became clear that these groups were the big players in the Syrian opposition, the tune needed to change, at least in the newsrooms. Intelligence agencies had long known of this risk as weapons and money had been flowing from the west and regional allies. But while al-Qaeda had an unfixable PR problem, there was still hope for Ahrar al-Sham.

So we witnessed a scramble to merge the “democratic, secular forces we said we supported” and the “bin-ladenites we actually support”. The BBC needs to be credited with a quite remarkable piece of journalism. When describing Ahrar al-Sham, they wrote that they were:

  • “An ultraconservative Islamist, or Salafist, rebel group that aims to topple Mr Assad and build an Islamic state;
  • Has vowed to achieve the latter through the ballot box and not force”

Among the multiple journalists and editors, not to mention whoever told this to a reporter, surely someone must have thought this was a bit hard to believe. Here we have a group that wants to create an ultraconservative Islamic state, ban music, install religious courts, stone adulterers, kill non-believers and all that, and the BBC thinks they will just put this as an option in a ballot.

width=Ahrar al Sham speaking to the press, assuring them that there were no terrorists in Aleppo

The campaign to whitewash the group was a full-blown PR effort, with sponsors such as Qatar swearing on the moderation of the group. The face of this sanitisation for western consumption was Ahrar al-Sham’s foreign policy chief, Labib al-Nahhas. Soon enough he was given op-eds in mainstream outlets, claiming that contrary to all previous reports of his group fighting side-by-side with al-Qaeda and sharing its ideology, including in those same newspapers where the floor is now ceded to him, accusations of “organizational links to al-Qaeda and of espousing al-Qaeda’s ideology” could not be “further from the truth”.

And the absorption into the mainstream was complete when, beyond giving a column to Ahrar al-Sham, western outlets started basing their editorial lines on the opinions of the group. The case in point is the Shia bogeyman, Iran’s alleged masterplan to re-engineer the demographics of the region, something regularly peddled by the most sectarian regimes in the region, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Monarchies, and by the always loyal DC think tanks. What is most remarkable is that a journalist in a supposedly serious newspaper would base his geopolitical analysis on the views of a group he himself not so long ago labelled as “jihadi“, “conservative salafist” and “sharing much of al-Qaida’s worldview“.

If we cannot work with child beheaders, who are we left with?

The episode that most gruesomely captured the contradictions of western foreign policy and media coverage took place in Aleppo in July 2016. A sickening video was released showing a group of men taunting and then beheading a young boy. The perpetrators were from Nour al-Din al-Zenki, and the boy was a 12 year old Palestinian whom they accused of belonging to a Palestinian militia that fights alongside the Syrian government.

This was immediately followed by the damning revelation that this group had been vetted by the U.S. and received weapons. And while in reaction to previous episodes of this sort, though arguably none as reviling as this one, we witnessed widespread condemnation and defiant proclamations that evil would not triumph, this time what transpired was a damage control mission. From absurd claims that the boy was actually 19 and had stunted growth, to justifications that this was an individual act that would be punished by a “judicial process“, even attempts to deflect the blame onto the Assad “regime”.

But for some even this episode was not enough to conclude that western powers should not be allied with this kind of groups. Sam Heller argued that the U.S. will only achieve its goals in Syria by backing groups such as Nour al-Din al-Zenki. If you can only achieve your goals by working with child-beheading jihadis, maybe the goals are not worth pursuing in the first place? This question never seems to pop up in western media.

Sam Heller defends working with groups like Nour al-Din al-Zenki while Charles Lister spreads lies about the victim.

Another fierce advocate of Nour al-Din al-Zenki has been Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute. He shamelessly tried to downplay the heinous crime by claiming the victim was a “child fighter“, while in truth he was nothing of the sort. In the past Lister had advertised the group as “moderate“, but he is also on record saying that 50% of the rebels in Syria are moderate and that ISIS was created by the Syrian secret services. Recently Lister declared that, even though the group was moderate, it had become disgusting and he no longer supported it. So either a long history of extremism, abuses and coordination with al-Qaeda was out-of-character behaviour from a moderate group or Lister was blatantly lying all this time.

As for Nour al-Din al-Zenki, it has joined the latest rebranding/regrouping of al-Qaeda in Syria.

Jihad made in USA

If we contrast the official discourse of the U.S. and other western powers with regard to the Middle East, always full of uncompromising pledges to defend freedom, democracy and human rights, and the nature of the groups and countries in the region that are allied with western interests, there is a glaring contradiction. The media, instead of exposing this hypocrisy, have chosen to bridge the gap through omission, obfuscation and outright fabrications.

In reality this contradiction is only apparent. There is a long history of western empires finding the most extremist islamist groups as their most useful allies. The Taliban in Afghanistan and Bin Laden are probably the most emblematic of recent examples. But this goes back decades, for instance, to the British manoeuvres to put the Saud clan in power. When there was a struggle for hegemony in the Middle East between Gamal Nasser and the Saud family, it was crystal clear on whose side the west was on. And even recently John Kerry admitted that the U.S. had hoped ISIS advances could be used as leverage against Assad.

Any truly progressive regime in the Middle East, past or present, will invariably find itself at odds with western interests in the region, from natural resources to the occupation of Palestine. This history of contradictions and weaponisation of Islamic extremism by western powers, along with the way it has been presented to western audiences, is explored in the recent book Jihad made in USA by Gregoire Lalieu (available in French and Spanish).

• First published at Investig’Action

  1. On a related note, western journalists do not seem to find any inconsistency in (supposedly) democratic, secular, feminist groups being backed by Saudi Arabia!
  2. There is also a lot to write about Israel’s involvement in all this, from their détente with extremist groups right on their doorstep (the occupied Golan Heights), sometimes even allowing fighters to receive hospital care in Israel, to their constant violations of international law when they bomb targets in Syria.
  3. It would be lazy and inaccurate to call them “Syrian groups”, since there has been a tremendous influx of foreign fighters.

Gaza Report: “Not About Justice for Israel’s Victims”

The Israeli leadership shows no signs of heeding the lessons of an official report into the 2014 Gaza war that led to massive destruction and loss of life in the tiny coastal enclave, Palestinians warned this week.

After a two-year inquiry, the State Comptroller, an official Israeli watchdog, published a report on Tuesday into the 51-day war that began in July 2014. It was highly critical of Israeli government officials, as well as Israel’s military and its intelligence services.

In particular, the 200-page document faulted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for failing to address the mounting humanitarian crisis in Gaza – conditions that made hostilities ever more likely, according to the report.

Netanyahu was also blamed for failing to pursue diplomatic moves that might have averted the confrontation or brought it to a quick end, sparing much of the bloodshed.

The war killed more than 2,250 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, and 73 Israelis, almost all of them soldiers. According to United Nations figures, more than 100,000 Palestinians were made homeless by Israeli bombing that destroyed swaths of the enclave.

Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s findings come as Israeli officials have again warned of the likelihood of another round of hostilities with Gaza, possibly within the next few months.

The precariousness of the situation was underscored this week as Israeli air strikes hit five sites in Gaza on Monday, wounding four, after a rocket from Gaza landed in an open space in Israel.

No lessons learnt

Israel has launched three major military operations against Gaza over the past eight years, after the Islamic group Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006 and took control of the enclave a year later. Israel has imposed a blockade ever since, tightly limiting the entry and export of goods.

But Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian Authority minister, said the report’s section on the Israeli government’s political failings had been overshadowed by the rest of the report, which dealt with operational and intelligence shortcomings.

“It is hard to believe that there will be any serious lessons learned by Israel’s political leadership from this report,” Khatib told Al Jazeera.

So far, the debate about the report in Israel has focused on a lack of preparation for coping with what Israelis term Gaza’s “terror tunnels”. Hamas used a network of concealed tunnels to launch surprise attacks after Israeli ground forces entered the enclave.

Khatib said: “The comptroller failed to examine the deeper issue of the Israeli leadership’s motivation in repeatedly heating up the front with Gaza. That was all about internal political competition, about jockeying for position within the ruling government coalition.”

Gaza made an easy military target for Israel because of its prolonged isolation, Khatib added. “The threat [posed by Gaza] has been exaggerated to the Israeli public to justify these wars. Successive governments have expected to win with little cost to their own side. Attacking Gaza empowers the right and helps to secure its success at the next election.”

‘Revenge’ attack

Shapira’s report did not recommend action be taken against any of the officials it identified, or accuse them of committing crimes. Instead it highlighted a failure to recognise the tunnels threat, a lack of intelligence sharing, and inadequate operational plans. Difficulties locating and destroying the tunnels, according to the report, led to a more protracted ground operation than expected. The implication was that this increased casualties on both sides.

Most Israeli commentators thought it unlikely that Netanyahu would pay a political price for these criticisms, especially after such a long delay in publishing the report.

Nonetheless, in an apparent sign of Netanyahu’s discomfort with the findings at a time when he is facing a series of corruption investigations, he lashed out pre-emptively at Shapira at a meeting of his Likud party on Monday. He suggested that the ombudsman had betrayed the security establishment.

In a statement the next day, as the report was released, Netanyahu claimed that the 2014 war had been an exceptional success. He said Israel had “hit Hamas harder than it had ever been hit before” and that, as a result, there had been “unprecedented quiet” from Gaza.

Khatib said Shapira’s report overlooked the escalation of hostilities by Israel in the weeks preceding the war. Israel, he noted, had made mass arrests of Palestinians in the West Bank as it searched for three Jewish youths who had been abducted. They were later found killed.

This week, an editorial in Israel’s daily Haaretz described the war as Israel’s “revenge” for the youths’ deaths. The editorial criticised Shapira for failing to question the wisdom of a “scorched-earth policy” by Israel that had kept Gaza’s population of two million under a lengthy blockade. Given this strategy, the paper said, another round of hostilities was inevitable.

Minimum calories

Hamdi Shaqura, deputy director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, based in Gaza City, said most of the Palestinian public had shown little interest in the report. “This investigation and others like it are not interested in justice for the thousands of victims of Israel’s brutal attacks,” he told Al Jazeera.

“This is about Israel refining its operational capabilities so it can prepare better for the next attack. The chief beneficiaries will not be Palestinians, but the war criminals in Israel who will draw conclusions about how they can better conceal their crimes next time.”

Shaqura said the report’s references to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza were divorced from political realities. “This humanitarian crisis isn’t an accident. It has been sustained by Israel’s siege for more than 10 years. Israel wants Gaza isolated, and its population barely able to survive. That is the status quo for Israel.”

He noted that an Israeli defence ministry document from 2008, made public four years later, included advice on the amount of food Israel should allow into Gaza to keep the population on the minimum number of calories.

Shaqura said: “Even when this report deals with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, it is not in the context of finding a political solution to end it. Rather, Israel is more interested in improving its management of the crisis.”

‘Volcano about to erupt’

The comptroller’s report noted that Netanyahu’s government had done almost nothing to address warnings from military officials more than a year before the 2014 war that Gaza’s humanitarian crisis was unsustainable.

In this context, Shapira highlighted an apparent mea culpa from Moshe Yaalon, the then defence minister, two days into the war. He reportedly told officials: “If Hamas’ distress had been addressed a few months ago, Hamas might have avoided the current escalation.”

In fact, observed Barak Ravid, an analyst for Haaretz, Israel had made things substantially worse in Gaza in the weeks preceding the hostilities. In early June 2014 it had imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions on a Palestinian unity government formed between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank, in an attempt to undermine it.

Shortly afterwards, Netanyahu’s government sought to isolate Robert Serry, then the UN’s special peace envoy, as he battled to transfer funds from Qatar to pay the salaries of Gaza’s public workers.

Gaza was “a volcano waiting to erupt”, wrote Ravid.

‘Like animals in zoo’

Haidar Eid, an academic at al-Aqsa University in Gaza, said conditions had deteriorated even further since 2014. He noted that two years ago the UN forecast that Gaza could be “uninhabitable” by 2020. It said the large-scale destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure in 2014 had only accelerated that process.

More than 90 per cent of Gaza’s water is considered “unfit” for human consumption. Shortages of electricity provoked the first mass public protests in January, with some families suffering blackouts for up to 21 hours a day.

Israel has also continued the enclave’s isolation. Last month a delegation from the European parliament was again denied access to Gaza as it sought to assess the continuing need for reconstruction since the 2014 war.

And Netanyahu is reported to be hampering efforts to offer Gaza relief. A proposal by transport minister Yisrael Katz to build an artificial island off Gaza’s coast to serve as a seaport and airport has yet to be discussed by the cabinet, a year after it was raised.

At the same time, Herzi Halevi, head of military intelligence, warned a parliamentary committee of growing despair in Gaza. He reportedly said: “Israel will be the first to feel it when things explode.”

Eid told Al Jazeera: “When Israeli ‘experts’ talk about how to manage Gaza’s crisis better, they sound like they are discussing how best to run a zoo so the animals remain quiet.” He said Hamas supporters in Gaza viewed the report’s focus on the tunnels as a vindication of the group’s claims that it had been victorious in 2014. “Commentators here believe that this report has the power to bring down Netanyahu,” he said.

But Netanyahu’s difficulties with the report and his corruption scandals were also seen as a dangerous moment. Most Palestinians, said Eid, agreed with Israeli analysts that another outbreak of hostilities was on the horizon.

“When Netanyahu is in such trouble, the assumption is that he will exaggerate the military threat of Hamas and the danger of the tunnels to justify launching another massacre,” he said. “He needs a big distraction and Gaza can supply it.”

• First published in Al Jazeera

Elor Azaria Sentence: “No justice for Palestinians”

Human rights groups and Palestinian leaders have condemned what they called the “extremely lenient” punishment of Elor Azaria, the Israeli army medic who was filmed executing a severely wounded Palestinian in Hebron last year.

On Tuesday, a military tribunal sentenced the soldier to 18 months in jail and a demotion, nearly a year after he shot a bullet from close range into the head of 21-year-old Abdel al-Fattah al-Sharif.

There has rarely been a trial in Israel where the judges have been under such relentless – and mostly hostile – scrutiny. That appeared to be reflected in their sentencing, more than a month after they found Azaria guilty of manslaughter.

The sentence was much lower than the three to five years demanded by the prosecution, and far below the maximum tariff of 20 years. One of the three judges dissented, recommending two and a half to five years.

“Azaria should have received a life sentence. This will not act as a deterrence to other trigger-happy soldiers,” Jamal Zahalka, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, told Al Jazeera. “There are thousands of other soldiers who have killed Palestinians, but are not on trial. Israeli pilots dropped bombs on schools and hospitals in Gaza [in the 2014 war]. Why are they not on trial, too?”

He called Israel a “democracy of guns”, adding: “The real author of the crimes against Palestinians is the Israeli state. By putting one individual on trial, Israel hopes to confer legitimacy on the whole apparatus of state-sanctioned killing.”

Cold-blooded execution

Even before the sentencing, Azaria’s lawyers had said they would appeal the verdict. If that fails, they have vowed to seek a pardon. Education Minister Naftali Bennett immediately backed a pardon for Azaria.

For Palestinians, the trial was viewed as little more than a farce. The family of Sharif said that Azaria had carried out a “cold-blooded execution”, not manslaughter. They added: “The sentence he received is less than a Palestinian child gets for throwing stones.”

Azaria shot Sharif more than 10 minutes after the Palestinian had been severely wounded by other soldiers at a checkpoint and was lying helpless on the ground.

Samir Zaqout, a spokesman for the al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights, based in Gaza, said the lenient sentence came as “no surprise”.

“Palestinians don’t expect any kind of justice from the Israeli legal system,” he told Al Jazeera. “The lives of Palestinians are judged as worthless.”

Addameer, a group defending Palestinian prisoners’ rights, also condemned the sentence, noting that it was less than many Palestinians received for belonging to an organisation proscribed by Israel.

“The message this sends to other soldiers and police officers who extrajudicially execute Palestinians is that their actions will not be seriously accounted for and that impunity will persist,” it said in a statement sent to Al Jazeera.

Extreme anti-Arab views

Despite the clear-cut evidence, military prosecutors last year rejected a murder charge and settled on the lesser manslaughter indictment, amid a wave of support for Azaria from Israeli politicians and the public alike.

Polls showed most Israeli Jews agreed with Azaria’s refusal to show remorse: they believed he acted appropriately and had been unfairly singled out for prosecution.

During the trial, it emerged that Azaria, 20, held extreme anti-Arab views, which he expressed regularly on social media. In one Facebook post during the 2014 war on Gaza, he called for the massacre of every Palestinian in the small coastal enclave.

He also admitted to spending a great deal of time in Hebron with the followers of the late Meir Kahane, a rabbi whose virulently anti-Arab Kach party was outlawed in 1994 after a supporter, Baruch Goldstein, shot 29 Palestinians in Hebron’s Ibrahimi mosque.

None of that damaged Azaria’s popularity with a large swath of the Israeli Jewish public. The Israeli media designated him as “everyone’s son”.

Worries about morale

Despite prosecuting Azaria, the army was reported to be worried about the damage the case was doing to morale.

Local media revealed that, after Azaria’s conviction last month, a senior commander approached his father to persuade the family not to appeal, reportedly offering them an 18-month jail term in return. In the end, that was what the judges imposed, even without a deal.

The army is reportedly concerned about research showing a recent sharp drop in the proportion of combat soldiers who believe their service is more important than non-combat roles. There is a similar fall among those who believe their commander will back them if they get into trouble.

Riots erupted outside the courtroom early last month when Azaria was found guilty. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among the senior politicians who called for a pardon for Azaria even before the conviction, implying that the trial itself was a miscarriage of justice.

Sari Bashi, the Israel-Palestine director of Human Rights Watch, said that her organisation’s research showed that too often, soldiers adopted a shoot-to-kill policy towards Palestinians, including when their lives were not in danger or when less force could be used.

“It is important that Israel’s political and security leaders repudiate the shoot-to-kill rhetoric,” she told Al Jazeera.

Secret offer to family

Delivering the verdict last month, the court dismissed Azaria’s claim that he acted in self-defence. They concluded that he sought revenge on Sharif for a knife attack on a checkpoint in the occupied Palestinian city a short time before.

The three judges, who received a flood of death threats afterwards, had to be issued with bodyguards. But while sentencing was expected a few days later, the panel seemed in no hurry to conclude the case.

It emerged that the extra time had been exploited by the army to try to reach a settlement with Azaria behind the scenes.

Azaria’s battalion commander, Guy Hazot, secretly approached his father, Charlie Azaria, to offer lenient treatment if his son expressed regret for his actions and promised not to appeal the conviction. Charlie Azaria recorded the conversation.

According to the Jerusalem Post newspaper, the move by Hazot was designed “to end the public relations headaches and social divisions the case has created in the army and throughout the country”.

Hazot’s actions raised serious questions about the military courts’ independence, said Nadeem Shehadeh, a lawyer with Adalah, a legal rights group in Israel. “I have never heard of a case where army commanders went over the court’s head to offer a sentencing deal,” he told Al Jazeera. “It is highly irregular.”

Appeal or pardon?

Azaria now has various options to avert or minimise prison time. He could request the head of the army’s central command reduce his sentence. But more likely, he will launch an appeal. His lawyers have said they will argue that the guilty verdict was influenced by statements last year from former Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon and army commanders that there was clear evidence Azaria shot Sharif.

If that fails, Azaria can ask for a pardon from the army chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot. And if he refuses, Azaria’s final option is to submit a request for a presidential pardon.

According to polls, some 70 percent of Israeli Jews support a full and immediate pardon.

There will be nothing exceptional if Azaria is reprieved. He will simply be the latest in a long line of security officials who demonstrably killed Palestinians, but were exonerated by a system that treats such murders with impunity, noted Zahalka.

In perhaps the most notorious such case, known as the Bus 300 affair, several security officials were pardoned after they were convicted of killing two Palestinians in 1984. The officers smashed the pair’s skulls with rocks after they had been arrested for hijacking a bus.

Following their pardons, one, Ehud Yatom, went on to serve in the Israeli parliament. In 2001, the then-prime minister, Ariel Sharon, appointed him as his anti-terror adviser, until the courts overruled the decision.

Rare prosecution

More often, however, soldiers face no trials at all, even where there is overwhelming evidence that they committed crimes, said Shehadeh. “We see lots of cases like Azaria’s, where soldiers injure or kill Palestinians at checkpoints, but usually nothing happens. In Azaria’s case, it was filmed and there was no choice but to prosecute him.”

In fact, Azaria is the first soldier to be tried for manslaughter since 2004, when Taysir Hayb, a Bedouin sniper, killed British solidarity activist Tom Hurndall in Gaza. Hayb was sentenced to eight years and served six and a half.

Usually, when the army is forced to prosecute, human rights groups have noted, the proceedings are dragged out and plea deals arranged to spare soldiers trials for more serious crimes.

Last month, Ben Dery, a border police commander, had his original charge of manslaughter reduced to negligent use of a firearm in a deal with prosecutors. Dery was filmed shooting dead 17-year-old Nadim Nuwara during a protest at a West Bank checkpoint in May 2014, even though the youth posed no danger. Three other Palestinians were hit with live rounds, one of whom also died from his wounds.

The prosecution accepted Dery’s claim that he had mistakenly loaded a live round into his rifle when he intended to shoot a rubber bullet. Nuwara’s family called the deal a “trick” and “shame on the Israeli justice system”.

Zahalka said: “There will never be real justice for Palestinians from the Israeli courts. The proper address is the International Criminal Court, where Israelis must be put on trial for war crimes.”

• First published in Al Jazeera

The “White Helmets” Go to Hollywood

The Netflix movie The White Helmets may win an Oscar in the “short documentary” category at the Academy Awards on Sunday February 26.  It will not be a surprise, despite the fact that the group is a fraud and the movie is a contrived infomercial.

The White Helmets are a “feel good” story like a Disney hero movie: 90% myth and fabrication. Most of what is claimed about the Syrian rescue group is untrue. They are not primarily Syrian; the group was initiated by British military contractor James LeMesurier and has been heavily funded (about $100 million) by the USA, UK and other governments. They are not volunteers; they are paid. This is confirmed in the Al Jazeera video which shows some White Helmet “volunteers’ talking about going on strike if they don’t get paid soon. Most of the heavy funding goes to the marketing which is run by “The Syria Campaign” based in New York. The manager is an Irish America woman Anna Nolan who has never been to Syria. As an example of its deception, “The Syria Campaign” website features video showing children dancing and playing soccer implying they are part of the opposition demand for a “free and peaceful” Syria . But the video images are taken from a 2010 BBC documentary about education in Syria under the Baath government.

White Helmets and Nusra

When eastern Aleppo was finally freed from the armed militants, it was discovered that the White Helmets headquarters were alongside the headquarters of the Al Qaeda Syrian militant group. Civilians from east Aleppo reported that the White Helmets primarily responded when the militants were attacked. Soon after departing Aleppo in government supplied buses (!) the White Helmets showed up in the mountains above Damascus where they allied with terrorist groups in poisoning then shutting off the water source for five million people in Damascus.

The White Helmets’ claim to be neutral and independent is another lie. They only work in areas controlled by the rebel groups, primarily Nusra/Al Qaeda.  Their leaders actively call for US and NATO intervention in Syria. Video shows White Helmet workers picking up the corpse of a civilian after execution and celebrating Nusra/Al Qaeda terrorist battle wins.

White Helmets and Nusra

The movie is as fraudulent as the group it tries to heroize. The film-makers never set foot in Syria. Their video footage takes place in southern Turkey where they show White Helmet trainees in a hotel and talking on cell phones. Thrilling. There is some footage from inside Syria but it looks contrived.  The opening scene depicts a White Helmet “volunteer” going to work and beseeching his son not to give mommy a hard time. Real or scripted?

The message is simple: here are people we can support; they are under attack by the brutal “regime” …shouldn’t we “do something” to stop it??!

ISIS and One Finger Salute


White Helmets’ One Finger Salute

Khaled Khatib is said to be the person who filmed the footage from inside Syria. He has reportedly received a US visa and will attend the Oscars. This will likely garner special media attention. Ironically, some of those who have exploited the refugee issue for their own fund-raising campaigns, like Human Rights Watch, are groups which promote the war which created the refugee crisis.

Khatib has tweeted the first video he took showing the White Helmets. It looks remarkably unrealistic, with a girl who was totally buried being removed without injuries or wounds or even much dirt. Is it really possible to rescue people that quickly? In the real world, rescue workers are told to work slowly so as to not damage or exacerbate body injuries. The original video has the logo of Aleppo Media Center (AMC) which was created by the Syrian Expatriates Organization.  Their address on K Street in Washington DC suggests this is yet another Western funded media campaign driven by political objectives.

In the past few days, with perfect timing for the upcoming Oscars, there is yet another “miracle” rescue … another girl totally buried but then removed and whisked away in record breaking time — perfect for social media.  Is it real or is it contrived?

This raises a question regarding the integrity of the Academy Awards. Are awards given for actual quality, authenticity, skill and passion?  Or are Oscars sometimes given under political and financial influence?  There is political motivation to promote the White Helmets as part of the effort to prevent the collapse of the Western/Israeli/Gulf campaign to overthrow the Syrian government.  These same governments have given boatloads of money to fuel the propaganda campaign. Last week Syria Solidarity Movement reached out to three marketing firms in the LA area to request help challenging the White Helmets nomination.  Two of the firms declined and the third said they were already being paid to promote the nomination!

The true source and purpose of the White Helmets was exposed almost two years ago. More recently Vanessa Beeley has documented the fact there is a REAL Syrian Civil Defence which was begun in the 1950’s and is a member of the International Civil Defense Organizations. This organization is opposite to the group created in Turkey in 2013. According to on-the-ground interviews in Aleppo, terrorists began by killing real Syrian rescue workers and stealing their equipment.  Since then the White Helmets have been supplied, by the West through Turkey, with brand new ambulances and related rescue equipment.

Max Blumenthal has written a two part detailed examination of the “shadowy PR firm” behind the “White Helmets”. And Jan Oberg has written an overview survey of the “pro” and “con” examinations in his work “Just How Gray are the White Helmets“.

Yet mainstream media, and some ‘alternative’ media, continue to uncritically promote the myth of the “White Helmets”. The promoters of the group absolutely deserve an award for marketing and advertising. This is a field where truth and reality is irrelevant; it’s all about sales and manipulation. On that basis, the “White Helmets” has been an incredible success. The group was started as “Syria Civil Defense”  in Turkey in 2013.  It was re-branded as the “White Helmets” in 2014. It was heavily used in 2014 and 2015 by Nicholas Krisof, Avaaz and others to campaign for all out aggression against Syria.  In 2016 the group received the Rights Livelihood Award and was seriously considered for a Nobel Peace Prize.  These facts show how corrupt and politically and financially influenced the Rights Livelihood Award and Nobel Peace Prize can be.

Meet the White Helmets

The White Helmets movie is a tactic in the ongoing campaign of distortion and deception around Syria.  It’s a fraud, just like the fake kidnapping of NBC reporter Richard Engel. The Oscars will be a demonstration of the integrity of the Academy Awards.  The reporting on the story will be a test of the integrity and accuracy of media outlets. Ironically, the Israeli mainstream TV program I24 presented both sides and titled the segment “White Helmets: Heroes or Hoax?”  In contrast, the highly popular and widely respected DemocracyNow has only broadcast a puff piece promoting the “White Helmet” disinformation.  The coming days will reveal more about the ongoing information war against Syria.  Meanwhile an on online petition continues to gather signatures to NOT give the Oscar to the White Helmets deception.